Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Contentment vs. Asking with Shameless Audacity

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020


(Picture from June 1, 2013.)

I’m on my annual Springtime personal spiritual retreat this week. Monday it began with me thinking about how happy my life is and how fulfilling so many of the activities I make a regular part of my life are, because they express who I am.

This was happening the day after, on Sunday evening, I got a message on an online dating site from a guy who ended up being a scammer. There were three big tip-offs: The first message was generic. (I specifically ask on my profile for non-generic messages.) The messages made it clear he was not a native English speaker. (That’s theoretically okay, but wasn’t obvious from his profile, so he was probably a scammer operating from overseas.) And the big tip-off, which I always always answer with a No was asking to go off the dating site right away. (And my No means they stop sending me messages.)

So Monday I was discouraged with online dating, but very happy with my life as it is. So I began thinking, Maybe I should give up on the whole idea of ever finding another man and getting married again. It would be nice, sure, but my life is good and I for sure don’t want to have someone in my life who doesn’t fit with me, who instead of appreciating the way the things I do express who I am, puts a damper on me doing those things.

In short, I’m content. That’s good. So why even bother with having an online profile? Maybe I should just plan on spending the rest of my life happily single.

The next morning, as part of my spiritual retreat. I looked again at the verse and theme I’d chosen for 2020.

The verse was Luke 11:9 — “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

The theme was “Shameless Audacity” — from Luke 11:8. Jesus has told a parable about someone asking for bread at midnight. “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” And then he launches into verse 9, telling us to ask.

And I’ll be honest: What instantly comes to mind to ask God for is a man who loves me and loves God, a man for me to marry.

So I thought, I will ask again. I won’t completely give up on the idea.

But there was a problem with that. Yesterday I started feeling discontent. I was thinking more about what my life is missing and less about what I have.

This morning, while I went on my walk, I was thinking how to balance Shameless Audacity with Contentment. I don’t want to lose my joy and contentment because I’m asking God for the desires of my heart.

I do think God wants us to ask for the desires of our hearts. There’s this verse, and there are many others.

I think of the quote from C. S. Lewis, “We are far too easily pleased.

But it feels selfish and greedy to ask for something more when my life is already so very good. In fact, wait a minute, it feels like shameless audacity.

And I think maybe that’s the way to pull the two together, to be content while still asking for more — and that’s to acknowledge that it’s shameless audacity by being grateful.

In fact, it goes back to Philippians 4:6 — “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And rather than feeling discontent from doing that — when I acknowledge the shameless audacity and combine it with gratitude — I feel a whole lot of joy.

Because it reminds me that God the Father loves to give good gifts to His children.

While I was walking, I thought of another, much smaller request, that feels like shameless audacity. I haven’t seen the great blue heron who frequents my lake since the stay at home order happened in March. So, yes, for a few days I’ve been praying that I’d see one.

Well, this morning I acknowledged that the irises I’ve been taking pictures of this week have been amazing and stunning, so it’s shameless audacity for me to ask for something more, but yes, Lord, I’m going to ask to see a great blue heron.

And sure enough, a person walking a dog ahead of me startled a great blue heron, so it flew to the other side of the lake.

And I saw another fly by my window in the afternoon. (This is after not seeing one for more than two months.)

And maybe if God grants that small shamelessly audacious request, maybe He will grant the bigger one.

He doesn’t have to, and I know He doesn’t have to, and I am happy and content and thankful for the life I have and it will not be a tragedy at all if I am single for the rest of my life.

But I’m going to be shamelessly audacious and ask.

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Back in the 1980s when I was a student at Biola University, I took an amazing class on the Psalms taught by Dr. Edward Curtis. He taught us about the many different types of Psalms and opened my eyes to things about them I hadn’t noticed before.

Today I was reading in Psalm 129. The beginning goes like this:

“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,”
let Israel say;
“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained the victory over me.
Plowmen have plowed my back
and made their furrows long.
But the Lord is righteous;
he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”

That got me thinking about the Salvation History Psalms. Unlike the Lament, Salvation History Psalms are defined more by their content than by their form. They are Psalms where the writer reviews what God has done and what God has brought them through. That’s offered as evidence that God can bring them through the current situation.

Can you see why I got to thinking about them?

On top of that, I was moved by my pastor’s online sermon on Easter Sunday. He said that in the middle of a pandemic, Easter doesn’t feel like Easter. But he reminded us that the first Easter didn’t feel like Easter, either.

Before the first Easter, things were very dark indeed. But the light came. And because of what God brought those first disciples through then, we remember now that God is with us in the darkness.

That’s what Salvation History Psalms were all about. They rehearsed what God had done, bringing His people out from slavery in Egypt in the Exodus, listing out more ways God had delivered them. And because God did that — we know He’s not going to abandon His people now.

Some examples of Salvation History Psalms are Psalm 78, 105, 106, 135, and 136. The theme of these Psalms is: Remember!

These Psalms are long, telling stories, so I won’t write out the whole Psalms. But here are some verses that give the idea.

Psalm 78:4–

We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 105:5-6–

Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Abraham,
his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.

Psalm 106:6–

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

Psalm 135:3-4–

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.
For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own,
Israel to be his treasured possession.

Psalm 136:10-12–

to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures forever.
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

Salvation History Psalms are different from Thanksgiving Psalms. Those are more about a specific time when God came through. The Salvation History Psalms tend to be about the history of the people of Israel and how God had a pattern of taking care of them.

How can we use this in our own prayers? Well, you can think through the collective history of the Church. You can also make it personal and recite more of a history of how faithful God has been to you. Beyond any one incident.

With all of these: Because God has been with us in the past, we know He is with us now. Reciting the history of how God has been with us reminds us we don’t need to be afraid.

My plan was to write one and leave it as an example. But it almost feels too personal.

So for now, I’m going to go offline and make myself a list of ways God has worked in my life when I’ve gone through darkness and He has shown that He is there.

Will that help me in the midst of a pandemic? Yes it will. Because whatever happens, I do believe the Lord will walk with me.

As Jesus said to his disciples before his death:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Praying in Crazy Times

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

During this pandemic, I’ve heard people say they don’t even know how to pray.

I’m thinking about the Psalms lately as I think about praying. I do believe there are many ways to pray — but some of those ways are to pray like the psalmists.

I’ve been looking at laments lately. An interesting thing about laments is that in the Psalms, they generally spend a lot more time telling God what the problem is than they do telling him what they want him to do about it. It’s almost like praying is more for our benefit than it is for God’s.

Over the years, I’ve often been told to pray specific prayers, because then you can see when God has answered. I’ve been told to name it and claim it.

And yes, we’re supposed to lay our requests before God with thanksgiving. There’s nothing wrong with telling him what we want to happen. He’s said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

But what is the difference between asking God and telling him what to do?

Take a look at the Psalms. They pour out their hearts to God about the big mess they’re in, and then they ask God to act. They ask God for help. They aren’t usually terribly specific about what form the help needs to take. In fact, it seems like they actually trust God to figure out what should be done.

I think about when my husband left me. For years, I prayed that God would bring him back. It took a long time before I realized that I wasn’t trusting God. I was telling him what I thought needed to happen.

God did answer my prayers for help. He granted me protection and security, a new job, a new home, and a church family that cared about me. He took my relationship with himself to a whole new level.

In fact, he graciously granted me an abundance of blessings I’d never thought to ask for.

There was a key moment for me when I realized that “standing for my marriage” wasn’t actually trusting God. Could I trust God to help me and bless me when I was not deciding what the outcome had to be?

Take a look at some Psalms. You can almost page through and take your pick, but I’ll point out a couple where it’s really striking.

Look at Psalm 44. The psalmist goes on for 22 verses about how bad things have gotten. Then they end with these four verses:

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Another good example is Psalm 10. This one is a more complete lament, and it’s got the “Words of Assurance” section after the “Petition.” In fact, out of 18 verses, there is only one where he asks God to do anything, and that verse is short and sweet:

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.

So this is an idea for praying during this pandemic. I’m not saying this is the only way to pray. But as an exercise, try pouring out to God all your worries and all the ways things are not going well.

And then ask him:

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.

It doesn’t hurt, after that, to continue with the form of the lament. Remind yourself that you really do believe that God can handle this. Make some promises about how you’re going to celebrate when God brings you through!

But I for sure don’t know what God should do about this global pandemic. I’m glad that I do trust that he knows, and that he will have mercy.

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief.
You consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

Walk with us, Lord.

A Lament for Covid-19

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

I’ve been thinking for a long time about praying like the Psalmists, using the forms of Hebrew poetry to pray.

The Lament is the most common form in the Psalms, and it’s a wonderful form because you fully complain, but the form brings you back around to remembering that God’s going to take care of this. You even plan how you will rejoice when you get through it. So — I’m going to do a practice Lament about the coronavirus.

This isn’t polished, it’s not pretty. But I want it to be something anyone can do.

I wrote this with two things in mind: I tried to use parallelism, repeating myself. And I tried to use the form of a Lament:

1) Address to God
2) Complaint
3) Confession of Trust
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

So that’s enough. I’ll offer below my lament I wrote for this time.

This is my offering — but I offer it in hopes that you’ll see that you don’t have to be good at this to do it! I hope that you’ll try writing your own Lament and voice your complaint — but remind yourself that you really do believe that God will pull you through.

A Lament for Covid-19

Lord, are you there?
Have you seen the world going crazy?

Your people are falling ill,
young and old are suffering.
This virus is spreading the globe,
people in every country are affected.

We’re afraid to touch each other.
We’ve banned hugs and handshakes.
We stay at home and keep our distance.
Even people I pass on the outdoor path draw back.

Businesses are closing;
hairdressers are afraid.
Librarians are too scared to touch books,
and restaurants have become take-out only.

The economy is crashing.
Friends are getting laid off.
Small businesses are failing,
and classes are switching to online learning.

The scariest part is exponential growth.
Our country went from hundreds
to thousands of cases
in less than a week.

Can our hospitals tend
those who need it?
Will we run out of facemasks?
Will we have enough ventilators?

Lord, the future is unknown
and everything we thought was normal has changed.

I do trust you, Lord.
You’ve seen the world through every disaster.
This seems so big,
but you are always bigger.

Can you save mankind from the consequences of our mistakes?
You can.
Will you have mercy on us?
You will.

You see the individual.
You notice when a sparrow falls.
You see the hourly worker laid off,
And you have compassion for the owner who lost their business.

I wish you were not quite so good
at redeeming bad things,
for then you wouldn’t
let bad things happen.

As it is, we ask for redemption.
We ask for bursts of goodness and grace.
We ask for ingenuity for doctors and scientists,
finding treatment, finding cures,
developing an effective vaccine.

We ask for compassion
in the hearts of caregivers,
that those suffering may know
their pain is seen.

We ask for protection
for those serving on the frontlines,
that the virus will not enter their bodies,
that they will not succumb,
that they will fight on.

We ask for creativity
in the hearts and minds of artists,
that they will lift us above these times,
draw us out from fear.

We ask for community
even as we distance ourselves.
We ask for creative ways
to reach out and tell people we care.

We ask that we will never forget
how richly blessed we are
to have each other,
and what an amazing gift
is the presence of another human being.

Lord, have mercy on this world You’ve created!
Look with compassion on our suffering!
Give humanity the wisdom and resilience
To stop this virus and cut short the harm.

Lord, you’ve said when we walk through the fire,
you will be with us.
We will not be burned,
the flames will not set us ablaze.

When we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
You are with us.
You comfort us
with your rod and your staff, the signs of your presence.

We don’t know what’s coming,
but you do.
Jesus took on our infirmities
and carried our diseases,
and he never stopped
caring for the ills of the world.

Lord, we will sing for joy
when we meet back together again.
Our hugs will be
strong and invigorating.

We will laugh with joy
when we see friends and family
in person again,
when we feel our loved ones in the flesh.

Thank you for the precious gift of community,
and thank you that we’re learning
Love is stronger than any virus
And community transcends physical distance.

Amen, Lord.

With Thanksgiving

Saturday, April 27th, 2019

I did a post recently about praying with thanksgiving.

Today I’m thinking about a big prayer request I’ve had for a long time: I’d like to get married again.

After taking a year and a half off from “looking” while I was on the Newbery committee, a couple months ago I paid for six months on an online dating site – and have not found any good matches. Yes, a few were interesting to me, but so far no one has shown interest back.

I know I’ll be hard to match. My faith is important enough in my life that I’m not really interested in anyone who doesn’t even mention their faith on their profile. At the same time, I have an adult transgender daughter who’s planning a gay wedding, and I’m thrilled about that. I hate it that it’s not always true that someone whose faith is important to them is completely accepting of LGBTQ people, but unfortunately, they don’t always go together. I’ve got a few other quirks that might make me hard to match, and so far I haven’t found anyone.

I feel ready to date again. In fact, it’s been almost five years since I dated someone for two months. (Found him online!) And I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of healing since that time. Some of the healing came from that relationship – only the second relationship in my life, the first being my ex-husband. Some of the healing came from breaking up with him myself instead of getting left, as I did with my ex-husband. If I were desperate, I would not have let a perfectly good boyfriend go! So in a sense breaking up with him was affirmation that I am not desperate to be in a relationship.

[I need to add that my ex-boyfriend is a wonderful person and will make a wonderful partner for someone. I just don’t think we’re a great match. I’m happy to still be friends with him five years later, and I’m even more convinced we’re better off as friends. I do think that’s another sign that I’ve come a long way in healing since my divorce.]

The biggest factor in my healing journey was writing Project 52, the story of my life, including the divorce years. I looked at old journals, confronted that my marriage hadn’t been as ideal as I remembered it, and looked at the painful times with the knowledge that things really did work out for good. My life is happy – how can I continue to hold it against my ex-husband that it’s not anything like I expected it to be – when it’s so very good?

Also in the past five years, I have come into my own as a librarian. I was on the Newbery Committee!!! (That still thrills me!) And this year I won the Allie Beth Martin Award given by the Public Library Association. That feels wild. I didn’t officially become a librarian (with a Master’s in Library Science) until I was 43, and still have the feeling that coming to the profession so late makes me somehow less of a “real” librarian. Yes, I knew I’d found my calling – but to be validated like that? Wow!

That’s all good, and that’s all true, but it’s also true that I liked being married. I liked being married to my best friend, or at least the person I thought was my best friend. I also think being married helps me be a better person, getting the perspective of someone other than me. So yes, I’d like to apply all the lessons learned in the healing process to a new relationship. As far as I’m concerned, all this healing means I’m ready now to jump in again.

I’ve been praying about it for a long time, and nothing’s happened. I made a big deal of putting up an online profile again – and nothing’s happened.

But a few things encouraged me about it today.

One was from taking a personal spiritual retreat a couple weeks ago. It was wonderful – and then I got back excited about doing more writing and wanting to write an hour every day as well as post my book reviews and post pictures and have daily quiet times. And I ended up staying up late every day the next week, which wasn’t a good way to do it.

And I realized that if I were married, I’d have even less time for personal projects like that. I was reminded of I Corinthians 7 where it says that a married woman wants to please her husband, but an unmarried woman can be devoted to the Lord in body and spirit.

If I can’t even do all the meaningful things I’d like to do when I’m single, it would be even harder with a man in my life. Maybe this is my opportunity to figure out my priorities and realize that I have no one to blame but myself when I don’t get everything done I’d like to do.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe it’s not that I’m not finding a match because I’m a hard person to match. Maybe it’s not that God is ignoring my request.

Maybe the Lord is saying, “Sondy, I love you so much I’m going to let you linger in this happy place for a while. You went through the wilderness. Now is an interlude in the garden.”

And thinking of it that way (rather than what is wrong with me that I can’t find a match? or what is taking God so long?) makes it much easier to rejoice.

All of this brings me right back to praying with thanksgiving. Because today was a day off, and the weather was utterly glorious. And I got to thinking about all the things that would have at least been different if I were married.

So I’m going to make a list of things that happened today that wouldn’t have necessarily happened that way if I were married. I am thankful for them all.

— I got to sleep late.
— I had a leisurely quiet time, reading chapters from several additional books, taking my sweet time.
— I got to choose from the piles of interesting books on my dining room table.
— I got to listen to Christian music and sang along without embarrassment.
— I memorized Scripture, reciting aloud without bothering anyone.
— I took a wonderful walk by my lake, at my own pace, stopping to take pictures whenever the fancy struck me.
— I sang in the shower without bothering anyone.
— I cleaned my bathroom. It was much less work than if I didn’t live alone and I’ve got a nice monthly cleaning rotation that works really well. This is less frequent than if I didn’t live alone, and there was no negotiating necessary.
— I did my laundry. Also less work.
— I made dinner – with enough leftovers to last me the whole week. Wouldn’t be true if I were cooking for more than one.
— I had time to write.
— I went to some friends’ house and played games. No worries about whether my romantic partner can handle being beaten in a game. No accusations that I am too competitive. (Now those things definitely don’t have to happen. But there was also no anxiety at the possibility they might happen.) Just a lot of fun. And I got to be around people I enjoy.

And did I mention? The weather was glorious today. The new grass and new leaves are all bright Spring green and were shining under the bright blue sky. A wind was blowing, and it was neither hot nor cold. I didn’t need air conditioning or heat and wore a light jacket when I went on my walk. At one point I looked out the window and saw a great blue heron soar past.

That’s another thing I probably wouldn’t have if I were married: My cozy condo by the lake, decorated exactly as I want it with things meaningful to me and also with stacks and bookcases of books. There’s not really enough room for another person’s stuff, so I will probably move if I ever marry again. But meanwhile, I love Sondy’s Snuggery.

Now, I’ll admit I do have hopes of finding someone who maybe even likes to hear me singing. But you get the idea. For this time in my life I get to be selfish. I get to take only my own needs into account. I would like to have someone else to consider; I would like to be able to give someone else love day after day. But there are perks to living alone.

So yes, Lord, my request is still that I will meet someone who is a good partner for me, who loves You and seeks to follow You, and who will share life together with me, adding love and joy to my days. I ask that we would enhance each other’s lives and help each other follow You. But meanwhile, thank You so much for today, such a wonderful and joyful gift.

Thank You for this season in my life. Thank You for all the healing You’ve done in my life, and may that healing continue so I have all the more to offer a man You bring into my life. And may I continue to delight in the many good and perfect gifts You send my way.

On Prayer

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

This is going to be a hodgepodge of thoughts about prayer, and I want to tell about an amazing answer to prayer as well, because now it’s public information.

An Example

Let me start with the start of the story of an answer to prayer. First, about the praying:

It was December 2018. I was thinking about my New Year’s Goals. Every year for the last few years, besides goals, I’ve made prayer requests that I pray every day. What are the top things I want to ask God for?

For years, one of those requests has been getting out of debt. It was a long-term goal (We’re talking $30,000 in credit card debt) and I didn’t really expect it to happen any time soon. But then in early 2018 after my old car died and I bought a new one – I discovered that I had enough equity in my home to get a home equity loan that would pay off all my credit cards! So my prayer was answered! And my monthly payments were smaller so I hoped to build up some savings.

But alas! In the summer, just when I’d successfully paid off some unexpected large bills including a dental crown – my hot water heater broke and the cost to replace was over $3000. I charged it.

So now it was December 2018 and I was discouraged by that bill. I’d just paid it down to exactly $3000 but it felt like I was back in that grind. I was probably going to add to my debt with Christmas gifts and some more unexpected expenses hitting then. Would I ever get it paid off?

The next day when I went for my walk and prayed through my prayer requests, I actually thought, Why do I even bother praying to get out of debt? It’s not like God can give me a sudden influx of cash now. I’m not applying for a better job. There are no prospects of money on the horizon. Why do I even pray about this?

And it took a minute, but I thought, No, I’m going to ask. Because wasn’t I completely surprised when God did it last year? And now what I owe is so much less.

Lord, I do ask that you would get me out of debt. I don’t see how you’ll do it, and maybe it will take patience on my part, but that’s what I ask. Thank you that you helped me pay off ten times this amount last year when I least expected it. Lord, if this is my opportunity to pay it down little by little over a few years, thank you that it can still happen. Thank you for providing for me. Thank you that I have a job I love. Thank you for credit cards and that I was able to get that water heater fixed when it was leaking down into my neighbor’s hot water closet. Thank you that I can afford the payments on this, and thank you that you faithfully provide for me.

With Thanksgiving

That’s what I want to talk about regarding prayer: With thanksgiving.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “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.

Why give thanks when making a request? It reminds us that God will come through. Whether or not we get what we want, God will come through. Doing it in my prayer above completely changed my attitude.

A lot of Christians know about the Philippians verse. But did you know this idea is also in the Psalms?

I’ve already talked about forms of psalms, particularly Laments and Thanksgiving Psalms. Both forms – even the lament where you’re asking for help from a dire situation – end in praise.

I also love the words of assurance – Here’s what God will do.

In a lament, the psalmist fully moans about his plight – and then talks himself into trust. Sometimes he asks God “What’s taking you so long? Don’t you even see what trouble I’m in?” But he goes on to say, “I’m going to be praising you in the great assembly after you get me out of this!”

Look at the end of Psalm 4, after he’s asking for help:

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Look at the end of Psalm 5, where he’s got enemies after him:

But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Or look at the refrain in the great Thanksgiving Psalm, Psalm 107:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

But I’ll go on for hours if I try to list all the Psalms that end with thanks. Go through yourself and look at how psalms end – so many end in praise. And yet many also begin with requests for help out of great trouble.

And one thing so interesting about the Psalms is that a lot of that thanks and praise is about what God is going to do. They give thanks for God’s future actions. Yes, psalms go over what God has already done, but that’s usually in the main body of the psalm. As the psalmists work themselves into a better place, they remember what they know about God – and one of those things is that they can count on him to help.

Look at the end of Psalm 7. Note the future tense:

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.

I’ve been looking at Psalm 117 lately, the shortest psalm in the Bible. The first verse says to praise the Lord, and the second verse says why:

For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

God is faithful.

So we know that however he answers our request – Yes or No – He will still be faithful; he will still be good to us.

My challenge is: Thank God for the outcome, whatever it is. And thank him ahead of time.

Manipulation and Faith

When I desperately demand that God answer a certain way, when I believe it will be utter disaster if he does not make happen what I want to happen – then I’m trying to manipulate God, trying to tell him what to do, trying to control circumstances with my “faith.” But is that faith?

When my ex-husband left me, I connected with a well-meaning ministry that taught you must “stand for your marriage,” and for years I tried to pray my husband back. (Now, this ministry had many positive effects in my life, one of them being encouragement to listen to what God wanted to tell me.)

But through various means, it became clear to me that with my prayers and my words and everything I did or didn’t do, everything I said or didn’t say – I was trying with all my might to make my husband come back – or even to make God make my husband come back. Put bluntly, I was trying to manipulate God. Or at least I was trying to manipulate my husband by manipulating God.

But if I stopped praying for my husband to come back, wouldn’t that be lack of faith?

One day, our pastor preached a sermon that spoke to that. He brought in an actual chalkboard and made a big diagram on it. On one end he put “Fate” or “Letting it happen” and on the other end he put “Control” or “Making it happen.” He said where we want to be is the sweet spot in the middle – the Path of Trust.

And it dawned on me that telling God what to do is not trusting God. All this time in my prayers, I’d been telling God what to do – bring my husband back.

But isn’t that what we think of as faithful prayer? Tell God what to do! And the more boldly you insist, the greater your faith, right?

But what if instead I lay my requests before God – and thank him for what he’s going to do. Do I still trust that God is faithful if his answer is No?

I can think of a lot of prayers that didn’t go as I hoped. My husband did not come back. Because I needed to work full-time for the first time in my life, I got my Master’s in Library Science and became a librarian. I love being a librarian, but I wouldn’t have done it if not for the divorce, I would have been content working part-time.

Back in 2013, I was on the ballot to be on the Newbery committee. I missed being elected by 15 votes (out of about 800) – and was heartbroken. Four years later I tried again – and the timing was much, much better, for multiple reasons including that now I had an empty nest and more time for it.

There have been a couple of jobs I applied for and prayed for and didn’t get. There was the time I got cut from the library because of budget cuts. But all of those things worked out to the amazingly wonderful job I have now, with co-workers who are fantastic to work with, a library system that paid for my trips to the ALA conferences for Newbery deliberations and even nominated me for an award. (More about that in a minute.)

All that is to say that God does and has done in my life exceedingly abundantly above all I ask or think. And very often the blessings come after not getting what I asked for.

Why not thank God for the outcome in advance. The thing is – whatever happens, I know that God is faithful.

Answer to Prayer

Back to that December 2018 prayer about getting out of debt, prayed on a day when I had just paid down the debt to be exactly $3000.

The next day I was at work, and my branch manager asked me for my resume. She said she hadn’t wanted to mention it to me, but I was being nominated for an award and they wanted to be sure they listed all of my qualifications. She wasn’t sure exactly what the award committee was looking for, but it was a Public Library Association Award about knowledge of books. The Library Director of our library system and Branch Coordinator (who had once worked with me as my branch manager) had asked her to write up a nomination for me for this award.

Well, I was completely honored! Wow! Nominated for a librarian award! Kind of puts a capstone on God working things out for good from my divorce. Kind of emphasizes that my life is going a good direction. Feels really good to be nominated, too! Wow!

But she hadn’t known exactly what they were looking for, so I started wondering – would I feel like a fraud being nominated for this award? Did I at all fit what they’re looking for? So – I did a search on the PLA Awards. I knew this was about knowledge of books.

I found the Allie Beth Martin Award. The award is for a public librarian who has demonstrated: “(1) extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books or other library materials; and (2) distinguished ability to share that knowledge.” At the bottom of the page it says to think of people “who have widely and enthusiastically shared their knowledge through book talks, presentations to community or professional groups, written reviews, etc.”

Okay, I don’t feel like a fraud being nominated for this award, seeing as I’ve been writing Sonderbooks since 2001 – on my own time and for the love of it. I’ve always felt like Sonderbooks epitomizes who I am – incorporating my love of reading, love of writing, and fun with a little bit of computer coding. And now I learn there’s an award for being who I am! Not to mention that it feels like being on the Newbery committee gave me an advantage – since I’d been living and breathing books all year.

But the punchline? Much to my surprise (the Newbery doesn’t come with any money), the Allie Beth Martin Award comes with a $3000 honorarium!

And I found this out the day after I’d asked God for help paying off my $3000 credit card debt! Even though I didn’t think he could! It felt like God saying to me with a big smile, “Oh can’t I?”

The postscript to the story is that I did win the award. I won’t receive the honorarium until June at ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. (Since it’s in DC, some of my colleagues can come to the presentation.) Honestly, I recently had to get another dental crown – and the total I owe is now more than $3000. And they’ll take out taxes, too. But I simply don’t have any doubt at this point that God will meet my needs. And can get me completely out of debt again.

It sure took the worry away.

Now, I’ve got other prayer requests. Some others that I’ve prayed daily for years without getting what I asked for. I’m not saying that praying this way always has such a dramatic result.

But I’m more and more sure that God is faithful.

And like the psalmist says:
I will sing your praises, Lord.
I will be telling everyone I know about the amazing ways you will work these things out.
Thank you, Lord!