By Lauren Flake
I’m a literal person. I struggle to enjoy stories with unrealistic, abstract concepts like time travel or multiple dimensions. I suppose I like everything, even my entertainment, to be neat and tidy and linear. (This is probably why I love Disney movies so much.)
As soon as I was old enough to understand that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, prayer stopped making sense to me. I constantly asked myself, “Why would I ask God to do something when he’s already got eternity all mapped out?”
By the time I graduated from college, faced my mom’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, and got married, my prayer life was basically nonexistent. Deep in the throes of grief, anxiety, and depression, my relationship with God became much like my relationship with my earthly father (and just about everyone else around me). I didn’t think God could be trusted with my pain. I had zeroed in on his authority and completely missed his mercy.
After several years of fellowship with other, wiser believers, I discovered prayer is not at all about changing God, but instead is about changing me. I remember studying the book of Jonah during that time and being shocked to learn that God sometimes changes his mind. Yet God uses his show of compassion toward the Ninevites to develop the character of his famously reluctant prophet.
Did God already know he would ultimately change his mind and spare Nineveh? I assume so, as God knows everything before it happens. But as I said before, abstract concepts are not exactly my cup of tea. I do know that, unlike us, God’s character is perfect and unchanging; there is no room for improvement. God’s change of heart shaped Jonah’s character, not his own, as God was merciful and forgiving from the start. In the same way, prayer shapes our character, not God’s.
By the time I began praying again on a regular basis, my mother was in the late stages of her disease, and my most frequent prayer was simple: “Heal her, or take her.”
God chose the latter, and the timing was all his. But in submitting my pain to him in prayer, I finally recognized his power and my powerlessness. No matter the outcome, I acknowledged that he was in control, not me.
Prayer began to pull me out of my own pride, jealousy, and selfishness and mature me into a place of gratitude, humility, and, most importantly, patience.
There is rarely instant gratification in prayer, but always we can expect God’s goodness and mercy.
Waiting for my mom to be released from her prison of dementia felt like an eternity here on earth, but I realize now it was a mere blip in God’s ultimate plan of redemption. And my heart was forever changed in the waiting.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6 NIV). In every circumstance, prayer says, “I’m choosing God in this moment.”
When anxiety says, “I’m afraid,” prayer says, “I’m trusting him.”
When depression says, “I’m angry,” prayer says, “I’m seeking him.”
When grief says, “I’m heartbroken,” prayer says, “I’m embracing him.”
When joy says, “I’m content,” prayer says, “I’m thanking him.”
Prayer forces me to be present by pulling me into his presence. At his feet, I find his perfection—perfect grace, perfect wisdom, perfect peace. God leads me into patience through prayer, showing me his perfection amid my imperfection. He develops in me a heart of submission to his authority, in the absence of my own control.
And he causes me, slowly but surely, to expect his goodness and mercy, on his timetable instead of mine.
Lauren Flake writes about her journey as a wife, mom to two little girls and Alzheimer’s daughter in her native Austin, Texas, at For the Love of Dixie. Her first book, Where Did My Sweet Grandma Go? was published in 2016. She thrives on green tea, Tex-Mex and all things turquoise.
Photograph © Betsy Blue, used with permission