Sometimes he answers the prayers we’re too afraid to whisper.
Sometimes I hold back; afraid to utter a prayer because I fear he won’t respond in the way that I hope. And so I decide that it’s better for me not to pray at all than for me to ask and not receive. For then I feel some sort of compulsion to explain his apparent absence; to defend his honor and good name.
It’s an even stronger compulsion when the prayers involve other people. I’ve been present in a room when a woman was told, “If you have enough faith, God will heal you from this cancer.” She died. I admit I worry about the fallout. What will her family think of God? Will they take offense? Will they run away?
There is a darker reality here. My struggle uncovers the fact that daily I wrestle with trust; wrestle with the question of, “Is God always good? Always present? Always listening, responding, answering?” I say I believe it, but in the depths of my soul, my decision to not pray reveals the fact that I worry a little that it might all be too good to be true.
In short — If I don’t ask and the worst comes to past, I can always tell myself, “Well, if I had asked, he would have come through.” But if I ask and the child still dies, the cancer still kills, the pain still persists, I’m often left scrambling to find an answer to the nagging question of “Why?” And to be totally honest, my analytical mind wants answers; it is hard to rest without them.
So sometimes I decide not to pray. It’s a little safer that way. But like I said, sometimes he answers prayers we’re too afraid to whisper.
After all, it isn’t like he doesn’t hear us.
When I wrote the What I Have I Give to You
post, it was definitely in one of those moments when I was too afraid to utter a prayer. I can’t describe to you just how sick little Kerstin was, and it deeply affected me. I’d spent an afternoon playing with her. But playing with her involved keeping one hand over her oxygen mask to keep it in place. Walking to the bathroom took every bit of her energy, and she’d promptly return to bed with the oxygen mask. Her lips were a deep color of purple–the color that most children only sport after sucking on a grape sucker for half an hour. Her little chest heaved with exertion; it was as if she’d just finished running a marathon, but her marathon was 5 steps. She seemed so sick, and the prognosis was so bad… it just seemed impossible for her to run and play like a normal child.
Instead of responding in faith and trust, I responded with fear and anger.
But, God heard my unwhispered prayer, and he answered me less than 24 hours later. The next morning I picked up a book that I’d set aside around Christmas. It’s a great book — Dangerous Surrender by Kay Warren. But, I’m a reader of multiple books at once, and I always end up setting them down and picking them up sometime later. I saw it on my shelf and had a few extra minutes in the morning, so I opened up to where I’d left off. And this is what I read:
Our God feels deeply and passionately.
It should have come as no surprise, then, that if I was going to love God deeply and passionately, it would automatically lead to a broken heart for me. There’s no way to grow in loving him and not grow in having his heart for his world, leading directly into his sufferings. Radical internal changes occur when we become Christ-followers, and the changes will eventually spill over externally into how we live our lives. Identifying ourselves with his cross and his resurrection will alter how we spend our brief years on this earth. What we do and where we go; how we spend our money, time, talent, and energy; and how we respond to people in need are all determined by how deeply we enter into the fellowship of the sufferings of our Savior.
This is a good thing! It’s nothing to be avoided. Caring about what he cares about permits us to actually share in his passion, and in so doing, we find soul-building fellowship. Jesus’ pain is to blend with my pain, his tears with my tears, his wounds with my wounds; his cross is to become my cross, his comfort my comfort.
She goes on to describe how she often succumbed to the temptation to “take on the world by herself.”
I was caving in, being brought low to the ground by a burden beyond the scope of my ability to bear. Somehow I forgot that any pain I felt in response to the pain of another originated in the heart of God, not in mine. As a result, I was inadvertently cheating myself out of the consolation and comfort available to me through sharing in the fellowship of sufferings of Jesus. I had to surrender my desire to save the world.
As you can imagine, reading this less than 24 hours after writing that post, it felt like God was using Kay’s experience to minister directly to me; to respond directly to the questions I raised and the pain I felt. It was comforting to know that God was listening to me and responding with love and grace and mercy even when I was afraid to bring my questions to him directly.
I’m learning that God doesn’t not easily take offense. He’s big enough to handle my questions and my anger and my fear and my unbelief. He can absorb it all — all the ugliness and pain and misery that I and this world have to offer — and respond with grace, patience and love. When I need to see God, I look at Christ. And I know that my Jesus wept over the brokenness in the world. (Matthew 23:37, John 11:35) So when I’m weeping over the brokenness of the world, it is just a reflection of his heart. When I see injustice, it is only because he opens my eyes to it. When I feel heavy-hearted for the heavy-burdened, it is only because he is showing me that he wants to make their load light.
In the end, Kay said one other thing that really stuck with me. She describes visiting a cemetery for orphans who died from AIDS and being overwhelmed by grief for the forgotten little lives cut short. She said, “I had to forcibly remind myself to draw on the comfort Jesus offered. Mine wasn’t the only heart aching with the unfairness and pain of it all, with the waste of innocent life. Jesus wept too.”
It was comforting to know that it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to most people to respond with trust in the face of tragedy. It is a choice. And a choice we must “forcibly” make many times. Part of the reason this was so reassuring is because this isn’t the first time I’ve had to wrestle with this. A few years ago at Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a simple little vase with 1 Peter 5:7 inscribed on it; “Cast all your cares…” Clearly this is a hurdle for me, and it’s never fun to walk through the same lessons over and over and over and over again.
I’ve written a bit about trust in past posts… and really I think that’s what this all comes down to. I am starting to understand that at this point in my spiritual journey, God is asking me to trust him more deeply. To cast my cares on his shoulders; to rest in his lap; to surrender those I love to his able hands. I need to believe that he has their best interest at heart, even more than I could. I need to confess that my desire to explain God is fundamentally a lack of trust. And that is going to be a daily confession for me. When I see pain and suffering, I want to fix it. I want to to know why God doesn’t do something if it seems like he hasn’t responded. But I must let go. He’s calling me to reckless abandonment, total freedom, and unqualified trust. It feels lighter when I let go. The heaviness goes away and I can breathe more deeply.
And you know what? Kerstin is no longer blue. She’s breathing normally now. She has a long recovery ahead of her, but she’s made it so far. That doesn’t change the fact that 2 of our children this last summer died, or that unknown numbers of children around the world die each day without medical treatment — many from simple and preventable conditions. Though I often want to, I cannot and don’t need to explain these things. All I need to do is trust that He weeps with those who weep and mourns with those who mourn. The brokenness of this world hurts his heart, which is the only reason it can hurt mine.
I want to say thank you to all of of you for your prayers, comments, and notes of encouragement. God daily uses you to minister to me and Jacob. For example, Leanne
left a comment that really confirmed some of the same things that I read in Kay’s book. It was like a double-whammy. 🙂 At any rate, we are blown away by the community we’ve formed through this blog. It wasn’t something we imagined, but it is such a blessing to us. Thank you.