- the action of intervening on behalf of another
Last week, before flying out to California, I was awake in the middle of the night, feeling my baby move inside my growing belly bump and crying into a pillow. My friend Megan had just been told that the doctors thought her baby boy had cancer.
This precious boy has eyes that light up when he smiles at you. He is the epitome of an almost three year old; he is learning to share, he loves being in any kind of water, and would watch episodes of Dinosaur King on repeat for hours if you let him.
Cancer. I can’t even process that word when it is attached to Lester, and now the diagnosis has been confirmed as Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
And so I pray, and in my prayers I invite other people to pray with me, but what those prayers look like might not be what you would expect.
What I think of as prayer has changed a lot over the past 7 years.
I used to think that prayer was saying or writing words to God, and oftentimes those words felt more like a carefully crafted script than a true and honest representation of what I felt in the moment. I have both the honor and the embarrassment of being able to look back at some of my old “prayer journals” from earlier years, in which my emotions were always carefully controlled and God’s goodness was never questioned.
As I have grown and changed there has been a lot less in life that I understand. Life and the grief that weighs so heavy have made it impossible to feel in control when I pray. So, instead, I just try to be real.
The week after my nieces died in 2014 my friend Lindsay’s dad went to the hospital for kidney stones and I remember texting her something like this;
“My heart wants to pray for you and for healing for your dad, although I have to tell you that I’m not sure what I believe about healing right now- how it works and how to pray for it to happen- but I am praying for your dad anyways.”
Lindsay, because she loves me, got what I was saying. Prayer felt like the only way for me to join her in the emotions, burdens and fears of that moment, and praying for healing felt like Love.
There was a shift in how I prayed and how I thought about prayer after the girls died. Mostly, in that I no longer assumed that I knew what was going to happen. I felt a lot smaller when I prayed. I felt a lot less in control. I had to trust that there was more going on than I was aware of in each present moment. I had to sit with the idea that, if God really is redeeming the world, we won’t always understand how He is doing that huge and Holy work of redemption.
Now, when I look at the Bible for the prayers of people who were faithful to God, I am drawn to the passages that show people approaching prayer from a place of uncertainty. The mystery of how God was going to work things out was not clear to them.
We have been told a story of Jesus himself praying in the garden- wrestling with what is to come and saying, “If You could, would You take this cup of suffering from me, yet not my will but Yours be done!”
There is a lot less certainty and a lot more mystery in that phrase than I had ever considered before.
I have to add a caveat here and say that I know that there are many examples of specific prayers that were answered at specific times in the Bible. But, what I’m writing about today is that I used to think that I HAD to pray using the right words while feeling the right things for it to be considered “a prayer of faith” or for my prayers to be answered. Now I wonder if I could pray and intercede for my family and friends like that phrase in the Psalms that says that, “all of Creation groans and waits.”
Maybe it is ok for me just to cry and ask for God's presence to come.
And so, my honest prayers of intercession for the past two weeks have been a lot like this. Megan, Lester, Chandler and Malcolm have always been in my heart. Everything reminds me of them. Everything.
In the shower I wonder- when was the last time that Megan got to wash her hair?
Lying in my bed, I picture Lester in his hospital bed, surrounded by dinosaur toys.
I see smiling, flappy-armed babies and it reminds me of Malcolm and his excitement when he sees his parents.
I drive past Duncan Donuts and think of Chandler because he was so excited for their cheap coffee a few weeks ago, before everything went crazy.
When our little boy moves inside of me, tears fill my eyes because Megan was the first person who I told that I was pregnant. My dear husband was in the middle of a long and emotional day at work, and I held a second positive test in my shaking hands. I called her to bawl into her ear, and she told me that everything was going to be ok.
The constant reminders of them lead me to whisper words like these, “Lord be near.” “We need you.” “God, I just can’t imagine.” “Let the pain be controlled.” “Help them to rest when they lie down to sleep.” “Lord be near.”
My prayers in these moments are less asking for things to happen, and more of a raw and screaming need for God’s redemptive presence. My honest prayers of intercession have no prepared answers. My body, mind and heart are connected to the same thing- as I cry and think and ache. In these moments, I am full of Love even though I do not understand.
If you think you might be able to pray, maybe you would pray with me now. Maybe there are other people that you feel these same kinds of prayers for, who are desperately in need. Maybe you will whisper words, maybe just cry, or maybe just pause and feel connected for a moment.
Lord be near. Be with them now. Bring healing and rest. Take away the pain. Lord be near.