What does it mean to pray? What does that term mean to you? I’ve been thinking about prayer a lot lately. I’m realizing that I will always be learning how to pray and I could never explain all of its dimensions, especially in a short blog. But I know I am in desperate need of it and the power it brings. Life has reached a place where I have less and less to say about the things that go on around me. My kids are adults – or almost, I’m physically aging, I’ve lost one parent; life just keeps changing. I struggle to keep up with it all. Recently I was talking to my daughter, who definitely has a mind of her own, (what was I thinking when I raised her to think for herself?) and it hit me like a slap in the face how little say I had in the matter we were discussing. I wanted so badly for her to see what I was trying to say, because I was right in this instance (but I will readily admit that I am not always right) and I needed her to understand. It was important. And another recent conversation with my son made me realize that he was going to do what he thought was best, even though I could see some troubled waters ahead for him if he followed through with his decision. And then there were some circumstances and people in our church that needed prayer, and there’s my precious daddy who’s been struggling through the first year without my mom, the grief has been unbearable at times. I could go on, but you see what I am saying. Real issues that needed a remedy or guidance or peace or hope or relief, I have no idea what they needed. I just knew they needed something. This is when serious anxiety set in; a feeling of complete helplessness. It was in this place of desperation that the Lord was able to really speak to my heart. What could I do? What were my options? Worry or pray? That would be an easy decision to make, pray of course. But, that turned out to be tougher than I thought. I found that I would get on my knees or sit down on a pillow, (Yes, I am too old to sit on the floor without something softening the blow for my rump, another sign of my age.) and pour my heart out before the Lord only to get up and pick that very thing I prayed about right back up and carry it around with me again. It was an endless discouraging cycle. Pray about it and then walk away carrying it with me. There was no relief, just more frustration. When I say carrying it I mean I would pray with the intention of finding peace of mind, but instead I would talk to God about it and then my mind would still remain troubled. I would walk away and worry about what was going to happen next or how I could better articulate to my child why they should listen to me. I mean, surely they would listen if I said it just right, right? Wrong. Or, as we’ve talked about in an earlier blog post, my mind would live on repeat, trying desperately to “fix” the situation. After living this unhealthy cycle for quite some time, a lightbulb slowly began to come on in my head. And when I say slowly, think about when an old fluorescent light first gets turned on after it’s been cold. First it hums, then it barely flickers for a while and slowly it continues to brighten until it is finally at full strength. That’s how my mind was beginning to wrap around this idea of surrendered prayer. See how I slipped that word surrendered in there? That’s exactly how it finally dawned on me, subtly. Prayer can’t just be me talking and talking and getting up and trying to take care of it on my own, it has to be surrendered. Kind of like waving the white flag with the Lord. (I love the song on Christian radio, “White Flag” by Chris Tomlin, it says exactly what I’m beginning to understand prayer really is, surrender to God.) When I go before the Lord, I have to be willing to leave it with him. To walk away and not take it with me. To surrender what I think is the best thing to His will. That is so hard for this “planner.” I want to know exactly what the plan is and then I can get behind it and cheer as it unfolds with the assurance that everything is going to be okay. Well, that’s not how this works, not even close. I don’t get the secret e mail with the plan, or even a hint. I get to explain what I think to the Lord, the entire situation all the way through and then I slowly get up and trust that he will do what is best. Trusting in this instance might look like this: when the troubling issue comes to my mind and I’m tempted to worry, I instead remind myself that God has it all under control. I will quote scriptures and sing songs that keep my mind focused on God’s power and authority. Sounds so spiritual and mature, doesn’t it? It’s the toughest thing ever and it isn’t pretty. This weekend I wasn’t feeling the best, and I didn’t really feel up to praying. (It does take energy and work, anything worth pursuing does.) But in the midafternoon, I felt compelled to pray. Now, I am not one that feels these types of urges often, I pray and sometimes I feel stronger than others about it, but this day, I literally felt that if I didn’t pray I was going to, I don’t know explode or something. My husband was taking a famous Sunday afternoon nap on the living room sofa, so I slipped into our bedroom and got on my knees by the bed to pray. (Yes, I had a pillow under my knees. Wouldn’t be able to walk later otherwise, no joke.) There weren’t any fancy words or great revelations, just a desperate mother who needed some reassurance and to surrender my will, what I thought best, to His. I prayed so hard, and I cried so hard, it was painful and refreshing all at once. Later, my husband came and told me it was time for evening church and the rest of our day happened. It wasn’t until later that night I was standing in the kitchen and I got a text from one of my kids telling me that they had ended an unhealthy relationship, EXACTLY what I had been praying about. I literally did a happy dance. (And that wasn’t pretty either.) I had committed to be quiet and just pray about this situation a few weeks earlier, another sign of painful growth in my quest for spiritual freedom. (Learning to shut my mouth.) But, even though I was quiet to this child, I was very vocal about it with the Lord, and HE HEARD MY PRAYERS. I waved my white flag and HE HANDLED IT. Later I found out that at the exact same time I felt so compelled to pray, the wheels of my child’s separation from this person started. And as a cherry on top, I received the text to let me know, right after it happened. So many words came to mind when I received that text, but you know what I did? I prayed about it, first a prayer of thanks and then a prayer of “what do I say, Lord?” He is clearly way better at handling this whole life thing than I am. That affirmation that God heard me has spurred me on. I am approaching prayer with a different mindset now. Instead of telling the Lord what might work, I tell him my heart and then wave my flag and deliberately move on. He can handle it. I know that this is a learning process, a lifetime won’t be enough to really get it down perfectly. But, I am slowly understanding, the light is flickering on now. So, friends, pray today, pray and then ask the Lord to help you to surrender to His will. Ask Him to carry the load so you can live freely and fully. And when He answers, do a happy dance, who cares if it’s pretty!
Below is the first verse and chorus to “White Flag,” by Chris Tomlin
“The battle rages on
As storm and tempest roar
We cannot win this fight
Inside our rebel hearts
We’re laying down our weapons now
We raise our white flag We surrender
All to You
All for You”
Amen, Lord, we surrender.
Psalm 120:1 “In my trouble I cried to the LORD, And He answered me.”