“…because I prayed about it.” These painful words came from a fairly well-known Christian author and speaker. After hearing that, I almost walked out of the big auditorium filled with other women. She started to talk about her fantastic husband and how she’d prayed for him and that’s how he became fantastic. The pain in my core dug in deeper as I thought about what I was going to go home to that night.
As if I haven’t prayed for him. Years and years I have prayed for him to change! So…her prayers got answered because she’s either loved by God more or there’s a different set of rules for me.
Her next comments struck another nerve. “People ask me all the time how I stay so thin,” she began. She’s not really going to say this. “And I tell them it’s because I pray about it!”
That about put me over the edge. I couldn’t even think straight. I grabbed a gulp of water to try to wash down the lump in my throat and frantically tried to think about something else before I lost it right there in front of everyone. According to her, I wasn’t praying enough or praying hard enough — my whole life apparently. Everything that was wrong in my life was because I wasn’t praying in the right quantity or quality. Needless to say, I didn’t go home and pray for my husband or about my weight issues. I went home and cried.
Have you ever felt like that? You’ve been praying about something BIG. Like “please save this marriage,” or “please help me get pregnant,” or “please help me find a good spouse.” And things aren’t happening. Hearts aren’t being changed. Sperm isn’t hooking up with eggs. And Friday night you’re doing laundry. Then someone tells you, “Yeah…I prayed that I’d find my keys — and there they were!” Uuugh.
If you know me personally and I’ve said something like this to you, I want to say right here and right now, I am sorry. Past, present and future sorry.
Prayer — the asking kind of prayer — is a really scary thing for me. I never know what I’m going to get.
As I mentioned, I did a lot of praying through my first marriage. I prayed and prayed and prayed that his relationship with God would change. I remember journaling one day that I felt a little guilty asking for that. My motive was that if he got closer to God, he would treat me and the kids better. So, not exactly a self-less, others-centered prayer. But I was desperate.
The marriage fell apart after 20 years. But I continued to pray and “line up my will with His will.” I’d read that somewhere. And I held out hope. I thought that maybe since he was spending more one-on-one time with the kids, he would become a better dad. He would realize how much he had lost because of his behavior and he’d get it together. Maybe New Wife would bring him to a different place with God. So I adjusted the prayer. Hoping he’d be a different dad and maybe a different ex-husband. But two years later, he took his own life with a gun, ending his relationships with everyone around him. And in that one act, all my prayers got a “no”. A very permanent “no.”
So how do you move forward with your prayer life?
How do you pray Big Prayers after you’ve gotten a Big No?
I confess that the Big No turned me into a different pray-er.
First, I’ve turned into a Wordsmith Pray-er. I find another way to say what I really want to say so that I don’t have to be disappointed.
A few months ago, a cycling friend of ours was diagnosed with a very aggressive brain tumor. Statistically speaking, he would not live to see Christmas 2017. And it was moving very quickly. But instead of praying for what I really wanted, I prayed for him to have peace and that he would know that God was near him. In his final days, I believe both were true. And now I can safely say, “God answered my prayers.” As expected, he died about a month ago. But my prayers for him were answered. Hip hip hooray. And I’m a coward.
Why didn’t I just ask for what I wanted?
The other way I find myself praying is the Wasted prayer. I catch myself not praying about something small. “Lord, please help me to get a great parking space. I’m running late. Wait – scratch that. I don’t want to waste a prayer on something this trivial.” (How can a conversation with God be “a waste”?) I get that awesome parking space and I wonder if I just dipped into my limited supply of answered prayers. (Where did I get the idea there was a “limited supply”?) Thrilled with the parking space, but wondering what I just gave up. It’s crazy thinking.
When I’ve prayed something BIG and things don’t go my way, I’m not only devastated by the fact that I didn’t get my way, but there’s now a rift between me and God. So instead I play it safe and ask for something I know would probably get answered. I hold back my conversation with Him. I don’t even take a bite of chocolate. I understand that we live in a world that sucks. It’s broken and will never be right. But what about all the other stuff that IS right? When awesome happens? How do I make sense of this?
Please hear me clearly. I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty fantastic answered prayers. That list is long and incredible. But here’s some examples.
A Bonus Prayer.
My son’s place of employment was robbed at gunpoint a few weeks ago. He’d just left a half hour before the gunman arrived. I’ve often prayed for both my sons’ well being. I’ve said, “Please be with my sons today, Lord,” or “Bless my kids today, God.” Is that too vague? Apparently not! Because on that particular day, I didn’t pray anything about him. Does that count toward “prayers God answered”? Or is that a Bonus Prayer? I got something awesome and didn’t even pray for it!
And then there’s the “Genie in the Lamp” prayers. Where I prayed for something and “poof” it happened.
This was never more poignant as when I was dating and considering remarriage to an Excellent Man. After 7 years — and lots of praying for guidance and wisdom (Another blog. Another time.) — we were finally getting to the point where we were ready to tie the knot. But several pieces of the logistical puzzle needed to come into play. A house needed to sell, and my two sons needed some things to happen on their jobs, class schedules and salaries. I prayed specifically for those pieces — one by one. And those prayers just kept getting answered one right after another as I prayed for them. It was awesome and thrilling and very affirming that my fiancee and I were making the right decision at the right time.
As thrilled as we were that all these prayers were being answered — especially because we had dated for so long — there was this tiny little sting on the two long term marriages (his was 25 years; mine was 20) that had broken apart. Those were prayers that got big No’s when two people walked out on their spouses, leaving a huge hole and broken hearts. But getting married to this Excellent Man was like getting a large chocolate-banana milk shake with whip cream and cherry on top. Oh so awesome!! But…I ordered a glass of water. I’m thrilled with the outcome, but there is a “no” in there somewhere. And, in this case, there’s a lot of years where you sit with the “no” before you get the awesome. That’s where the struggle comes in.
When we got married, we knew that there were several of our single friends who had been praying prayers about marrying or re-marrying some day. And they were still single. We both were trying hard to be sensitive to that as we celebrated our own answered prayers.
I clearly do not have it all together on the asking kind of prayer. I am unqualified to discuss this topic let alone blog about it. And yet here I am…my fingers still typing away… But while I’m on this road trying to figure it out, I have come to discover something:
I am really like a box of chocolates.
God never really knows what he’s going to get from ME. I claim to be a love Him, but sometimes my actions don’t look like that. Sometimes my heart doesn’t look like that. But that doesn’t affect His relationship with me. There is no “rift”. There is no question about how much loyalty He’ll give to me. No hesitation to listen to me. That’s not the deal. In fact, there is no “deal.”
While I was a sinner, He died for me.
I think about that word — WHILE. In the middle of it. At the same time. While I was a sinner, He died for me.
Could I lean towards adopting this same thinking?
WHILE He did not answer my prayers the way I wanted, I still prayed.
Maybe I practice more of an interaction with Him. A conversation. Not just the carefully wordsmithed prayer. More than my “Wow! Thank you!” for the Bonus I didn’t even ask for? Could I “waste” a prayer on the parking space. Meeting a deadline. Finding the right dress to wear. Because it’s stuff that matters to me in that moment? Could I just recognize that He’s my friend and He does want to hear it. All of it.
At the same time, can I be bold and courageous to tell him how much I want my son to quit smoking? Or how much I want my cycling friend to be healed from cancer? And still have a relationship with Him if those prayers get a “no” or a “not right now”. Can I also tell him how I feel about that? “I’m angry that we live in a world where people are slaves to nicotine and friends die of cancer. And this really sucks.”
Well, that’s what I’m working towards. Not because I’m trying to be a better Christian. But because I’m that desperate. I really need God to get through this broken world. These days when Everything Does Not Happen For a Reason (see my previous post.) And I don’t like having a rift between us while I’m trying to navigate life’s waters. I don’t want to question my boat’s structure while the waves of life slap against it.
I know I’m not going to understand everything He does and doesn’t do. Why I sometimes get a chocolate-banana-milkshake-with-whip-cream-and-cherry-on-top kind of prayers and sometimes not even a glass of water. Sometimes I just don’t understand Him. But I can say that about my Excellent Husband and two Diamonds-in-the-Rough Kids. And yet I still love them. I still talk to them. I try to spend my time understanding them more and more each day, knowing full well, I never completely will. But I still show up to the conversations, the experiences and life we have together.
And the other thing I want to becoming better at. I want to be more careful about “celebrating” my answered prayers. ‘Cuz I realize whoever I’m talking to may have just bit into a piece of chocolate.