I can't remember the first time that I thought about prayer.
I think for me it became a thing that-for a while-it was just a "you do it because you have to" type thing. We said the blessing before meals, we bowed our heads in church when the preacher told us to, and then my parents and I would pray now I lay me down to sleep
before bed each night.
I didn't give much thought to any real conversation with God and I didn't think too much about the fact that the creator of the universe was actually listening to me. I mean, I was me. Just a simple girl from a very small town in Alabama. I was not anyone special, did not have any super-special talents or capabilities. I did not sing or play piano. My parents were not abundantly wealthy and our house was not immaculately decorated or huge.
I was (and still am) just a regular, ordinary person. An ordinary person, from an ordinary family, who (at that time) seemed to have an extremely extraordinary
run of bad luck. That sense of bad luck through my younger years and on up until after I married my husband, left me feeling like all of that prayer just did not have much impact.
We have all felt the twinge of unfortunate circumstances. It takes me more than two hands to count the number of young
people in my life I have lost including multiple friends who were, in societal terms, too young to go. I lost both grandmothers within a ten-day window during high school. My family and I lost everything we owned due to house fires not two, not three, but four times through out my life. We've battled illness, depression and loss.
I foolishly believed that getting married and having children and starting my own family would somehow "fix" the unfortunate luck that I felt that I carried with me. Yet, with marriage and children came an entirely new set of struggles and problems. Military separations, marital misunderstandings, family frustrations, colicky babies and moving around the country because the government told you too has placed and continues to place additional strain on life. Being married is hard enough with children, but throw in the extra hassle of moving around and you're destined to run into some disagreements.
The one stable aspect through every rough patch in my life-through every loss, every argument, every tear shed or every mile traveled- has been my prayer life. And let me tell you, keeping that going throughout the midst of heartache and grief, is not an easy feat. In fact, some days it is downright impossible. When the whole world seems to be turning upside down on its axis and you begin to feel like there is nothing in your life going right, it's really hard to trust a God that you can not see.
I wrote a blog post some months ago about that. About faith and trust and believing in what you can not see. I remember a quote from the old Tim Allen movie The Santa Clause
where the pretty little elf, Judy, responds to the newly christened Santa when he asks, "how is all of this possible?" She simply states, "Seeing isn't believing...believing is seeing."
Even though she meant it in the terms of Santa and the North Pole and the flying reindeer, I have always directly connected that phrase to God. I can't see God in the same way that I can physically see everything around me.
Instead, I see the proof of his labor. I see the trees that have grown from seeds in our backyard and the flowers my husband just planted in the bed around the fence. I see the clouds in the sky, covering the suns heat here in North Carolina and the wind blowing carelessly through the bushes. The wind is blowing as well. But, I can't see it. Instead, I see the proof of its existence as the flag waves in the yard. It's the same way with God. I may not see Him
but I see bits and pieces of what he is doing.
I've had to learn to carry that over into my prayer life as well. I've never had any issues with conversation. As a child, I was the "chatty Cathy" who's only issues in school was receiving the "talks to much" checkbox on my progress report. I like conversation. I like learning about people. I have a fascination with learning stories and telling stories and getting to know people for who they really are. It's no surprise that as I began to grow spiritually, I found myself with the same fascination and desire to know Christ, to know God.
We are taught at a young age that to get to know someone, you have to ask questions. As a society, it isn't unusual to walk past a complete stranger and just nod hello and ask how they are. We are constantly in conversation with the world around us (hello? Social media?) but we often forget
to carry on a conversation with the most important one: God. We like, share, text, tweet, post, publish and blog our way through this life (myself included) while often times we forget to stop and sit still with the only one whose opinion of our lives matters.
Likely, when we DO slow down to pray, we're only praying to ask God for something. I heard it said one time, by a paramedic friend, that everyone he has ever met believes in God. Why? Because when they are in a life-or-death situation, he's the first person they cry out for. We've put God in a bubble and made him only accessible when we need Him. When things aren't going our way, we tend to blame God. When we get a promotion or a raise or really good news, we praise ourselves. Yet, we wonder why we aren't hearing from him more often.
I feel like we, as a society, only want God when he convenient. And we only want to talk to God
when need something from him. We have this wayward habit of talking at
God rather than with
God. Scripture is pretty specific on how to pray, especially when things in life get uncomfortable.
"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth!" –Psalm 46:10
We are told, very directly, to be still. To know. To rest in the understanding that he's got things under control, despite every inkling in our finite human minds to grab the bull by the horns and do our own thing.
I've battled the ability to be still my whole life. I'm a fixer and a doer. I like to be in control and have the ability to determine what happens and when it happens. I keep multiple planners and an itemized checklist of things to do. I keep records of things and receipts and photos and backups of my backups of my backups. I am that person who has a Plan A, B, C and D...all the way to Z. It's just who I am and who God created me to be.
But with prayer? With God? It's not always that straight forward. It isn't always a clear cut answer that I can pencil into my agenda book. It isn't always a situation or a circumstance that I can control. It isn't always my
way, despite the fact that I want it to be. Believe me when I say that there are multiple times in my life where I felt like I was throwing a three-year-old tantrum and God was just sitting there with his arms folded shaking his head at me as if to say, "Are you done yet?"
This life of faith isn't an easy one. A life of prayer is just as hard.
Living a life of faithful prayer means living a life of full surrender. Letting go of the expectations that YOU have set for your life and for yourself and just waiting on God to be God. My husband's late grandmother was a staple in my faith in a way that I never knew that I needed. I only knew her for seven years before God called her home, but she was the most devout believer I have ever met in my life. When I first met her, she simply smiled and told me that she had been praying for me for 26 years and never once did I doubt that she really had.
When she passed away, I could FEEL the difference in how my days were going. Things that were never an issue in our marriage, became a problem. We discovered that our oldest son has special needs. We went through the darkest times in our marriage in the months and year that followed her passing. My husband went through his own dark valley while I struggled personally with demons from my past. I credit the change in the spiritual and emotional atmosphere of my life and our marriage, to her passing. To the lack of prayer that was coming our way.
When we finally dug ourselves out of that hole and found our way back to one another and Christ himself, our prayer lives changed. There were no more days of sitting and talking at
God. There was and continues to be targeted, strategic prayer for the people in my life. Prayers covering my husband and my children, our families, our friends, our government, our military and our country. I've seen what life without prayer is like. I've seen the darkness that sweeps in quickly and dramatically when we aren't paying attention.
Even a moment without our eye on the cross, is an opportunity for attack. Keeping prayer and conversation with
God flowing has revitalized the way that my spiritual life looks. It's also saved my marriage, my family, and my personal sanity. Being without our lifeline to Christ is like being stranded in the middle of the ocean. There's a vast emptiness that consumes us. The water we float in can't quench the thirst that lives deep within us. Our only hope, our only option...is grasping the hand of the one who promised to never leave us.
He's always right there.
He's always listening.
He's always waiting.
Let us pray.
By Courtney Kirkland
Originally published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 1.