I made a list of goals last September, and somewhere on that list was “learn to pray.” I was enamored with the idea of being a ‘prayer warrior,’ falling on my knees and claiming the power of God, seeing miracles and breakthrough.
You’re supposed to write out small steps to your goals when you do this type of list, so I wrote two. 1) I would get in touch with the local prayer ministry and 2) I would read books on prayer. I didn’t do either of these things.
Finally, after watching a movie about prayer, I emptied out a hall closet and taped pretty print-out prayers over the walls, and labeled this place prayer closet. It was lit by one old, yellowed light bulb that blinked disconcertingly. If I turned it off, the tiny space became as black as night. The closet echoed; when I prayed aloud, you could hear me all down the hall. There was hardly enough space to sit, and when I closed my eyes, the room seemed to get smaller.
Despite all of this, I would sit with my knees pressed up against my chest, talking to God for hours. I filled journal pages with questions, and I began to pray through the Psalms. So many things in my life were upside-down, and I wanted answers. Friendships were becoming elusive – I needed someone to talk to earnestly. I had to pray.
In my life, everything continued to go downhill, so I prayed for redemption. I prayed for my idea of redemption. I was faced with decisions that paralyzed me; I asked Him not for clarity, but for faith take the right steps. I only became more confused.
One afternoon, I cancelled everything and decided to pray through – to pray until I had a definite yes or no. I prayed for a yes, and I could feel Him saying that He wanted to say yes. I was determined to neither mourn nor to rejoice until He had given me an answer.
His answer wasn’t immediate, but it was definite – a no. I lay on the floor, sobbing, with my Bible open in front of me. Elisabeth Elliot writes that “God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times but mercies all the same.” I tried to understand it.
With the loss of a dream in the Lord’s refusal, I lost my trust for Him as well. I slept fitfully, shaking. I was too afraid to pray again.
The Lord is good in this: I ended up at the prayer ministry office looking for help. Slowly, painfully, I began to speak to Him again. For days, I listened to Jon Thurlow’s My Little One on repeat, the promise of His unfailing love. Prayer times became so much sweeter because I knew my need for Him.
God broke my heart, and in my heartbreak, He won me to himself.
When I ask why, He offers Himself. I sit down to pray with a list of worries, and I laugh because I’m so thankful for these small things that bring me to Him. I found a book on prayer that someone lost, and I’m reading it. It’s changing my perspective.
I didn’t ask for a no. I didn’t ask Him for broken friendships that would force me to get on my knees. But I can see the mercy in it now.
I haven’t become a “prayer warrior.” I’m not like Brother Bevington – I don’t crawl into a log for five days to pray, and come out again to see everyone healed. Prayer has become more real to me, more natural, more like breathing.
What are truths in this? What are the great broad truths? I don’t know. I know that God is good and that He wants us to talk to Him, even about the little things, though He knows them already. I know that His love is steadfast and unfailing, really, truly, all the time. I know that He even more powerful than we hope – that if it’s impossible, He can do it, we need only ask.
When you don’t know what to say, He hears you still. There aren’t specific words – you don’t have to say “Amen” when you’re finished, He knows. You can tell Him, “I don’t know, Lord,” and He draws near.
I think this is a story worth telling.