Prayer in a time of anguish

I’ll be the first to say that prayer does not come easily to me. I have purposefully tried to learn more about it, and improve how I pray, but there’s always a slight sense of awkwardness that I can’t shake off. That being said, I usually have that same feeling when talking to _anyone_ about anything slightly above superficial, so that’s something. Anyway, I digress. Prayer for me for years has been an ongoing conversation… that feeling that Jesus is right there and I can just strike up a conversation, and I feel the reciprocal as well, where sometimes apparently out of the blue there’s this whisper in my heart.

I don’t judge you for thinking I’m completely crazy, but please keep reading anyway.

This conversational prayer I’m comfortable with… the prayers of gratitude during my day, when I look at my children, when something wonderful happens. The prayers of request, thanksgiving, petition for others or myself that happen in the ins and outs of life.

But the prayer that doesn’t come easily is the sit down and pray. I get overwhelmed with all I want to say, with being silent because I so desperately want to listen and I get in my head and it just doesn’t flow. Especially in times like this, when the issues seem so overwhelming that I don’t know where to start.

I’m hoping I’m not the only one.

I guess it’s ok if I am. I am taking this time, on purpose, with all that’s going on, to practice prayer. To practice looking outside myself and bringing to the food of the Throne something other than my own. Is it easy? No. Categorically no. But I have found that it has been an exercise in grace and it has soothed my heart, and hopefully of those in my prayers.

Today I was reading Matthew and I’ve read this passage at least 2 times, because that’s how many times I’ve read the whole bible, but being a common passage I can say with a certainty that I’ve read and heard it many, many more than 2 times. But today I listened.

So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Mat. 26.44) The words being: My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. (Mat. 26.39)

Jesus was sorrowful. He was about to face pain and torture without even a shred of guilt. And he prayed. He prayed 3 times.

He prayed the same (simple) prayer 3 times.

Today that struck me.

I truly believe that in Jesus we can find a lens through which to look at any situation in life, and now, amid COVID-19 scares countless people are drawn to pray, to supplicate, to ask.

There is too much of the same fear and pain touching too many people at the same time. We are used to having pain and suffering in the world, but not all at once, not all understanding completely some level of everyone else’s anguish and pain.

And that gets heavy.

And here we find Jesus. He goes to be alone, and to pray. And some thoughts were in my heart today, about this prayer. I would like you to remember that I am NOT a biblical scholar in any capacity, and I’m certain men and woman of greater value can put this in better words, all I claim to do here is tell you what I heard today, as I looked at sorrow through the lens of Jesus.

1. It’s ok to express your sorrow
The bible gives us many examples of prayer, Jesus teaches us how to pray, and one thing that is always present is gratitude, recognition of God for who He is before anything else. Not here. Here it seems that Jesus goes to pray and his heart is so heavy, he dives right in, and asks, in no uncertain terms, if things can be different.

I know that in my flawed prayer life I have learned to practice gratitude and it’s always easier to start somewhere else, but the practice of gratitude first changes my heart, which changes my life, regardless of the rest. But here I find peace because sometimes our hearts are so heavy that we don’t find the words… we only find the bottom line. And sometimes that’s ok.

2. God is still in control
Jesus dives in to the request for things to be different, but he never lets go of the certainty that God is at work and His plan is good.

If you’ve made it this far you probably stopped here because you can give me a million reasons why this is absurd and a thousand questions that are different versions of how can I possibly believe God in a world like this.

I can’t refute your reasons or answer your questions. Frankly I don’t want to. All I can say is that in my life, and in the life of so many people that are near to me, this is a belief that I hold true even though I don’t understand all the pain and suffering.

God has not left his throne.

Jesus ends his short prayer saying that his wants are not the most important thing. In other words, he says ‘It’s not about me. So do as you will.’

In my lifetime I have not seen a time when we as humanity have to face something that will make us all take stock and hopefully conclude that “it’s not about me” to the extent we are seeing now. It’s not about how inconvenienced I am, about how much pantry space I can fill, about how much I want to do, about where I want to go, about what I want to do. It’s not about me. It’s about making the next right choice for the benefit of others.

Jesus is the ultimate example of a life that gave itself up, not because he wanted to go through what he did, but because he was obedient to the end.

3. You can say it again
The last thing I took from this passage today was that it’s ok to say it again. It’s ok to not have the most flowery words, the best prose, the most articulate sentences… it’s ok to simply bring your sorrow to God and say that you trust Him.

And you can repeat that.

And you can repeat it again.

God is not frustrated with repeated prayers, he’s against empty prayers. If you need to say the same prayer again and again and again you can. Because prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes me.

I want to finish with a thought I learned with Andy Stanley, that our spiritual disciplines are never for God’s benefit, but for our own. God doesn’t change based on my church attendance, participation in ministry, prayer life, how much time I read my bible. I change.

So I pray. Not because I believe my words are special and will stop this thing in it’s tracks. I have to admit that praying about this pandemic leaves me feeling so small… I have chosen to pray for all the other things that now seem small, but that are, in fact, still part of life.

The parents that have to work from home while loving on their kids all day. The kids that have to stay home instead of seeing their friends and learning all the awesome things. The small businesses that don’t know how to make ends meet when this ends. The people who can’t buy 3 weeks worth of groceries and supplies so they simply hope to find what they need when they need it. The list goes on.

Life looks different right now, and that’s ok. But at the same it’s still going… we’re still working, looking for jobs, wondering if that promotion or that change will still happen. We’re still studying, trying to get the grades, hoping to do this or that with our future. We’re still dealing with family, births, losses, sickness, health. There are still bills to pay. Those with small kids still have bedtime, bath time, tantrums, giggles.

Life is still going on.

And for those things, I will pray. And when I can’t find the words, I will pray the same ones over and over again.

Keeping it simple,