When I was a girl, I would stay in town with my grandmother on Saturdays so I could have my piano lesson. The walk to my teacher’s house took me by a convent, and I would slow my steps, secretly intrigued by the sisters praying in the chapel. My Grandma Olson, a practical no-nonsense woman who’d raised four children alone in the Depression, was not impressed. “You can’t be so heavenly-minded you’re no earthly good,” she said. I thought that if a person wanted to be a person of prayer she had to be sort of holy, mystical. Certainly not wear blue jeans and ride bikes and laugh a lot, which I liked to do (and still do).
When I was a child, I prayed to accept Jesus as my Savior, and now and then I would shoot up quick prayers, especially when I was in trouble. I received a jolt one morning when, as a freshman in college, I came to class ill-prepared for the test the professor was handing out. Then he had the nerve to pray, “Lord, bring to remembrance what each student has studied.” What?! I needed him to pray for a miracle for me to know the answers! It began to occur to me that God might be more than a genie in a bottle out to make my life comfortable.
It was when I was a young mother with a toddler and a new baby that I tentatively tried the door of prayer. My husband Bill had taken a new job as a youth pastor, and I felt very alone and over my head with added parenting and church responsibilities. One Sunday evening in church as I sat in the back cradling my little ones, I offered up this simple prayer: “Yes.” All I could do, I told God, was offer myself to him just as I was.
Over the years I’ve prayed the simple, yet life-shaping prayer of “Yes” many times. Sometimes the prayer sticks in my throat. Sometimes I pray it with fresh urgency. But with this prayer, I understand: Prayer is being available to God. An astounding concept, to think he calls me friend. To know our relationship can grow throughout life.
I was asked to pray recently for a devastated young father whose wife was leaving him and their two small children. His story is not unique, but when confronted by such chaos and pain, easy answers are stripped from me. How can I tell this young man, “Just pray and trust God. All will be well”?
But I can tell him, “Say Yes to God. Right in the middle of your mess. Right in the middle of your joy, your dilemmas. Say Yes, no matter what.” I have learned over the years that even though life is sometimes difficult and complex, we can trust God with the details of our lives. It is true: if we seek first the Kingdom of God, everything else falls into place. Easy? No. But good. And it is also true that even though there are times I am aware of his Presence, some days his absence is all that I feel. But it’s all right to feel helpless and desperate before God. Andrew Murray wrote generations ago, “Never forget the two foundational-truths on which this blessed waiting rests: thy absolute helplessness; the absolute sufficiency of thy God.”
Desperation is what drives us into his presence. And we can say Yes, in spite of all the “No’s” the world will throws at us, knowing that ultimately, he is the Redeemer, that he makes all things beautiful…in his time.
“. . we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives — altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.”
–Richard Foster, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home