In "Other" Words...Prayer

“Prayer invites us to rest in the fact that God is in control, and the world’s problems are ultimately God’s, not ours. If I spend enough time with God, I will inevitably begin to look at the world from the point of view that more resembles God’s own. What is faith, after all but believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”   
~ Philip Yancey: "Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?" 

Putting up the Christmas tree at our house is one of those "not as simple as it sounds" propositions.  Six people in a rather small house with no attic, garage, basement (or even very many closets!) means that every inch of floor space is carefully utilized.   Creating space for a Christmas tree (other than in the middle of the floor or hanging from the ceiling) is somewhat like the engineering problems my dad used to try to explain to me. :)   This year, in preparation for "decking the halls" (or at least the living room :)), we needed to move some bookcases.  And before we moved them, they needed to be cleaned out and reorganized.  So...one afternoon during the Thanksgiving weekend found the girls and I cleaning out bookshelves.  (I'm not sure how Peter managed to get out of that task...;-))    Bayley was pulling books off a bottom shelf when she held up a stack of thick notebooks.  "What are these, Mom?"  

I realized that what she held was a stack of prayer journals...dating from sometime in high school to my young adult years.  I had stashed them in the bottom shelf of this bookcase intending to find a better spot for them later...and completely forgotten they were there.  

As I dusted them off and found a spot for them within easy reach so that I could peruse them later, I thought about my prayer life in those days, and how it has changed since then.  Those notebooks represented hours of prayer for myself and others, carefully maintained lists of prayer requests for family and friends, our church, Bible Study groups, missionaries, etc.  There are also pages and pages of prayers written out in longhand over those years, most following a formula such as "ACTS" (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), with other, more freeform prayers during times of great joy or crisis.  

It would probably take a bit more digging to find them, but somewhere there are similar, although somewhat more simple, prayer journals from my childhood.   My mom taught me from a young age to keep a prayer journal, a heritage for which I am thankful.  Those journals are filled with prayers for a baby brother or sister (I was an only child for almost ten years), prayers for unsaved family members (who are still on my prayer list all these years later), and prayers for sick friends and family members, among other things.

Faith was an easy thing in those years.  It never wavered.  I had complete trust that God would answer those prayers...although I had learned early on that His answers aren't always "yes"...sometimes they are "no" or "wait".  Even when the answers weren't what I wanted, it was somehow still easy for me to trust that this was His will and everything would be okay.  I saw many wonderful answers to prayer in those years, and God used those years to grow and strengthen the faith of a young, innocent girl as she grew into a young, still-pretty-innocent young adult. 

As I entered my mid-twenties, life began to get a bit crazy, and my prayer life began to change.  I don't have as many prayer journals from those years...rather than an hour early in the morning in my favorite chair with my Bible and notebook on my lap, due to a very uncertain schedule in those days, my Bible reading was  often done in my office as I ate a quick breakfast or lunch, and much of my praying was done in my car as I traveled all over the state for my job.  

As I married and had children, the schedule didn't get any better, and while I do have prayer journals from those years, they are anything but consistent.  Again...not that I wasn't praying, but my prayers were often while rocking a baby or standing at the sink washing dishes (in fact, for years I kept a list of prayer requests in a plastic page protector hanging by my sink so that I could have a focused prayer time while doing dishes...perhaps I need to pull out a new page protector and start that again!)

And then we come to 2004.  2004 was an amazing, incredible, tremendously difficult, faith-building year for our family.   In February, our Ammah Grace was born 10 weeks early, necessitating 6 weeks in NICU and causing all kinds of dire predictions from her doctors.  Not only did we pray...hard and often...but our church, town, and even people all over the country and the world prayed for her.  We saw miracle after miracle after miracle...even our favorite NICU doctor, one of the top neonatologists in the country, proclaimed her a miracle.  

Just as we began to breathe a sigh of relief and thankfulness that it appeared our Gracie would be completely "normal", we were hit with the second major crisis of 2004...my dad's health, which hadn't been good for the previous five years, went into steep decline.  A second round of cancer was first suspected, then confirmed, in the midst of other quite serious health issues that made treatment complicated if not impossible.  In November we realized that barring a miracle, we were entering our last holiday season with Daddy, and on December 9 of that year, we stood around his bed in the hospice unit as he took his last breath and went to be with Jesus.  

Although our prayers for Daddy's healing weren't answered in the way we would have chosen, we realized that even in that, he *had* been healed...in the most glorious way possible...and in those last months of his life, we saw incredible answers to prayer just as we had with Ammah Grace.  Again, there was an army of prayer warriors praying for him and for our family, and God sustained us in awesome ways through those prayers.  

I grieved hard for Daddy...but amazingly, even in what was up until then the hardest experience of life, God shored up my faith and allowed me never to question His goodness and sovereignty.  How could I, when I had watched my dad, in horrible, unrelenting pain, look up with tears in his eyes a few days before he died and say, "God has been so good to me."  

As we closed 2004, my heart was grieving, but my faith...and my prayer life...was stronger than it had ever been.  

Sometime in that next year, though, I began to slack in my prayer life.  Not because of any bad feelings or turning away from God...I still confessed sin, I still thanked Him for His blessings and provision, I still praised Him...but as far as supplication, I had hit a place of confusion.  I had learned much during that time about God's sovereignty, and while I still prayed for specific requests when asked, I began to feel a "What's the point?" attitude creeping in.  It's hard to even explain, as it wasn't a bitter or angry "What's the point?", but just a truly questioning, "If God is totally sovereign and His plan is sure from before the foundation of the earth, He is going to fulfill that plan regardless, so what difference is my prayer going to make?"  

Quite a change for the girl with shelves full of prayer journals.

As 2004 ended, we felt that we had been through the fire.  We felt that we had been through the "great year of testing" and we had survived, through God's grace.   We had learned and grown more than ever that year, and had seen God work in marvelous and amazing ways.   2005 and early 2006, in addition to being a time of confusion in my prayer life, were still a time of growth through deep grief.  By the summer of 2006, though, I was beginning to emerge from the valley of sorrow, and feel like we were headed into a "new normal".  

And then on July 2, 2006, our world exploded, as we discovered that one of our precious children had been abused by someone very close to us whom we had trusted completely.    Life as we knew it literally shattered into a million pieces...and my prayer life took a dramatic turn again.  

It would take a book (and I realize I have already written a chapter here...eek!) to tell all that happened during that time and all that God did in our lives as a result.  But as far as my prayer life went, I entered a period of desperation...gone were the acrostics and neatly organized prayer journals and carefully worded prayers.   I had prayed some desperate prayers when our tiny baby's life hung in the balance, but even those prayers were nothing like these.   I've since realized that with Ammah Grace, although we prayed constantly and hard, there were no decisions to be made, there was nothing we could *do* but sit and wait to see what God would do.  We could ask for healing, but it was all completely out of our hands. 

In this situation, however, there were decisions to be made, and there were small people (a situation like this can't help but affect the whole family) with desperate needs that we had to figure out how to meet...and at that point, there was really no one else to ask for counsel.  Billy and I realized that it was us and God, and that we were going to be making the biggest decisions of our lives, with long-term, even permanent, consequences for our children and our family as a whole.  One small misstep, the slightest mistake in judgement, could cause devastating repercussions.  

Our prayers were definitely desperate.  Prayers for wisdom, prayers for direction, prayers for God to somehow heal the trauma our children had experienced.  Prayers just to survive the days of horrible emotional meltdowns of a traumatized child and severe sleep deprivation brought on by night terrors.  Prayers, often, that couldn't be uttered at all...when there were no words, and all I could do was cling to Romans 8:26 ("Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.")

"Prayer time" became a thing of the past, as life became a continual breathing of prayer to God moment by moment.  Billy and I made a determination from the very beginning that we would not take a step, that we would not make the slightest move or decision in this situation, without total, complete certainty that it was what God was leading us to do.  If we didn't have that total certainty and peace, we did nothing until He gave clear direction.  "Waiting on God" took on a whole new meaning...we felt as though we were taking a master's level class in waiting.  But every step of the way, God did, truly, answer our prayers that He would not give us a choice as far as the next move to make.  At each point, not a minute early, but just at the right time, He would clearly show us what to do and how to do it with really no other choice when the time came.  Looking back, I am amazed to see His hand orchestrating it all...although as Philip Yancey says, it "only make[s] sense in reverse".  

Somewhere in the midst of the many lessons God has taught me over the past 4 1/2 years, and the wrestling He brought me through as I struggled with true doubt for the first time in my life, He brought me to a realization about the issues I'd had about prayers of supplication.  Those prayers are not for God.  They aren't to let Him know our needs or those of others around us...because He already knows.  They aren't to beg Him into changing His mind...because His plan is perfect.  They are for us.  First, as an act of obedience.  He tells us to pray.  He tells us to bring our needs and the needs of others before Him.  And second, as a part of building our faith as we see His answers...whether those answers be "yes", "no", or "wait"...and as He makes us more like Himself and brings our prayers more in line with His will. 

Although we will be dealing with the consequences of what happened to our children for the rest of our/their lives, things have finally begun to settle into a bit of a new normal for our family.  God continues to heal and comfort and teach us through it, but as we've moved into a period of relative calm...for however long it may last...the intensity of the deep, desperate, groaning prayer has eased.  The challenge now is to realize that even though our circumstances don't seem quite as desperate, our need for "continual breathing of prayer to God moment by moment" is just as necessary.  It's that "abiding" that John 15 talks about...the "pray without ceasing" of 1 Thessalonians 5.  

I've realized recently that as that season of desperate, almost autonomic or involuntary prayer has moved into a more peaceful season, I need to in an intentional way weave together all that God has taught me (and continues to teach me!) about constant prayer-breathing and structured, focused prayer, and not only practice it in my own life, but teach it to my children as well.   I've gone back to a somewhat haphazard prayer journal in the past couple of years, but I need to become disciplined in that again.  I want to move back to keeping an organized prayer list...both to help me on those brain-foggy, hard-to-focus days, and to keep a running, written record of God's faithfulness.  

I'm so thankful for Debbie of Heart Choices, who is today's In "Other" Words hostess, and who chose today's quote.   I needed this time to reflect on and pull together the things God has been teaching me in the school of prayer.  I have realized for a while that I need to become more "intentional" again in my prayer life, and Debbie's quote and the writing of this post has helped me sit down and really focus on where God is leading me in that right now.  

To see Debbie's post, and read others' thoughts on today's quote, visit Heart Choices.  


RCUBEs said...

It's incredible to be able to keep prayer journals as they serve a source of comfort also reminding us about His goodness during those battles we had in the past. You had gone through so much and I can't imagine the pain you had to endure, especially that which concerned your children who were hurt, of all, by someone you trusted.

Despite the prayer journals that lessened from later years, the courage and the strength you had shown and the decision to always pray and remain trusting in Him just shows He's been there all along with you and your family. Because it is not our strength that helps us get through these tough battles. It is His.

May the Lord's comfort, guidance and discernment always cover you and your family. God bless.

Karen said...

Prayer journals are wonderful. They are almost a history book in themselves as you can go to them to reflect back on certain incidents. Sometimes the gaps between entries seem few and far between. It's not because nothing was happening but because we often get distracted from writing it all down. The victories and defeats equally seem to take their place in time. Thanks for sharing today I really enjoyed it.

Debbie said...

Oh my, your family has been through so much over the years. Just when you think the hard times are finished, life turns upside down again. I can't imagine how you must have dealt with the latest situation.

However, I'm so glad that you know exactly where to go for help. Your prayer journals from years ago are a testament to your faith. And again you go back to where your help comes from; the Lord.

Thank you for your honesty and transparency. I'm so glad you joined in on our quote this week.

Blessings and love,