Friday, March 20, 2020

A Prayer Haven

Some have called it a War Room, like the one in the movie. I call it my prayer haven.

Around the time I started my new job in November, a group of friends pooled together some money and gave me a gift card with instructions to buy some clothes for my new job and anything that made me happy. Before I bought clothes, I made this little vision come true. 

It is true that God is not impressed by fancy prayers and no one needs a special place to pray (Matthew 6:5-14), but this space brings me so much peace. So when I woke up at 4 a.m. today, my mind swirling with the current state of the world, the losses all around us, and the uncertainty ahead, this is where I ended up. 

Not right away, mind you. First, I tried to go back to sleep. When that didn't work, I checked the news. Anxiety fully triggered, I craved the quiet peace of my prayer haven: the gentle glow of the starry twinkle lights, the soft comfort of the blanket a former student gifted me, the visual reminder from a favorite hymn, the sturdy anchor of the glass prayer beads, the solid Truth of God's Word in my lap...and this:

It's my memorial lantern. Instead of a light or candle inside, I keep a record of miracles, provision, and answered prayer. The idea stemmed from a blog by Linny Saunders years ago where she told us about her Memorial Box

The truth is, I ran out of rocks, so my memorial lantern is not as full yet as I'd like it to be. The other truth is that I have journaled far more provisions and answers to prayer in the past two decades of my life than could ever fit in this lantern. This is for the big ones. 

I don't know a whole lot, theologically, about prayer. I do know that I don't think that "prayer works." I don't believe that if we pray hard and long enough, we will get everything we want and hope for all the time. First of all, that's not Biblical. Also, if that were true, no one would ever die or get awful, debilitating illnesses with no cure. There would be a lot more rich people in the world and a lot less suffering. Covid-19 would have never existed.

That said, I absolutely believe that prayer matters (Ephesians 1:18; Matthew 26:41). Prayer makes a difference (Psalm 145:18; 2 Chronicles 7:14). I know that we are called to pray (Ephesians 6:18; James 5:13, Philippians 4:6), and that our prayers are like incense to the Lord (Psalm 141:2). He delights in hearing our prayers and supplications (Jeremiah 29:12-13). He desires to bless and comfort us and provide for us. He also sees the big picture that we cannot see. I believe that the absence of prayer can have tragic results, and I believe the act of prayer to the Lord always yields blessings. 

Sometimes, the blessings are so incredible, I am undone:

The adoption of our children following infertility.
The unexpected money at a time of dire need.
The healing of our daughter's cancer.
The sparing of a life that had almost certainly been lost.
The prophetic words of a stranger that came to pass.
The prayers answered in unimaginable ways.

Those are the things I record on the stones. One side of each stone holds the memory; the other side, a related Bible passage.

Sometimes, and this is where faith gets hard to explain, the blessing is found in the closeness to God that prayer yields. The strength He supplies when it feels impossible to start a new day and face what lies ahead. The comfort He pours out when words are inadequate to express a deep wound of the soul. His tangible presence, a constant reminder that somehow, Christ in us is enough, no matter what this life may throw our way. 

Life has thrown a lot of nasty stuff my way, and in the words of Elisabeth Elliot:

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to get wrapped up in the alarming news reports and give into fear. This disaster may not have surprised God, but it sure as heck has thrown the entire world for a loop. In America, where we have come to take for granted incredible healthcare and free education and reliable jobs and toilet paper on the shelves and milk in the see that all crumbling before us is indeed a horrifying experience.

Practically overnight, the illusion of control has slipped away. Fear encroaches. Some respond with denial of the problem, staying away from the news and making broad assumptions to assuage their fear. Some respond by hoarding and preparing and forgetting that we actually need each other for the best outcome. Most of us, I think, feel a little lost and a lot confused. All the things we were sure of yesterday? All the things we had planned for tomorrow? We're not so sure of any of those things anymore. 

Stuck on pause, we are faced with new thoughts and realizations that we have been too busy or distracted or scared to consider before. And, little by little, as entire states shut down all nonessential activity, we find ways to contribute. We pick up groceries for elderly neighbors and for parents of littles. We sew masks for medical personnel, babysit the kids of those who must still go to work, and donate supplies from construction companies and cleaning services. We share resources and words of solidarity and comfort. We sing and create and research and bake and give of ourselves in the very human way we were created to give.

And we pray.

My dad has told me many stories over the years about prayers God answered...The time when my sister almost died of appendicitis. The time when my brother was kidnapped, but found unharmed before it was too late. And the many times when my father was faced with a difficult problem at work that, seemingly, could not be solved. 

He would work on a problem for days, weeks, maybe months? He would try new ideas and they wouldn't work, and he would continually attack the problems, praying for a way to resolve them. More than once, he told me, he woke in the middle of the night with the knowledge he needed to solve the problem. He could hardly wait to get to work on those mornings to see all the toil pay off, to witness what had at first seemed impossible...suddenly become a reality.

And so this is one of the prayers I'm praying during this worldwide health crisis: Lord, wake up the researchers, the scientists, the inventors, the suppliers, the producers, the medical personnel, the government leaders, the educators, the business leaders, the money holders. Wake them up in the middle of the night or in the middle of a press conference or in the middle of a phone call or interview or conversation - and show them solutions. Show them how to contain the spread, expand the testing, multiply the supplies, find the cure, stabilize the economy, establish new and better procedures, provide for the disadvantaged. And then give them the courage and resources and persistence to accomplish what lies before them. 

And for the rest of us? Show us how to love each other well and trust You more.

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