Afraid to Pray

I’m afraid to pray.

Not the talking-to-God-throughout-the-day kind of prayers. I’ve reached a point in my life where talking to Him is almost automatic – so much so that NOT talking to Him would require serious effort.

I’m talking about the petitioning prayers. The God-heal-my-friend prayers. The God-fix-this-relationship prayers. The God-show-us-what-to-do prayers.

For weeks, we prayed for my brother’s healing. For weeks, hundreds of people all around the world prayed for my brother’s healing. And there were miracles along the way, days when he defied the doctors’ predictions. Like when he started breathing on his own after a week on the respirator, or when he was readmitted to ICU for internal bleeding and the bleeding miraculously stopped, or when his kidneys began to work again after weeks on dialysis. And we praised God for the miracles and for answering the prayers of many.

The last week of Derek’s life, doctors planned to discharge him. Every day for three days, we waited. And every day for three days, they said, one more day. Until the last day, when they moved him, for the third and final time, back to ICU. He never came home.

Even though I know God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want…and even though I know people suffer and die every day…that we all die some day…that eventually God stops answering our prayers for healing and calls us all home…and even though I know God is unchanging and good and that His ways are higher than our ways…and even though I know that prayer is a mystery…that somehow God invites us to participate with Him in His divine plan but the outcome does not rely on us…even though I know all that, I’m still afraid to pray.

The pain and devastation, the feeling that God abandoned us – actually tricked us with answered prayer and then pulled the rug out from under our feet – snaps at the heels of my heart and mind like an angry dog. And I can’t run away.

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Did God Really Say?

The following was written about an experience I had a couple of weeks before my brother passed away. It is still relevant now. 

One misty morning, when even the air seems gray and heavy with tears, I visit my old church. I climb to the top of the hill, and there surrounded by 12 boulders, I sit before the tall wooden cross in the damp crab grass, hugging my knees to my chest.

Birds chirp in the stillness. I wear the fog like a blanket and let the drizzling rain soak my shirt, the peace of this place soak my soul. It’s like coming home.

For a while, I rest in the quiet, the solitude, the home-ness. But I grow restless.

In a hospital bed not far away, my brother, my baby brother, fights for his life, stricken with an illness no 32 year-old father should experience. Every day for weeks we’ve prayed, we’ve stood vigil by his bed, taking shifts, helping him eat, holding his hand, washing his face, hoping against hope for a miracle.

Where is God in this? Who is God in this? Do I even want to know? If I keep looking, will I recognize the One I find? Or will I find that He is what I’ve always feared – a liar, a fraud, a cold, heartless trickster who lures us in with promises of life and goodness and joy and peace, only to laugh as we choke on the toxic apple?

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Prayers Like Snowflakes

Do you ever wonder, as you slog through your list of prayers, does this matter? These words – in the form of petitions and praises and pleadings – do they matter?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Discouraged? I do.

So much heartache. So many needs. Needs that outnumber my prayers. Needs that outweigh my weightless, colorless, tuneless words.

Discouragement is stronger than gravity and can pull us down with a force that pins us to the lowest places, the cold, hard places so that we can’t even lift our heads to look up. And in comparison, our prayers seem to drift away like vapors in the wind.

One day, not too long ago, as I sat on my bed praying, I felt an emptiness and futility pressing in on me. I found myself asking,

How can these prayers I offer up today – please bring k peace, keep her safe and help her share your love with others today…completely heal and restore c… comfort my friend who misses her mother… save that marriage on the verge of divorce…bring that young man off the streets and into a rehab that will make a difference… – how can these prayers make a difference? How, God? It all seems so pointless. And I just feel like giving up.

And then I thought of snowflakes.

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Recognizing God’s Voice

Dear friends, I have a new post on our church’s 40 Days blog. Here is a taste, then you can keep reading at their site if you like:

Photo by Rose Braverman

Photo by Rose Braverman

Recognizing God’s voice…that’s a phrase packed with will all sorts of potential reactions. Here’s some that come to mind:

  •  Oh, so now you think God is speaking to you. Great.
  •  I don’t hear God. I pray. I meditate. I sit in silence. But guess what? Crickets.
  •  Umm…does this mean I’ll hear a voice? Or have a vision? Or fall down on the ground and start screaming and hollering? Because I really don’t want to cause a scene. Just sayin’.
  •  God has already spoken. The Bible is His final word.
  •  Are you hearing voices in your head?
  •  How do I know if what I hear is from God?
  •  I’m actually kind of afraid to hear from God. What if He’s angry with me? Or worse…what if He doesn’t say anything at all?

And of course there’s the unspoken fear of many comfortable Western Christians:

  • What if He tells me to sell all my belongings, shave my head and move to Zambia? ‘Cause that happens…like all the time…right?

Listening for the Lord, hearing from Him and then understanding what He’s saying can be scary and frustrating. But it can also be exhilarating, freeing and life-changing. I am grateful that some of my first experiences as a Christian included Listening Retreats. At those retreats...keep reading this post