I suspect that perhaps I pray for you a bit differently than some people do. Let me confess right now…. I don’t always pray that you are happy. I don’t always pray that all goes well with you. I don’t always pray that you win. I don’t pray with the perfect words, or sometimes even with a full attention span. But I do pray continuously, because I like to watch God at work.
My prayer life changed when I started working with kids. I worked at a children’s home after college and at age 21 was hired to work with teenaged girls. Teenaged girls are liars. OK….maybe not all. But a lot. Especially those who have been abused and neglected most of their lives. Teenaged boys can lie, too, but there is a difference. Teenaged girls are good liars. It was a frustrating time. I wanted so much for them to get on track and do the right thing, but often they did what they knew. Acted from a warped brain. It was beyond me to know when they were lying, and how to help. I learned to pray.
So my prayers were “If (insert name) is headed down the wrong path, Lord please let her be caught. Please let the consequences be severe enough that they get her attention and change her life.”
I kept volunteering to switch and work with the teenaged boys at the home, who were prone to violence and had sent many a houseparent packing doing bodily damage to them. They were very reluctant to put me in this position (and now I definitely understand why), but in an emergency one night they had no choice. After that night, they agreed that I could work with the boys. The boys were a bit easier. They’d do things, but not cover their tracks well. They would sneak out at night. At first that made me crazy and I would try to find them. It was impossible. One of my fellow houseparents reminded me that I was human and needed to sleep on occasion, so I learned to lock the windows when they had slipped out….and go back to bed. They’d have to wake up the other boys to get back in the house. I would pray “Lord, when (insert name) tries to get back in tonight make it difficult for him. May he notice the impact of his actions on others. May he desire sleep more than wandering. If he runs to trouble, may every attempt be thwarted.” (I’ve always loved the word “thwarted”!).
The anger these boys felt burned brightly and often went out of control. I understood their anger…. they had been given a raw deal in their young lives. But still, I knew that it wasn’t in their best interest to let it fester for life. My prayer for them was that it would be chipped away, until there was none left. Praying about someone’s anger is one prayer that has changed for me over time. While I used to see anger as an emotion all on its own (and prayed it would just go away),
I don’t believe it is. Now I believe that anger is fear disguised. My prayer for the angry now is they would no longer be afraid….and that they would learn to know security, trust and confidence. Not from the outside in, as I know the outer forces can sometimes be unstable in this world, but from the inside out. From a confidence of the spirit that lives and grows inside them.
Working with youth groups in later years continued the prayers. It’s tough when you know what is going on and what has the potential to go on. Some youth leaders feel like you give youth freedom. I always felt that granting freedom was the right of their parents. I felt like my job was to protect them from themselves and hold them a bit closer than their parents. This could put us at odds. When dealing with teens, often you strongly suspect things going on, but can’t prove them. You see such amazing potential, but you also see how fragile they are. Some are teetering on the edge. Many were self-centered and thoughtless and some even mean. Many had emotions that were in over-kill. My prayer “Lord, you know their hearts, love them and want to use them. May the voice of your spirit be strong in their ears and may they be compelled to follow you. May they want to live in truth and kindness and calm and learn to hear your voice.”
Moving back to my hometown, I was faced with the fact that I have an imperfect family. It’s easy to ignore when you live farther away. While they are the perfect family for me, love me well, and I would choose no other, if they make bad choices or don’t choose to live with integrity and truth and purpose and responsibility, it is heartbreaking. On one hand I feel it shouldn’t impact me much, since I believe we own our own actions. But for some reason it matters. You become disappointed. It is easy to be frustrated and angry with them, because you above others know their gifts and potential. Yet you cannot live their lives for them. One option is to distance yourself, but I (usually) like them as well as love them and want to be part of their lives. And what if they did that to me? Cut me out of their lives because I made bad choices? I can’t imagine life without each and every one of them. I instead choose to trust that God loves them even more than me and He will not let them go. I am relentless in praying that when they do wrong, it will be exposed. (Yep…woe to them that I love!) But I also pray that God will continue to shape them, change them and use them and they will be molded into people after God’s heart.
I love that the Bible is not a sanitized storybook, but instead the life stories of imperfect people. It gives us hope or who we can become and how high from the depths we can rise. That’s what I want for those I love, that they will grow and create an amazing life story. One that will inspire generations. That they will know themselves but still love themselves, that they will live in the light and not in darkness, that they will not just take up space on this earth, but will leave the world better than they found it.
I love the freedom that God gives. I believe that is the gift of Jesus….that we are unbound and free to choose who or what we will follow. There are consequences to our choices. The older I get, the more I appreciate it. Especially since I think the church often lives in fear and wants to bring back bondage. But prayers should be living and active. They should be messy and sometimes reflect our sin and stupidity. That’s evidence we are praying without ceasing. God wants us to talk to Him and we don’t have to wait until we know what He wants before we ask what we want. The prayers we pray are way less importance than the answers. In the answers we see God may not be who we thought He was.
I am not someone who tries to protect God from truth, but someone who throws it all at His feet. It’s my responsibility to pray…..to dialogue with God. Mercy is not always what is in my heart… often justice is. But really, do I want my own idea of justice to rule the world? Do I want that to be the standard that God applies to me? Yeah, often I do….but I know that is arrogance showing. But while God is a God of justice, He also is a God of mercy and grace. I want that applied to me, and also to others. God does answer our prayers. Every one of them. Yes, no or wait. We don’t always want to acknowledge the answer, but when we do we learn a bit more about how God works in this crazy, sinful world of humans.
So when I pray for you (and I probably do), know sometimes you will not like what I say. I may not pray that you get what you want. Sometimes (begrudgingly) I will pray that I not get what I ask for either. (Even when I beg.) Instead I pray we get what we need (Stones to the Rock!). But not our own opinions of need…the need as God sees it.
As God answers our prayers, I pray we can’t help but notice who He is and what He is up to….and that it changes who we are. Prayer is active and powerful and life changing.
I do pray for you, like it or not! And sorry, but I will not respect a request to not talk to God for you and about you. You just come up in the never-ending conversation. You don’t have to agree, but I think God is at work in you and around you. And I like paying attention.