174. on spirituality (part 4)…prayer
So I finally got to meet with my friend who was going through that rough bit (see post 173). Things aren’t all resolved, but some elements of the bum-out are better, some are the same. Overall, he’s coping and doing well, all things considered. But it was three or four days between the time he left a voicemail saying he needed prayer, and the time when I finally got to talk to him about what was troubling him. In the mean time, all I could do was pray, even without knowing exactly what he was going through. And so I prayed.
And then I realized.
It’s been a long time since I’ve made it a point to take time out to pray – I mean actually carving out a few minutes to stop and devote myself to praying (as opposed to praying while driving or walking or other kinds of multitasking prayer).
Truth be told, I was never one of those people Christians refer to as, “prayer warriors” – people who pray religiously, people who keep prayer journals, people who have amazing stories of answered prayer. For me, prayer has always been a one-sided conversation (see post 60) and so it’s never been easy to make it a consistent part of my life.
And there’s another thing.
For years, there was one prayer that I would pray everyday – I mean, I used to pray for lots of different things, but this one thing was something that I tried to hit every time I prayed. I was praying for a girlfriend. More specifically, I was praying that I would meet my wife, but wives start out as girlfriends and so I kind of prayed for both. And as far as I can tell, that prayer was never answered.
“What do you mean, ‘as far as I can tell,’ everybody knows you’ve been single for all your life…or at least they do now.”
What I mean is, my prayer was that I would MEET my wife and so it could be that I’ve already met her but we’re not meant to start a relationship yet and so that’s why I’m still single. But even then, I was aware of that loophole, so I know there were times when I prayed, “let me meet my wife and start going out with her today.” Seriously, I prayed that – I heard teachings that talked about praying specifically and so that’s what I did. And there were stretches where I’d pray this every morning for months. I would pray for other things as well, but this was the one prayer that was closest to my heart – the one that I longed for the most.
But here I am, 34 years old and I’ve never had a girlfriend.
And that has been a kind of burden on my prayer life. It’s like a hurdle that I have to negotiate whenever I try to get prayer back into my life. Because here’s this one thing that I wanted, just this one thing, and it never happened.
But there’s more to it than just this unanswered prayer.
See, there was a time when I thought God was answering this prayer. There was this girl, let’s call her Sally. Back in the early 90’s, let’s make it 1992, Sally and I went out for a while but it was platonic. The relationship never went anywhere because once it got to the point where I wanted to be more than just friends, she freaked out and things ended badly.
Fast forward three or four years. I’m volunteering a lot of time at a church and I’m trying to get into praying and it’s like I heard from God. And here’s what I thought I heard. “Sally is still the one for you.” Now if you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know that I’m not one who hears from God on a regular basis. It’s quite the opposite, I almost never hear or sense or intuit any kind of message from God. And so my first reaction when hearing this is that I’m making it up, that I’m not hearing from God. But like I said, at the time I was working closely with my church and they were encouraging me to work on spiritual discernment and so I kind of prayed, “well, okay, if she’s still the one then let it be.”
And then I start bumping into Sally around town in totally random places. And somehow we exchanged numbers and I ended up talking to her on the phone a couple times and it was instantly back to the way it was before things got all messy. But she had a boyfriend at the time and that threw a wrench in the whole, “Sally is still the one,” thing. But then something really crazy happened.
I call her one night, and she tells me that she and her boyfriend just broke up. And it’s not like this is something I engineered (I have no game, remember? See post 62). He was acting stupid and she called him on it but he wasn’t getting it. She gave him some time to get it together but he didn’t and so she dumped him. And I’m thinking, “holy shit, this thing might actually happen.” God tells me this amazing, impossible thing about Sally and I, and it looked like things were lining up to make it happen.
But her ex-boyfriend makes nice, drops some smooth lines, and weasels his way back into her life (I’m over it now, but that really is how he got back in the game – through some pretty slimy maneuvers). And I felt like Charlie Brown floating through their air after Lucy pulled the football away yet again. See, back then I had this image of God, that he played shooting gallery with my dreams. I initially didn’t want to believe the word about Sally still being the one, but once things started lining up, I decided to take a leap of faith and believe that God was going to make it happen. I leapt but never made it to the other side.
After it was all over and Sally was back together with Slime-ball, I was angry and confused because I thought I had heard from God. And not only that, I thought I was finally going to see an answer to this prayer I’d been praying for so long. And not only that, but it was going to be an answer that was nothing short of a miracle. But it never happened.
As you can imagine, that whole episode put a pretty big dent in my faith in prayer and the ability to hear from God. To this day, I still don’t understand how God could have allowed me to be so misled, how he could allow the devil to toy with something so close to my heart.
Okay, all that to say that I bring baggage with me when I pray. And even though I’m emotionally over what happened all those years ago, I still have a kind of lack of confidence in both my ability to pray effectively and in my ability to hear from God.
But I’m trying again to pray because I’m at a point where my desire to experience God in a more real way outweighs the doubts that have. And all it took was my friend asking me for prayer. And it’s been less than a week, but I’m trying to stay with it. And no, I still don’t understand what happened all those years ago with the Sally incident but I don’t care anymore. I just want to have a more tangible, experiential Christianity and I know that must begin with prayer. And I don’t deny my reservations – I offer them up to God when I pray. And I try to listen for a reply.
(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Sally and Slimy got married a couple years ago. That’s the last I heard of either of them.)