“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. – Philippians 4:6” The wooden plaque inscribed with these words had a special place hanging on our kitchen wall. When Mom died, I took it, and it is now in my own kitchen, a reminder to not let worry get the best of me and, most importantly, pray for wisdom, guidance, patience, strength, my keys, or whatever else I may need at the hour. We really did pray about everything when I was a kid. It was easier then. It wasn’t as hard to trust that God would provide. After all, I had seen Him come through again and again as a result of our prayers. Of course, God answered prayers; I’d seen it myself. As I grew older, however, I began to rely more and more on me. “God, help me to…[whatever],” my prayers became. I didn’t really notice the subtle language shift, but it happened. It turned from “God, do this for me because I can’t,” to “God, help ME do this.” It may seem like a tiny distinction. It’s not. Years of praying for God to “help” me has allowed me to internalize the concept that I am in charge, I’m the one in control. The truth is, I’m not in any more control than I was as a child. It’s frustrating.
I watched a sermon online this past week, and the pastor was talking about prayer. His illustration was compelling. As I watched him pour incense into the burning parts of what should be our sacrificial altar to God I realized my prayer life was off. As he lit the flames under the incense to produce the lovely aroma and called out that more fire was needed to force you to pray, I realized it was true.
I am self-sufficient.
I am independent.
I am strong-willed.
I am smart and capable of figuring things out on my own.
At least… I was.
NOW THINGS ARE DIFFERENT. A LOT DIFFERENT.
I have now spent the greater part of a year needing help – actual help. Not the “help” I would pray for which was really me just saying I got this God, I just need to take a break to catch my breath a minute. You can “help” me catch my breath which I know my body will do anyway. Help like the kind I’ve been embarrassed my entire life to ask for. Help like, “Can you hold me up, I can’t walk?” or “Can you drive me to the doctor, I can’t do it?” or “I can’t read this, will you read it for me?” or “I don’t understand this simple thing, can you explain it?” or, the most frustrating of all, “Can you figure out what I’m trying to say because I keep using the wrong words?”
I confessed to someone the other day that I had been cocky. I sort of always thought in the back of my mind that even if I didn’t have the best style, or as I got older, the best figure, I always had my brain – and it was good. Mom pounded it into my head, “Get an education! It’s the only thing they can’t shake outta ya!” I believed it too. If all else failed, I’d have my mind to figure out any problems I had. I never thought – not even for a millisecond – that this would not always be true. Now, I have my body and my mind only on some days. When it’s a bad day – I can’t get out of bed; can’t formulate a coherent idea; can’t focus on a face or words or problem. On a good day, I can sit in a quiet, low-lit coffee shop catching up with an old friend for two hours before my head starts to hurt and I begin to have difficulty finding my words again.
On a good day, I can sit in a dark nursery peeking through the glass window behind the curtain every few minutes with eye rests in between as I watch ten kids dance and sing. At least, I was able to watch the VBS kids and counselors for about three songs before my head started spinning and I wanted to puke. I had thought, because it was a good day, if I didn’t go inside with the hundreds of people with moving hands and arms and legs and bodies, I could manage. I wanted to see “my kids”. It was the first VBS in 17 years for which I hadn’t been a part of teaching the music. My youngest was a camp counselor for the first time and I just wanted to see what I had missed, what I hope I can do again. It was a bad idea. I had to have my son lead me out and drive home. My head was spinning and I felt sick. “Good Lord,” I thought, “If I can’t even watch ten dancing singing kids for ten minutes, how on earth could I traverse a HS hallway?” Another part of my identity disrupted.
Of course, my natural response has been, “What can I do to fix this?” Only, this time I can’t. There is no “God, help me…” to do anything. It can only be, “God, I don’t know what to do. I can’t fix it on my own – I’ve tried. I am incapable of fixing this situation. I can’t help you with it. .I can’t do it on my own. I am stuck. Quicksand stuck. You need to do it for me.” That is a tough pill for my ego to take. I can’t do anything about it? I can’t fix it. Of course, I can keep doing my exercises, using my strategies, working my brain muscles, eye muscles, balance muscles, drink water, sleep a lot, but, a damaged brain is not like a broken ankle, a torn ligament or tendon, a gash, or diet. For the first time since I was a child, I am being forced to surrender entirely to God.
It was a good day so, naturally, I was mulling these thoughts over in my mind as I walked my dog. I thought about my husband telling me to pray specifically for what I need. I thought about how I was loosing so much that it seemed like a lot to ask from God. I reminded myself that nothing was too big for HIm. I thought about the sermon I’d watched and wondered if the fire I had been walking through was a way for God to change me – to put it all in His hands. I started to pray. I prayed like I haven’t prayed in years. I prayed about my fears, the consequences of my accident – my lost salary & pension, my lost autonomy, my desire to be here for my children, and I thanked Him for His answers.
A few steps later I started to doubt.
I tried to calm my doubt as I continued to walk. I was struggling already. Three more steps and I rounded the corner and found myself looking directly at this train car. I’m so glad Jesus knows what it is to be human and that He cares enough to use human ways to remind us of His power.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. – Philippians 4:6“
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