Last week I read these oft-quoted verses again. They are beautiful yet again.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
This helps makes sense for the purpose of some of our suffering. Sometimes. I wish it was comforting for more times but suffering has its unique toll on each of us individually. I am not one who can wish it away with a platitude that my suffering may comfort you. That is still a truth though.
At the same time I read this out of a book I was reading. It’s a funny and encouraging memoir about a girl who grew up in church. Her chapter on prayer was spot-on! I get it! It also confirmed yet again that I probably have this false image about what a life of prayer looks like. I think you’ll “get it” too. I, too, am a fragmented woman believing and unbelieving all at once.
I spent the first half of my last pregnancy wrestling with God. This was my eighth pregnancy but we only had three children. We had been on a roller coaster, going from high to low to high. There was no heartbeat for too long, and then all of a sudden it was there. Then the baby wasn’t moving, long after I normally felt the baby move within me. With my history of miscarriage, we were terrified we were losing another baby before birth. I was holding between hope and despair, clenching both faith and unbelief.
I am a woman of prayer. It sounds boldfaced to write it down, but there it is. I write it anyway. Prayer comes easily to my spirit—perhaps because a former pastor once told us that the same part of us that worries is the part that prays. I knew I could worry constantly, so that meant I could pray constantly.
And so I do. I always have. I move through my day with an awareness of my companionship with the Spirit and we talk always, sometimes even with word. I pray, this is what I do. It feels small, so small, in the face of great pain or sorrow or injustice or uncertainty or even joy, but I pray anyway. I carry people and movements, requests and hearts within me like candlelight that I revisit often to hold in my hands and breathe over in prayer.
I don’t believe I can control God through prayer or through faith. I don’t believe God is waiting for me to “prove” that I have enough faith or know enough Bible verses to argue the points. In fact, I don’t believe in praying with an agenda most of the time.
Yet as the days of waiting for this baby to just move already went by, I prayed to or wondered at God, grappled with my questions and my doubts, with my beliefs about the nature and character and heart of our God, and with the very real reality of our fallen world. I felt like a fragmented woman, believing and unbelieving all at once.
One old-school part of me was going all word-of-faith on this baby: praying Scripture, declaring the Word, binding and loosing all sorts of things, declaring life and not death. You name it, I’d claimed it. Another part of me was already grieving and giving up. Another part of me prayed for belief even while acknowledging my own unbelief. One part of me wondered how I even dared to pray and expect God to move for me when I already had three beautiful children and there are far more important things in the world about which I should be praying, how selfish could I be? Another part of me relinquished outcomes, trusting God implicitly no matter the outcome while simultaneously raging against that very thing. Fearlessly, fearfully, I prayed for life.
And I prayed for faith. I prayed for faith to believe. I prayed because who else was going to keep praying? Who else was going to stand guard over this small one and hang for dear life, who else but her mother? This is what we do: we stay even when it makes more sense to give up. I prayed because I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to be the one to back down from a fight over my child.
I felt like the annoying woman of persistence from one of Jesus’ parables, who stood outside the door of a judge pestering the life out of him until he gave in with bad grace. Jesus called her a woman of great faith. In those longs days of waiting, I call her my only hope.
I couldn’t muster up my old definitions of faith, I couldn’t pretend that everything would be fine, but I could keep relentlessly hope-knocking as my radical act of faith.
Then one Saturday morning, I was lying in bed alone (a rarity) when the little fourth baby finally made her presence known: she shifted and moved within my womb with a small whoosh, and my heart exhaled for the first time in weeks. There you are, I breathed. There you are. I’ve been waiting for you. She moved like a fish in water, a rolling and a stretching with natural ease that seemed to say, What? You were worried?
I stayed in bed, silent, feeling her move within me like faith—a flutter of a presence, growing. There was plenty of time to tell my husband, my mother, my sister, my friends. Right then, it was time to pray, and every word in my mind and mouth, every flutter was thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou. Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, pp 168-170
I so know this. All of this anxiety. All of this rambling prayer. All of this prayer that I wonder if I’m really praying. Then suddenly there is a flutter of a presence. Suddenly there is an answer to a prayer. The very answer I’ve been praying for for two years. The same answer I nagged to my son to “trust me and just do what I ask.” Then suddenly he does and he’s all in and the timing of it all makes sense. It makes sense now that the prayer has been answered. And all I can say is thank you thank you thank you. (And I have to resist saying I told you so to my son. God answered the prayer at the perfect time and the I told you so was on my time.)
That is the answer to our prayers. A flutter of presence. Suddenly. Knowingly. There is an awareness of how personal God is towards us. Thank you thank you thank you.