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“Prayer changes us, not God.”
“Prayer changes us, not God.”
I’ve been fielding many questions about prayer from my six-year-old daughter recently. Her questions – How do I know that God is really there when I pray, if I can’t hear Him talking to me? What if I accidentally ask God for something bad? When He does talk out loud, does God have an accent? Why doesn’t God give me things that I pray for? – have challenged me to reflect on prayer, that I may be at least somewhat prepared to respond to such questions. These reflections tend to lead back to one central idea, likely familiar to those who have spent much time in prayer: Prayer changes us, not God.
I understand that idea best when I look back on intense times of prayer. One of the most enlightening experiences I have had in prayer followed a time of prolonged asking, grieving, and yearning. Christmas Day, 2012: I was in Oregon, celebrating with my husband’s family. His sister and her husband had a five-month-old son, and I remember taking a photo of the three of them in front of the tree - the parents smiling, the baby trying to make sense of his tiny Santa suit and hat.
I remember the moment well because my heart was breaking, even though I loved these people and my sweet new nephew. I was on year four of asking God for a baby. I’d learned that I would almost certainly never get pregnant. My husband and I had completed hours of research and training and paperwork to adopt a baby, and were now waiting for an unspecified length of time. A couple of possibilities had sprung up, filled us with hope, and withered. I sometimes wondered if my sense that God had created me to be a mother was just my own will at odds with His. So on that Christmas morning, I prayed silently, “Lord, will it ever be my turn? Will Mike and I ever get to have this kind of picture?”
My prayers through those years were the source of many lessons about myself and about God, but I highlight this particular moment because when I looked back less than a year later, I realized that He had already answered my prayer. We adopted our daughter at her birth in August of 2013, which means that at Christmas in 2012, she had already been conceived. She was nestled in the womb of a stranger in another state, but she was there. God already knew her. He knew, as I cried out to him in December, that I was only eight months away from witnessing my daughter’s birth.
The prayer had already been answered…so what was the praying for? I wouldn’t know for four additional months about this baby’s existence, so I spent those months in supplication, in tears, in flagging hope, in moments of deep, aching emptiness. I spent those months, added to the years, crying out to God. And that, I think, is the point of prayer. Not to get our prayers answered – they will always be answered, one way or another. Not to help God figure out the best course of action – He has already made His perfect plans. But to come to Him, our Father and our Friend, and to trust Him with everything. To be reminded, over and over again, that He is good and that He is for us.
And He did, indeed, demonstrate His goodness during those years. Even at my lowest points, I never felt abandoned. His presence – constant, strong, compassionate - soothed me. His word, which often sprang to mind during prayer, reminded me of His faithfulness to His people, the creativity of His plans, His desire to bless me. He gently reminded me that my life was about more than this one thing I wanted, about more than me; He provided opportunities to serve and to love others that shook me loose from my inward focus. He gave me moments of pure joy.
My memory of Christmas 2012 would gain additional significance in 2017, when our son was born. Back in 2012, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to ask God for multiple children; I was having a hard time maintaining hope that I would have one. But there was God, my loving Father, just waiting to do more than I could possibly ask or imagine, drawing me near to Him as I was hurting and preparing me for the gifts He had waiting for me.
He has designed us to live in community – a fact we are reminded of particularly strongly right now – and part of that community is Him. He longs to be the One we confide in, the One we trust with our deepest desires. He longs to comfort us as we walk through painful times, and rejoice with us in times of blessing and abundance. He never sleeps. He is never too busy for us. He never turns away.
These are the things I tell my daughter. I tell her that we pray not to make God give us what we want, but to be close to Him. I tell her about the five years that I waited for her, about how important those five years were, how grateful I am for them now. They led me to her, but they also kept me clinging to Him. No, God did not speak to me out loud - but He was not silent.
Heather is a member of Cornerstone and serves as a content contributor.
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