“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
― C.S. Lewis
“Prayer doesn’t change things,” I’ve heard. If that’s true, prayer won’t change the results of my cancer surgery. It won’t affect my marriage. Prayer wouldn’t change me. I beg to differ. I don’t need to look any further than the husband at my side to know God answered my prayers of lament from years of loneliness. Our beautiful marriage relationship is a testament to the power of a husband and wife praying together.
I believe God answers prayers. Sometimes the answer is NO. Sometimes it is not now. Occasionally, we don’t want to hear the answer because it isn’t what we want or doesn’t make sense to us at the time.
Patience is not my strong suit. Once I had a diagnosis, I just wanted this cancer removed. Immediately. Waiting for surgery is difficult. But God can use this waiting time, to work in me or my husband. I’m determined to get something out of this experience. Through prayer and discernment, I seek whatever that is.
When friends share Bible verses with me in cards and notes, some go next to my journal. Others find a home between pages of my bible. During those inevitable dark nights of the soul, I have helpful verses handy. One thing I’ve noticed in recent days is how lifted I feel, knowing others are praying for me. There is a power in their prayers. The power to lift, to encourage. Maybe, to change outcomes. Surely to change me.
I wrote those words in my journal in July 2012, four months after my husband died. I’d been writing daily for weeks, frantically and feverishly. I journaled, blogged, wrote articles and essays. I’d sit on the couch, surrounded by piles of papers, pens, notebooks, and dozens of books written by authors who’d walked this path before me. My children called that end of the couch “Mom’s nest.”
Then one morning, I woke up and couldn’t write a word. “Be still,” I heard, and I knew where the prompt had come from. I’d allowed for quiet, contemplative time, but my mind had not been still. Anything but…because as long as I was writing about David, love, and marriage, I could keep him alive. God knew if he took away my writing, I’d have to face my loss. I’d have to turn to Him. “Be still.” But there’s more to that Bible verse. Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.
Know that I am God. I was still discovering how to have a personal relationship with God, was just learning to recognize his voice. God doesn’t shout out commands. He doesn’t force us to follow. No, God is found in the stillness, in a whisper.
1 Kings 19:11-12: The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
– That whisper was God.
Because of this virus, self-isolation and social distancing, many of us have been thrust into a state of stillness. Events have been cancelled, large groups forbidden- we might be experiencing a less hurried and busied lifestyle. Others, like those on the frontlines, working those essential jobs of medical professionals, workers in care centers, grocery store workers, truck-drivers- and God bless each and every one of you- are seeing the opposite; longer hours, a busier schedule.
But if you are one of the many who are self-isolating, staying home, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. God is right there with you. Be still. Stop everything right now. Breathe in. Breathe out. Listen. Is God speaking to you?
Stillness brings you into the present moment. The Now. If we are so worried about what is going to happen, we will miss the now.
I live on Rush Street, appropriate considering I always seem to be in a hurry…Rushing to accomplish more, do more. Be more. While I’ve learned many lessons in the past eight years, I’d reverted back to my ‘keep busy’ mindset. Working from home the past week, when I needed some fresh air, to get out of the house every day after my work was done, I began taking daily walks. I used to enjoy walking with my husband or sister because it meant time talking to them. When I lived near a store or library, I enjoyed a walk to one of those places. But walking just for the sake of walking without a companion for conversation or a place to head to, or even nature to wander in seemed pointless…a waste of precious time…just another “should” to add to a long list of things I should be doing.
I see other people walking; couples, families, pet owners with their dog…they keep their distance, I keep mine, though I admit, when I’m not crying, I meet their eyes, smile, and search their faces for a human connection.
Yes, I sometimes cry on my walks. I was surprised, and quite irritated, the first time it happened, but those quiet moments away from my house, away from work, and my teen daughter, the tears come unbidden. I cry for those workers on the frontlines, for friends prevented from visiting parents or grandchildren, for my family, myself…loneliness exacerbated by isolation, missing my children, my workplace, co-workers, my uncle’s funeral, my granddaughter’s 7th birthday.
I realized one day, when unwelcome tears threatened to spill down my cheeks yet again, these walks are the perfect time for meditation, and that tears can be a form of prayer, a call out to God. I was kinder to myself then and cried less.
I began noticing things on my walk; buds of flowers rising from the dirt in yards, beauty I would not have noticed before. Christmas lights that appeared on someone’s house overnight, obviously put back up to brighten dark days, an inspiring message written on a sidewalk with chalk.
When I stopped to admire the artwork, a little boy in a nearby yard cried out repeatedly “Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!” His mother tried to shush him- to not bother the lady. I called out “No! I feel the same way, getting out. Hi People!” We both laughed. A spot of grace. A soul connection. I smiled all the way home.
Today, it was hearts on the doors of many houses.
Are you seeing hope in the buds of spring? Feeling joy from the boisterous greeting of a little boy across the street? Are you being the hope in writing inspiring messages on the sidewalk, hanging out your Christmas lights? Taping hearts to your door? I see God in you.
Be still. Listen. Do you hear it too? The sewing machines of women creating masks instead of quilts. Factories suspending usual production to make medical equipment. Music and stories being shared, on porches and online. Art being created.
That’s hope you hear, in the background of despair.
Watch my Monday Morning Meditations for my workplace, Shalom Spirituality Center in Dubuque Iowa.
Just weeks before my husband David unexpectedly died in 2012, we’d shared a conversation that was uncharacteristic for us; regarding what we’d want the other one to do if we died first.
“I’d want you to get married again,” David had said. “Because I know how much you love hugging and holding hands.”
I miss his hugs, his hand in mine.
Had he lived, David and I would have celebrated our 39th anniversary earlier this month. I’ve been without him for more than six years. I’ve faced a lot of changes in my life since then, both good and bad, but even good changes can cause stress.
According to the Social Readjustment Rating Scaledeveloped by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, the stressful life events I’ve experienced just in the last six months put me at a solid 285 in regards to measured stress levels, too near the dangerous 300 level for comfort. Among those life events I’ve experienced; a virulent flu virus that lasted more than two weeks, an attack of Shingles, an unexpected loss of income, a subsequent need to change jobs, a daughter leaving home for a month-long stint at an organic farm in sunny California, and an “outstanding personal achievement.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word outstanding, submitting my manuscript one day ahead of deadline was a personal achievement, nonetheless, one that left me feeling somewhat at odds with myself. You can’t have worked on something for so many months without missing the intensity of the writing.
Lucky for me, I didn’t have time to feel that way long. Two days after submitting the manuscript, I began a new job, as program coordinator for a spirituality center. This is the view from my office. When the window is open, I can hear the peaceful sounds of the trickling fountain.
While I no longer have David’s steadying hand to grasp, in the past six years I’ve discovered a stronger one yet. It is God’s hand that led me to a workplace that not only allows prayer, but encourages it. Which is why I was comfortable asking my new co-workers to pray for me on Friday when I was sidelined by a concern regarding the sale of my house. One of them went above and beyond, composing a beautiful prayer specific to my worry and e-mailing it to me; the message a reminder to trust God’s plan and providence. Taking a deep breath, I read and re-read the prayer, as if drawing sustenance from it. All the months of working on a book, searching for a new job, looking for a house, sorting through things to downsize and prepare for a garage sale, watching a daughter leave home, getting a house ready to sell…alone. Without David. I was so tired. Emotionally drained.
Please, God. Just show me that you’re with me in this. In all of it.
After work, I just wanted to go home. But I needed to be someplace else.
I headed to a nearby building, where my required TB test would be read by a company nurse. Lacking an internal GPS, the last time I’d attempted to follow directions to the nurse’s office, I’d ended up in the lunch room. So it was with some trepidation I approached the front desk. A tiny woman was hunched over a newspaper, only the top of her head visible. When she looked up, I asked if she could page the nurse. Her eyes darting around nervously, she suggested I just head there. It occurred to me, as a volunteer, she might not know how to operate the phone system.
“I got lost the last time I came,” I laughed as I explained, and her face brightened. She jumped from her chair with an energy that belied her obvious age.
“Then I’ll take you there,” she said as she approached from behind the desk. She held out her hand. Taken aback, I hesitated for a moment, but her friendly smile left me no choice. It would be rude to refuse.
Hand-in-hand, we started walking.
“Now, just pay attention, and watch where I take you, so you can find your way back,” she said in a voice so gentle, I unexpectedly felt a lump form in my throat. Her hand was warm, her clasp firm, as she guided me through a room, down a short hallway, and through a doorway. I recognized the winding hallway lined with potted plants.
“I know where I am now,” I said, pointing to the end of the hall. “I just go that way and around the corner.”
“I’ll show you a better way.” The delight in her voice was unmistakable. She seemed glad to make my trip easier. “Just go right through this door, and you’re there!”
She didn’t let go of my hand until we’d stepped through the doorway together.
“But you made this so easy,” I marveled. “Thank you.” She smiled before turning away to return to the desk.
A room, a hallway, two doorways… Previous routes had included steps, elevators, a trip through a closed courtyard. I felt foolish as I blinked back tears, pondering the encounter.
The welcoming gesture of an extended palm. The unexpected warmth in holding a stranger’s hand. The gentle voice guiding me as if I were a child. The sudden ease in finding my way. This had been no random meeting. There was a message in it.
“I’m here. In the prayer from a colleague. In the stranger at the front desk. The hand you miss so much is with me, but I will bring you other hands. I am with you and I will guide you. Trust me.”
Isaiah 41:13: For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (NIV)