I’ve been feeling out of control lately. Increasingly aware that loving someone means part of my heart is strapped into the passenger seat of their car. Though seat-belted, there is nothing safe about it. They are at the wheel, and their impulses affect my outcomes.
There is much in life I can control. I like those things. Even if they involve hard work. I can study to learn a skill that takes my career in a new direction. I can, with help from a good counselor, learn to speak up for myself and break the cycle of people pleasing. I can save some money, buy a map, and go on a trip to Ecuador.
Lately though, I’ve felt so out of control that I’ve done something desperate: pray.
What business do I have praying, when I’m not even sure it works?
But sitting in that passenger seat, noticing the driver’s windshield is a little foggier than mine, I talk, and I pray. I tell the driver what I see on the road ahead, I give direction, I wait. I wait to see their hands adjust course, to see their feet tap the brakes. And while I wait, I pray: I appeal to something or someone higher than myself, to talk into their other ear.
Another person’s brain is a mystery. I can’t see anything in there. Maybe God can make sense of it. I feel like a junior doctor trying to diagnose a brain tumor with an ear-exam otoscope. Maybe God has an MRI for thoughts.
As a college student on a Mexico mission trip, the last car in our caravan didn’t arrive as it should have. Half an hour went by, then another. We’d left at the same time just 90 miles up the road in San Diego. We had no way to communicate with them, so we waited. And then, we prayed. Well past midnight, we asked for safety, for direction, for help. Down the dusty road distant headlights appeared, and soon enough they were shining onto our campfire. All fine, no worries, we just stopped for food.
How does this all work? I tell the God of the Universe, the magnificent creator of volcanos and ladybugs, that I am in need. And this God, hears, ponders, and maybe even says yes?
I’ve seen prayers answered before, in Mexico and at home. At least, the order of events (problem, prayer, resolution) lined up in such a way that I then thanked God. I thanked God for the good thing that happened, but also – and maybe more so – for answering my prayer.
I may have in fact lingered around the glow of my own prayer candle a little longer than the campfire that lit it. Even with prayer — the very admission that something is beyond my control — I’m pondering what I did “right” to get it answered. I’m wondering what I did, so that I can make it happen again.
Control: Was my prayer answered because I did something special? Special because I have the correct understanding of God… Special because I have a special relationship with God… Special because ‘God hears the prayers of a righteous man’ and I’m somehow righteous?
I’ve already admitted I like things I can control. Even if it involves hard work, I just want to know how it works. That might be why I acted as though God would be obliged to say yes, if I followed my prayer ritual religiously.
It’s almost like Malcom Gladwell’s “10,000 hours”: the truly great humans simply put in the time. He says that mastery can be achieved after 10,000 hours of practice: Bill Gates programming all weekend in high school, the Beatles playing all night in Berlin, countless MVP athletes. Had I found the secret to praying from the best-selling book, Outliers?
But Matt Redman’s song, “10,000 Reasons” takes it a different direction. His prayer life is about listing what has already been received. Or as the Sunday School saying goes, “Count your blessings.”
You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
I have always been good at math, but I have a terrible memory (my bride will gladly confirm both claims). Counting is easy: A + B + C. At least, counting what’s already on the page is easy. But that’s different than remembering what is supposed to be counted. That is to say, numbers on a page can be calculated, but if the ink starts fading, the math starts degrading.
According to Redman’s lyric, I have a quest to carry out. I could be looking for reasons, for Goodness. Scanning both the present moment and the past.
I remember hearing radio preacher Tony Evans say, “Blessing is the ability to enjoy what you already have.” That sounds more like multiplication. For life already learned, I can continue to be thankful, over and over and over. A x B x C gets me to 10,000 reasons a whole lot faster. Remembering is a multiplier.
I could end up approaching Gladwell’s 10,000 hours as a byproduct of searching for Redman’s 10,000 reasons. But if I focus on my methods when asking God to solve 10,000 problems, I’m not likely to get 10,000 of anything.
Prayer doesn’t seem to be what I thought it was. But it is something. And I probably have to actually do it, to understand it. Here goes.
God please help me on this car ride, strapped into the passenger seat with someone I love. Truth is, I can’t really see out the windshield either.
♦ weekend swell ♦
to read more thoughts about prayer, try Choosing Headlines
I chose the featured picture “Sea” by Christoph Niemann because I have a say in what I see: a stormy ocean or a centering light. We just got a copy for our wall at home and I couldn’t be more excited. Check out his work here: https://shop.christophniemann.com/collections/all-silkscreens, or via the Netflix show Abstract, Episode 1