A Funny Thing About Prayer


I had a wonderful weekend. I got to visit two of my favorite people, after having gone over two years without seeing them. When I was teaching and coaching and preaching and doing all kinds of that stuff in Nicaragua, Maggie and Peter were, well, part of all that stuff. I could say “I mentored them,” but that doesn’t really capture it. I learned at least as much from them and they did from me.

They’re both doing great now, by the measure of seeking God and pursing their “X” in Jesus’ Kingdom. Being with them reminded me how much I love (and miss) working with young adults as my main thing.

Image may contain: 3 people, including Mike Rumley-Wells and Maggie McGrew, people smiling, closeup

I drove to Edmonds, WA on highway 2, over Stephens Pass. I waited out the heavy snowfall and still had a slide on a patch of slush that could have ended very badly. The drive home involved some heavy rain, but only while going through towns on nice, flat stretches of road. By the time I reached the pass on my return trip, I had dry pavement, clear skies, and I could pray about my life and not for my life.

As you can picture, I came back on a high. Yes, a little sad to have said “goodbye” for who knows how long this time, but profoundly encouraged at how God is working in these two amazing young people’s lives. The pass, for those unlucky enough not to have seen it in person, is stunning. If I’ve never mentioned it here, my easiest time seeing and connecting with God comes in the mountains.

So I had hours to go, a huge emotional boost, my favorite scenery…and God was silent. I sang. I prayed. I pondered. Yet it felt as if God had taken a different ride back to Wenatchee. Maybe the train.

I used to experience hearing God “speak” (however that works) very clearly and fairly consistently. I don’t as much these days. But this was nada.

At this stage in my life and faith, I don’t need explanations for everything in the way I once did. I understand less than I did when I was young. I can sit with uncertainty much more. In fact, Uncertainty and I have coffee, go on long walks, and keep each other company most of the time. Sure, I miss having all the answers, but since that was an illusion, it’s more of a nostalgic yearning than a true longing. I don’t miss “knowing everything” the way I miss my dad; I miss it the way I miss dreaming that someday I’d play shortstop for the Yankees. Since that was never real, the sadness is only for an appealing story I made up that I once could pretend was true.

Back to praying to a silent God. I prayed about some big things and some small things. I asked questions and tried to hear answers. I asked again. I clarified. I didn’t quite reach “If you’re saying this, the next fallen tree I see will be lying perpendicular to the road, but if that, parallel…” Longing to hear from God is not satisfied by pretending to hear from God, at least not on this part of my journey.

Did I get frustrated? Not quite frustrated, but definitely disappointed. It seemed like a moment ripe for epiphany. I mean, if I were God, I would choose a moment like that.

But God who is God did not.

Funny thing, though: praying hard and hearing nothing, I arrived in our Valley, let my mind wander to other things…and something had moved inside of me. I want to describe this concretely, so it will make sense, but I don’t know that I can. I’m inclined to say I felt “better,” but I’d felt happy starting out. If anything, struggling in prayer had dimmed the wattage of my good mood.

A funny thing about prayer, that I think others experience, too: sometimes prayer doesn’t seem to “work”…except that on a deeper level, something transpires. The struggle itself changes me. Or God changes me in the struggle. George Herbert concludes his poem, “Prayer,” which is stuffed full of glorious imagery, with this simple phrase:

“Something understood.”

2 thoughts on “A Funny Thing About Prayer

  1. Sarah Ternes

    Yes. Powerful. The truth that sometimes prayer is Him working at a depth of our soul that does not translate to our conscious minds…glory. He is faithful. Good. Doing the work in us. That is encouraging…praising with you in your understanding of this experience. And that you got to spend time with those two wonderful souls.

    • Perfect description of Maggie and Peter!

      And absolutely, “faithful” is the word. Trusting that how God chooses to work in us is more what we need than what we would choose. Another reminder that there’s so much going on that what we think we understand.

      Blessings, Sarah!

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