Thursday, October 28, 2010

I love my kids but...

Both my husband and I have a sibling that is married but does not have kids. Both these couples made a choice at some point in their marriages, years ago, to not have kids. For both these couples it was a choice not a result of infertility. It is a choice I can really understand.

I love my kids but they are wearing me out. They are not doing anything unusual, just being normal kids, but I am feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at the same time.

I love my kids but there are days when I wish I could be the old me, the before kids me, that slept in and hung out at coffee shops with my husband.

I love my kids but somedays I just want to hop on a plane to London and run away from it all for a week or two. Not forever because I know I would miss them but I would love to actually miss them because I was not with them all the time.

I love my kids but I don't know that I like the mirror effect they have reflecting all the yucky parts of me right back at me. Before kids, I could live in a bubble where I was a basically good human being. When things outside myself got hard or yucky, I could hide out in myself, in my house and avoid the rest of the world. I can't do that anymore because they follow me into the house. They follow me into my bathroom if I forget to close all the doors in my bedroom. I cannot avoid the uncomfortable parts of life or myself anymore because I have walking mirrors following me everywhere I go. They are awfully cute mirrors but I don't always look so cute when I see myself responding to the kids and reflected in their eyes. My kids bring out the best and worst in me me. They show my great capacity to sacrifice myself for my kids and also my incredibly short fuse and pettiness when I have to do something I don't want to do because they need me.

I love my kids but I hate not being in control of everything. Before kids I felt like I could manage my life, I could control my life and my reactions to my circumstances. With three little one's interacting with the world away from me, I am finding that I cannot control things. I cannot control my kids and I cannot control how the world treats my kids. And I don't like that feeling. I don't like my heart breaking for my boys when they get hurt or feeling the depression set in when one is not doing well at school. I don't like how much my emotions and my mood are tied to my kids' lives. I didn't think I would be one of those moms who lives vicariously through her kids. And while I don't think I do that, I do think that my life is partly lived in response to my kids' lives. I am connected to these kids that is not always comfortable.

I am tied to someone else, three someone else's in a way that is both magical and difficult for someone like me. I was a lone ranger. I didn't need anyone. I was doing life on my own even when I was first married, I was still not dependent. Now though, these kids have tied their hearts to mine in a way that is at times really painful because I can no longer deny my emotions or avoid feeling anything.

I love my kids but I don't like seeing my weakness, my faults, my dependency in them. I know my kids have changed me into a better person. It is good but I don't always like the process.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Part 2, My Champion

Gender roles are a challenge facing the modern church. Women preaching? Women elders? What is the role of women in the church? In marriage? Most of the conversations focus on the role of women, though that could be because I am a woman so the conversations I am in are usually within that context. No one has asked me what I thought the role of men should be. Well until recently.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a pastor that somehow drifted into gender roles. I was prepared for the usual discussion. But then he surprised me and moved quickly over Ephesians 5:22 - 24 and instead moved down to the next few verses,
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself."
Ephesians 5:25-28

Then he asked me what I thought that meant. I had to stop my mind preparing to debate women's roles and really think about the passage. What did it mean? What is the role of husbands supposed to be in marriage? What is the role of my husband? I read the passage again and the word that came to mind was that my husband is my champion.

"Like a cheerleader?" asked the pastor. No definitely not a cheerleader. I was a cheerleader in high school. I loved it. I liked the uniform. I enjoyed the practices, hanging out with my friends and practicing our routines. I loved encouraging the athletes during their games and cheering when they had a big play but that was the extent of my role in the game and the team's life. I was not a partner.

I think that a husband is meant to be a champion for his wife. A person who wants the best for me even if it involves challenging me to be better. Champions encourage the positive and work to soften and change the weaknesses. Champions tell you the truth even when it might hurt but they do so in real love, not the fake "friend" wanting to get back at you with the truth kind of "love". Champions help edit your life into a better story. And as godly husbands, our champions point us to God through it all.

My husband is my champion. He loves me. He makes choices that are evidence of that love. He goes to work every day to provide for me and our boys even when the job he has is demoralizing and frustrating. He still goes. My husband encourages me in my faith, making sure I get up on those Sunday mornings when I want to be lazy or spending a Saturday afternoon with the boys so I can go off to Starbucks to read and study the Bible. My husband is generous with our resources and helps me be more generous, an area that needs work in my heart. He is the ying to my yang in so many ways that challenge me to be better than I am.

My husband supports me using my gifts to serve God even when it involves him having to leave work early so I can go teach a Bible study. He is willing to work hard to pay the bills so I can serve at our church without having to worry about making money. When I was starting this blog and unsure if writing was something I should do, he bought me a domain name because he believes in my writing, even though he doesn't read it. He still believes in me without me having to prove myself.

My husband gives me a safe place to share my doubts about God and my frustrations that would turn to gossip with anyone else. He is upstanding, steadfast and even tempered giving me a better understanding of those qualities in God that I desperately need. He is so unlike me and yet we are made to fit together. I love him dearly even when I am frustrated because he is not doing things my way. I want to be worthy of my husband's love which encourages me to be a better person. Most of all, as my champion, my husband gives me the space to be the person God made me to be, not the wife he envisioned.

Hopefully we are each other's champions. Though I can see that women because of our give everything to other's, people pleasing and chaotic nature, may be needing a strong champion.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wives Submit to Your Husbands, Part I

I have been in a lot of conversations over the years about gender roles in marriage. This is part 1 of my thoughts, the part that we all talk about.
Within the church there is a lot of talk about "wives submit to your husbands" from Ephesians 5. Men as the spiritual leader of the family is a phrase thrown around a lot, especially as it relates to how women are to relate to their husbands. What I find interesting when talking to people about men as the spiritual leader of the family is that they point to Ephesians 5:22 - 24, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." This is the passage we always discuss when talking about gender roles in marriage within the church.

And before you start to wonder where I stand on this issue, know that my husband and I both believe that we are to submit to the Lord and when we submit to the Lord, we are honoring one another and pleasing God. I know that sounds like I don't believe in submission to my husband, but before you judge me look at my track record. I have moved over a dozen times since being married to my husband with almost all of those moves for his job. I have been pregnant overseas twice so he could follow his dream job. I became a hockey fan. I care about Michigan football. I no longer sleep in on a Sunday morning. I am conscious of our spending and have worked hard to build up an emergency savings account. All of these things I did not care about but were important to my husband.

Often when we are faced with a decision and we disagree, we go with the one that cares more or knows more. I make most education decisions, my husband makes long term investment decisions. When I have been wrong, he kindly reminds me the next time I go to the make the same mistake. And I still give him grief about not buying Apple stock when I wanted to years and years ago when I got my first iPod. When we come to an impasse, instead of just saying the tie goes to the husband, we both agree to pray about it more. To give God time to work on each of our hearts so that we can come to a united decision based on what God wants, not what each of us wants. It took months of patience on my husband's part and prayer and God working on my heart to get me to be willing to move to Puerto Rico. But we allow each other the time. And so far, thirteen years in, it has worked for us.

As I write this there is a huge part of me, raised in a family where "the man was the leader of the family" that makes me want to explain that my husband does not believe that he is the singular leader of our family. I want to tell you that my husband believes that over the years, our faith and spiritual maturity will ebb and flow. Sometimes he will be the one driving sometimes I will be. I want to prove that I am submitting to my husband's more egalitarian view of spiritual leadership, thus absolving me of any wrong doing. Because while I do believe that we are supposed to work together to both lead and grow ourselves and our family toward God there is huge part of me that is glad I can still blame my husband for this view and thus be "submitting" to him.

See notice how in that last paragraph, I was able to somehow shift the decision making to my husband and thus make him responsible for any wrong decisions we make. By making my husband the spiritual leader of our family, I can blame him when we don't prioritize church, reading the Bible or prayer. By making my husband the leader of our family I can absolve myself of my responsibility to personally grow closer to God, disciple my kids or help my husband in his walk with God.

This is a complicated issue that the church has simplified to the point of dismissing the partnership that God created when He made Adam and Eve. I know it is a complicated issue. I also know that I respect my husband. I love my husband. And if he needed me to give myself up for him, I would.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prayer Works

So somewhere in the journey of learning and preparing to teach about prayer, I asked for prayer. It should not have been a step of faith for me. It should have been an obvious, natural request for prayer as I was getting ready to teach God's word. But for me it was a step of faith. A risk worth taking because everything I was learning told me that prayer changes things, that the prayers of His children have power. So I asked those that read my blog to pray for me.

I have to say now that my little experiment proved to me that prayer works. I know that some of you were praying for me as I prepared to teach the women's Bible study at my church. Beyond this blog, I know that my friends and fellow teachers were praying for me as I prepared and taught for two weeks. And I felt those prayers. I found time to get the work done. I felt peace when nerves should have been making it hard for me to sit or sleep the night before.

But beyond the regular wisdom, guidance and peace I needed when preparing and teaching, I was protected. It is a long, complicated story involving my parents and a long, difficult relationship that has fallen apart over the years. After years and years of talking, praying and trying to make things "all right" I had come to a place where I was able to forgive, extend grace and move on. I had thought we had come to a place where we could be. I thought things were fine, or as fine as they could be with the characters involved.

And then on the Saturday between the two weeks I was teaching, I got an email from my dad letting me know that my parents were separating, again, and probably for the last time. This should have rocked me a bit because they have been married for 40 years, though I was unfortunately not surprised since they also separated and reunited a couple of years ago. This is how my family works it seems. There is always some drama or crisis. And it usually happens just as I am needing to focus on something important in my own life. Somehow, and this is where I see the prayers of God's people really working in my life, I was not thrown off by the news. I was able to hear the news without being distracted by it. God protected my heart and my mind so I could do stay focused on the task at hand, preparing and teaching amazing women about prayer. God protected me through that week. The prayers of His people held me up and created a place of safety for me.

It was not until I was in my car after teaching my last session that the tears began to flow. I was in a safe place. I had the time to deal with the pain of my parent's marriage breaking. I hate the fact that after 40 years of marriage they are separating. It is scary for lots of reasons. Lots and lots of reasons. I hate doubting my husband when he has never done anything to deserve the doubt. I hate worrying about them and their futures. I spent an entire childhood worrying about my parents and trying to take care of things. I hate the awkwardness it brings to my life if I choose to include them in family activities. Thankfully we have had to be really protective of the kids with my parents because of some things that have happened over the last few years so I don't know when the kids will even begin to realize that my parents are separated. It is not something I plan to talk to the kids about any time soon. But when we do eventually talk about it I don't know what that will do to their idea of marriage to know that after 40 years people can still be in danger of splitting up. Will they worry about their Dad and I? Will I worry about it?

So I have been processing this information slowly over the last few weeks. Releasing the anger or more truthfully venting the anger to those I trust. Prayerfully deciding how my family, my husband, the boys and I, will relate to my parents. Trying to pray for them, through the anger, frustration and hurt. I am feeling the hurt and realizing that it is not my story even though it is my family's story. This has been a long journey with them but I am a grown up now and I can decide how I want to deal with their actions. I can write my own story.

What keeps coming to my mind ever since first hearing the news is that prayer works. I don't know how. But I needed prayer even more than I realized when I asked for people to pray for me. They prayed. And I was protected when I needed to be. So thank you if you were one of the people that prayed for me. What an amazing gift you gave me with your prayers. God is big. God is good. He does not need us. And yet He invites us to participate with Him through our prayers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Prayer - Complaining

This is the last post from my Bible Study teaching on prayer and it is the most shocking. It will sound heretical at first but truly you will find this type of prayer all over the Bible. I would build up the suspense more but I think the post title sort of gave it away.

In our world, our country and our culture, we are supposed to be optimistic hard workers who never complain. We are not supposed to moan to God or complain about our circumstances. At least that is what we have been taught. I am certainly teaching my boys not to whine about things they cannot change and definitely not to whine about things they can. Just do it is the motto of our society. If you don't like it, don't complain about it, change it. As JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom teach in their book "Praying; Finding our Way Through Duty to Delight" complaining is meant to be part of our prayers.

When we look through the prayers of the Bible, we see complaints throughout.
But I call to God,
and the LORD will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.
Psalm 55:16-17

Job, a man so faithful that God allowed Satan to test him, had every reason to complain before God. And he did. Chapter 10 of Job is full of his complaints.

I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint.
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul...

Does it seem good to you to oppress,
to despise the work of your hands
and favor the designs of the wicked?...

Your hands fashioned and made me;
and now you have destroyed me altogether.

Why did you bring me out of the womb?...

Packer and Nystrom write, "Is this the same Job that God described to Satan as "my servant, ... a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil" (Job 1:8). Yes, but this is Job distraught by grief and human pain, goaded to despair by his well meaning friends, speaking his words of complaint to the safest possible source: God."

We have very real hurts and frustrations. Very real pain and complaint. Moaning and yes, even whining, that we need to take before God because we cannot be real with God if we hide our pain from Him. We cannot be real if we hide our frustrations. We cannot be real if we hide our hurts, even the ones we think He caused us. The safest place to take our complaints is God. He has our best interests in mind. He will not lead us astray. He will hold us tight when we turn to Him.

Job cried out to God asking for answers. Read Job 38 - 42 when you have a minute. It is powerful stuff. It is God's answer to Job. My favorite part is when God asks, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations?" Those four chapters remind me every time I read them that God is God. He is the creator and I am His creation. But it also shows me that God listens to His children's complaints and hears us.

"Those who have read the end of Job's book will know that God did indeed meet with Job as Job had invited him to do. But explanations are lacking even then; God does not need to explain. Still, he responded to Job's complaing - and Job was content." (Packer & Nystrom)

That is it. This is the end of my prayer series I taught at Bible study at my church. Now back to our previously scheduled programming.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prayer - Brooding

I highly recommend reading JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom's book "Praying: Finding our Way Through Duty to Delight". There are so many great insights and takeaways in that book. One of my favorites is the idea of brooding as a part of your prayer life. Brooding seems like a negative waste of time, as we think and think and think about a problem from every angle. We all do this, but Packer and Nystrom introduce the idea of Christian brooding where we combine our brooding tendencies with meditation which I wrote about here.

One way I like to include God in my brooding is to meditate on God's word. I have been reading through the Bible this year and so many times whatever problem or question I had floating in my mind was answered through that day or week's reading. When I pray as I read God's word, my mind and heart are shifting, moving closer to God's. Paul Miller in his book, "A Praying Life" wrote, "By praying slowly through a portion of scripture, I was allowing Scripture to shape my prayers.” Also when I am in doubt about what to pray or how to pray for a friend, I like to pray the prayers of scripture. When in doubt, brood on this list of prayers that were in the Bible study guide I provided for the women at our church:

- Romans 15:30 – 33

- 2 Corinthians 12:7 – 10

- Ephesians 1:15 – 23

- Ephesians 3:12 - 21

- Philippians 1:2-11

- Colossians 1:9 – 14

- 2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 12

Meditating on God's works is another way that Packer and Nystrom say we can engage in Christian brooding. Psalm 77:11 – 12 says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” We can glorify God in our prayers by spending time, remembering what God has done historically. When I think about how amazing the works of God were in the Old Testament, the redemption plan of Jesus, and how God has worked in my own personal life I am amazing by the goodness of God. He has loved me from the beginning. He placed me in a family that took me to church. He lead Mrs. Wybenga to be a Sunday School teacher for my class when I was in third and fourth grade. God held me close, using His family to teach me through youth group and small group Bible studies. God led me to the Christian college I attended where I became my own person and found me own faith. My life is full of markers that point to God's love for me, to His plan for my life, and His saving grace.

What markers do you have that you can hold onto?
o The family you were born into?
o Who you met that shared Jesus with you?
o The people God brought into your life - Sunday School teachers, college roommates, spouses and friends?
o The times when circumstances fell so perfectly into place you know God was working?

I wish I had taken the time to write down each marker as it happened because I think I forget about God's hand at work in my life the farther I get from the event. I can imagine that a list of God's fingerprints on a big step of faith would provide great comfort and assurance when my world started rocking a bit like it does after a big step of faith.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Prayer - Group Prayer

I have had experiences with prayer requests and group prayer that left me wondering if we were even talking to a real, living God. I have also been in the room when I was overwhelmed by the presence of God and the prayers of His people around me. I have had the privilege of being there when someone said their very first prayer out loud in a room with other women. What a scary step of obedience that is the first time. I have had a lot of practice praying out loud in front of a room. I went to a Christian college and I think it is part of the curriculum. You can't graduate without being willing to lead the group in prayer or at the very least pray when it is your turn in the prayer circle.

Since then though group pray is one of the areas where I most struggle to follow the Bible's teachings. I have always been pretty authentic in my own pray time. It is easier for me to be truthful with God because He already knows it all. There is no place to hide. But group prayer is a whole other story. Saying, out loud, my prayer requests makes them both real and also makes me aware of how off base my requests might be. I don't want to sound silly, whiny, or needy. I don't want to sound selfish. I don't want to be judged for my request or feel bad that my request seems trivial next to someone who is struggling with something real. I also don't know what to do when someone asks for something that I am not sure is really God's will. It is hard. And yet, we are taught by the example of Jesus and the early church that group prayer was part of their community life, part of their worship and ministry. So when trying to figure out how to pray as a community, let's look at Acts 4:23 - 30:
When the church heard that their leaders Peter and John had been arrested and told to stop preaching they prayed. On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“ ‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord and against his Anointed One. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

Peter and John had been arrested and told to stop preaching the Good News of Jesus which they were commanded to do by Jesus himself. In Matthew 28:19 - 20a, Jesus tells the disciples, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." There was no doubt about the will of God. They were to preach the gospel to all the nations. So they prayed. And here I think is the lesson for me. Their prayer was not "Lord, consider their threats and protect us so we can preach." or "Lord, considering their threats, give us safe passage so we can teach people about you." No, their prayer was something much greater. They prayed, "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness."

Not protect us. Not prayers for safety or vindication.

They prayed that they would be able to do speak with boldness.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Prayer - Persevering

When we pray, when we ask our Father in heaven to give us the desires of our hearts, we want answers. I am not by nature a patient person especially about the unknown. I would rather hear the answer No than be left waiting. I am often quick to jump to the conclusion that no answer means NO. Sometimes though when no answer comes it means we need to continue to pray. We need to engage in the work of persevering prayer.

I am not good at persevering in prayer. All the books I read on prayer hit on the topic of persevering prayer and when all the books I read point to an area of weakness in my life, I think it is wise for me to pay attention. Each of the books explained the important work of continuing to lift up our requests over and over again to the Lord. I think this was a new concept to me. Partly because I love being efficient and partly because I don't like to seem needy, asking over and over again for something that I really think God wants to give me seems almost rude.

I started thinking about persevering prayer a few months ago which I wrote about here. I loved what Andrew Murray wrote in "With Christ in the School of Prayer". "O what a deep heavenly mystery this is of perseverance prayer. The God who promised, who longs, whose fixed purpose it is to give the blessing, holds it back." What a great quote. God loves us. God wants to bless us. And yet he holds back. He waits. This feels like torture at times, but knowing that God is good (all the time, all the time, God is good) I have to accept that God has a reason for holding back His answer, holding back the blessing He has promised.

Packer and Nystrom in their book "Praying" give three reasons why God waits. First, by compelling us to wait patiently for him to act, God purges our motives. I have seen this at work in my life. My original prayer might be "right" but my motives might be all wrong. I ask God to help my child obey because it would make my life easier not because I am in that moment wanting to help my son become a man of God. I am often asking for a change of situation because I am uncomfortable or unhappy not because I want to glorify God with the situation change. But over time, as I continue to bring my requests before God, my heart is changed. My motives are lining up with God's plan.

The second reason God waits is that God shapes his giving in a natural way. God is using time to change things slowly in a natural way. We see this in Nehemiah. At the beginning of chapter 1 a date is recorded when Nehemiah and the people of God begin to repent and pray for the restoration of Jerusalem and a return of the Israelites to their land. It is not until nine months later in chapter 2 that Gods work behind the scenes comes to a place of letting Nehemiah go home to restore Jerusalem. Nine months of Nehemiah and those with him praying "Give success to Nehemiah today." God could have worked a miracle with Nehemiah's ruler like He did with Moses and Pharoah. But as Packer and Nystrom write, "Prayers answered? Yes! By miracle? No, by a natural flow of events - which took time. Ordering a natural flow is God's habitual way of answering prayer, and it often takes time, so we have to be willing to wait."

And finally, God's wants us to continue to grow in faith and spiritual maturity. Before we took our kids to Disneyland for the first time, we spent months practicing waiting in line patiently. We waited in some fun lines, hand stamps at story time, and some really boring lines at the post office. We wanted to build up their patience so that they could enjoy Disneyland despite all the long lines. Likewise, God uses delayed answers to build up our patience stamina. "Sometimes God uses delayed responses to prayer to discipline and train our spiritual muscles. We hang on in prayer, and our faith muscles grow stronger."

I am still a work in progress with persevering prayer especially when all is going well. I should keep a prayer journal and prayer cards to keep me focused and continuing diligently in my prayers for myself, my family and God's children throughout my life. I am getting better one person, one need at a time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Prayer - Asking

When you think about it, the whole point of prayer is asking - asking for help from God. I am not good about asking for help. I don't like to feel like I cannot take care of things myself. But the truth is I cannot. I am helpless. I was made to ask my creator to meet my needs, to give me my daily bread, to lead me not into temptation. God wants us to come to him with our cares.

I had my small groups at Bible study read three passages and look ponder what these passages teach and how they touch the women's lives.

- Matthew 7:7-11

- John 15:5-8

- I John 5:14-15

The basic premise of all of these passages is that God wants us to ask him. He wants us to bring our cares to Him in prayer. Philippians 4:6 - 7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I love this passage because it tells us that when we take our cares and requests to God, we will receive His peace. Not our requests fulfilled in that moment. Not the new job or the husband. Not reconciliation with our obnoxious boss or a calm, respectful attitude from our child. The passage says when we take our cares to God we receive His peace.

I love what Paul Miller wrote in "A Praying Life", "Anxiety is unable to relax in the face of chaos; continuous prayer clings to the Father in the face of chaos. My life is often full of chaos and anxiety. I can easily get overwhelmed by what is before me. At that point I get to choose whether to live in the anxiety or trade it in for God's peace through prayer.

I want to bring all my requests before God. There is a part of me that still holds onto those false fears that I can't pray because I don't know what God's will is in this situation. Or that if I pray the wrong thing, God might give me what I want, which will be wrong because it was not what He wanted to do in my life. I have a few weird beliefs about prayer that need to be challenged. But the passages above and throughout the Bible make it clear that God wants to hear my prayers asking for His help. There is power in these prayers even if I don't know how it all works. I know that over time, as I spend more time in His word and in prayer, my requests will begin to align themselves more and more quickly with God's will. Until then, I will pray knowing what Packer and Nystrom wrote in "Praying." "God reserves the right to answer the prayer we should have made rather than the one we did make."

I loved this poem:

Paradox of Prayer
He asked for strength that he might achieve;
He was made weak that he might obey.
He asked for health that he might do greater things;
He was given infirmity that he might do better things
He asked for riches that he might be happy;
He was given poverty that he might be wise.

He asked for power that he might have the praise of men;
He was given weakness that he might feel the need of God.
He asked for all things that he might enjoy life;
He was given life that he might enjoy all things.
He has received nothing that he asked for, but all that he hoped for.
His prayer is answered.

Our prayers are always answered. Just not always how we expected.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Prayer - Helplessness

I have already written a little bit of this story here, but am writing it again to share with the women at Bible study. Since my blog is an exercise in writing, I am using it to mesh out what to share. Here is the story again, but this time with how prayer worked in the story.

Last year, Middle Man struggled in kindergarten. I am not sure he knew he struggled but I did. I sat by myself in the fall conference with his teacher and found out that he was being disruptive. Sadness set in. I got the phone calls from the teacher telling me what Middle Man had done this time. Frustration began. I read the emails between myself, his teacher, the counselor and the principal all trying to figure out how to help Middle Man fit in and follow directions. Despair entered my heart.

I felt crushed. I know what an amazing kid Middle Man is. I also know that he doesn't always fit into the box. He is quirky. He needs a special teacher and a special classroom environment to thrive. He survived kindergarten and was happy for most of the year, even when the adults were not. But I don't want school to be merely a matter of getting through the next grade. This is a bright kid who loves to learn. He loves going to school. I want him to thrive in school. I want him to be able to use all his gifts and talents. I want him in a place that meets him where he is and then helps him grow to the next level. Last year was about surviving. I tried everything I knew. I had meetings. I made reward charts. I problem solved. And then I came to the place where I realized I could not problem solve this one. I could not make it all better. I was helpless. Worse, I was helpless to make it better for my child.

Paul E. Miller in "A Praying Life" writes about how we need to learn to be helpless in order to pray. I loved this quote,
"If we think we can do life on our own, we will not take prayer seriously. Our failure to pray will always feel like something else - a lack of discipline or too many obligations. But when something is really important to us we make room for it. Prayer is simply not important to many Christians because Jesus is already an add-on."

At that moment of complete despair, of total helplessness, the only thing I could do was pray. I got to the place where I could not make my child better. I could not change him. I could only pray for him. So I started praying. I reminded God what was written in Philippians 1:6 "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." I know God made Middle Man the person he is with a purpose and that He needed to carry it to completion. I asked for God to transform Middle Man. Funny enough the next day, Middle Man started calling himself Transform, after a Pokemon character. There was a good Transform who sometimes lived with us, and a naughty one that we had to ask leave our house a few times. For the most part I had given up on the year, but when troubles arose, I would pray. It was all I could think to do.

This summer I started praying for Middle Man's class and teacher. I really want Middle Man to have a strong, positive first grade year. It has been a rocky few years of school and I don't want him to lose his love of school. I prayed for his teacher especially, that he would be placed with a great teacher who would help him thrive. I really wanted him to have Hockey Boy's teacher from last year. She is amazing. Runs a really structured class with lots of positive praise which Middle Man eats up. So I was praying Middle Man would get her class.

A week before class lists were posted we found out that Hockey Boy's teacher was moving to 2nd grade. Funny enough I was not worried about Hockey Boy's class placement at all. I rarely worry about him in school because he is such a good student and almost always follows directions - at school. I was sad for Middle Man who really wanted Hockey Boy's teacher. I began to worry about it all again. I had been praying and was confident, I thought, that God would take care of my boys. But when I heard that the "plan" I had in mind wasn't going to happen, I worried.

I had not turned my problem over to God. Not fully. In reality what I had done was turn my solution over to God. I had figured out the solution to my problem and had then prayed with the intention that I wanted God to make my solution happen. But that is not what we are told to do in Philippians 4:6-7. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

It is when we are helpless that we turn to God. It was when I was without a solution but full of anxiety that I cast my cares on Him. Once I heard my solution was not going to happen for Middle Man, I started praying about my problem. I was worried about Middle Man having a good teacher and a good class. I was worried about numbers and class mates. I was worried he would be forced to conform and lose himself in the process. I was worried he would lose his love of learning. So I prayed for God to work. I prayed for God to solve my problem His way.

It turns out He already had. The class lists for this year were pretty much set at the end of the last school year. We just didn't know it. So did the prayers matter? I think they did. Praying allowed me to align my will to God's will. It reminded me that Middle Man is God's child who He loves. It taught me a few things about prayer to use in the future. I am not sure how prayer works but I know in this situation, it did work. Middle Man has a great teacher, who seems to really get him. He is loving school. He is being allowed the space he needs and also allowed to move beyond the standard. I am sure there will be challenges ahead, but I am hoping this year I will remember to pray first.

God was not only looking out for Middle Man who I was praying about, but God was also looking out for Hockey Boy who I had not really thought to pray for because I still felt like I was in control there. Again, God loves my boys so much more than I even know how to love them. God has a plan and purpose for them. Hockey Boy has moved around a lot in the last four years of school. He has been to four schools in four years. He has adapted well so I never really thought about it. But with a good kid like Hockey Boy you can slide under the radar and never really be challenged to grow. Hockey Boy got his same teacher from last year. She knows him well now and knows where he needs to be challenged. He trusts her so when she pushes he doesn't panic. He rises up to meet her challenge.

God is good to me and my family. Even when I don't know what to ask.