I prayed that prayer in an incubator of sorts.
My white-walled life with clean lines and a linear path made me think I could learn prayer right there, just like a smarty.
He’d teach and I’d take notes and develop a plan. Prayer would be birthed at my desk, pencil in hand and crisp lined notebook spread out in front of me. Sanitary.
It didn’t exactly work out that way.
You see, I married a man with passion and zeal … and a limp. I both loved and hated him for all the ways he was different from me, but I didn’t know what to do with his fumblings.
I was the rule follower. Sit in the front row and make eye contact with the teacher and study for days before the test. He’d set his alarm for 3am to crank out a paper, hours before it was due. I made lists and checked boxes and made sure I did everything just so, while he questioned motives and asked “why” and made decisions based on convictions, not on what everyone else was doing.
My strengths had their seamy underbelly.
As did his.
He shared a roof with that wife who’d turned her nit-picking eye on him and he couldn’t quite reconcile his internal rudder with all the demands she’d placed on him. They missed each other.
I pushed and he ran and we both twirled those bands around our left ring-fingers as if to subtly ask ourselves “is this thing really permanent?”
It was here that God taught me to pray.
I’d made a big mess of my wedding dress and could barely live my vows, much less choke them out. For better or worse … I’d hung him out to dry in both. I wondered if we might live separate, but forcibly one, forever.
So I did what I didn’t know how to do and I learned as I did it. I prayed.
I filled 3 X 5 notecards with scripture and paced the first floor of my house, reciting the only Words that were holding true in my life. I had a plastic bin, full, of themed verses that I prayed over Nate and over me. When I’d made such a mess of my marriage and my man, I clung to His Word as my only hope.
And when I wasn’t wearing thin those notecards, I was crying weak tears to God. (You pray a different kind of prayer when you’re desperate.)
Pain made my heart soft to prayer as conversation, not platitudes. I was needy and God came for me, the needy one. The sun had seemingly set on any dreams I might have for married life and for my man, and God came to me in that dark.
God had a heartbeat.
He wasn’t angry.
He was tender with this shorn bride.
He taught me to pray right there in the middle of my still-undone moment, when the person on the other end of my prayers appeared not to budge.
I learned that prayer was fluid because He was so near when I talked to Him from the mess.
(And He responded with a shift to both Nate’s heart and mine.)
A decade later and I get to do it again.
She came pre-wired with shame. Though now a daughter, the former orphan has learned a subtle habit of inhaling shame over any one of life’s hiccups — ’cause how else might a little one, with a little grid, make sense of why her young heart was slain? These children can live in blaming themselves and, really, they’re just an exacerbated version of us.
Even the slightest correction, received, one misstep on her part or missed answer or gesture she inappropriately timed, and I’ve lost her. Again. Sometimes for hours, and others for days.
She can conceptually understand the Father’s love and His life, laid down for her. She’s shared the gospel with friends and sings worship songs, loud, and plays hymns on the piano. She reads her Bible in her free time.
She wants God.
But the distance between her head and her heart is lengthened by years of unexplained loss and, at the moment, shame fills that distance.
We talk and she nods her head. We pray and her mouth forms words she doesn’t feel. Her heart sinks behind her eyes that question me: at what point are you gonna leave me?
So I do what I’m still learning how to do and I learn as I do it. I pray that desperate prayer.
I scribble scripture across lines of my moleskin journal, reciting the only true Words in my life and hers. I pray with expectation and with hope, because though her history before us shows little signs of either, His Word says otherwise. I form a reality that isn’t visible to the eye.
I sow into the yet-unseen part of her story, by talking to God about her.
I fill pages of the best kind of baby book, the one that she’ll take into eternity.
When I’m not saying His Words back to Him, sometimes I just cry weak tears on His chest. It’s one thing to sow into His hidden story for her, in prayer, when she’s not right in front of you — it’s another to stoke the flame of prayer while facing her stares and fielding her anger from years of pain and orphanhood while holding her stiff frame.
But I asked for this.
“Teach me to pray” was the gloriously dangerous ask that invited me into a conversation with God. One that would make Him and His Word more real than the hand in front of me … or her heart, melting down, in the middle of my Monday afternoon.
While we wait on the one(s) in our lives whose hearts appear to be unbending, we realize the waiting room isn’t a purgatory, it’s a place to learn how to talk to God.
Nate’s once-dark hour and now hers, they are a treasury.
Prayer isn’t sterile, it’s viral, within me. I come, weakened and messy and He responds to my squeak of an ask (because all you’ve got sometimes when you’re sharing a roof with one who seems unbending is one little squeak) with a part of Himself that floods me.
That one who seems stuck — who just.won’t.move? You’ve been asking for an instantaneous miracle or some kind of momentous awakening and while those asks do stir His heart, don’t waste the minutes in between.
They very well may be your school of prayer.
For Your Continued Pursuit: Luke 11:1-13 | Psalm 119:11 | Isaiah 40:31 | Psalm 27:14 | Hosea 2:15