It took almost more energy than I had to pick up my rosary beads. My relationship with intercessory prayer has been complicated lately, and I’m not really sure what I believe about it, but on the eve of a friend’s surgery, I moved through the beads and dedicated the time to my friend, his family, and his doctors. I pictured their faces, the hospital, the operating room. I put my whole self into it, like I used to, when I was sure.
It’s been a hard handful of years. If I could zoom out for a better perspective, I’m sure I’d see the reasons why and the lessons I’ve learned, but here on the ground some days, it feels like one hardship after another, one challenge following the next, and I’m tired. Tired from praying and hoping for the things I was sure God put in my heart just to have them fade away. Tired of twisting my mind into pretzels to understand how God’s will is accomplished through the suffering of good people. Tired of seeing evil prevail. Tired of trying to understand, of ginning up gratitude. Tired of hanging on.
It feels like the prayer flow chart I’ve followed my whole adult life has turned from a pyramid shape to a kind of circle, and it’s confusing and some days it’s all I can do to feel hopeful. If I believe, I pray. If my prayers aren’t answered, then God has something better. If things don’t get better, it must be that I need to learn perseverance and trust. If I pray more and practice gratitude, and I still can’t feel God, it’s a result of my sin. If I repent and serve and worship and read and still feel alone in this relationship with God which used to be so life-giving, it must be that I have to wait for the fruit, and choose to believe what I cannot see. If I believe, I pray. And on, and on.
I know how Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. I know about the woman who reached out her hand to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment for healing. I read about how He can’t heal in a town where no one believes. There’s precedent here; I know how much my belief matters to what may come.
Still, I’m only human, and it can be hard to see how God is at work sometimes. Today I choose to believe Romans 8:28, that He’s working for the good in all of it, but more and more, I’m not sure He is taking my opinion of what is ‘good’ into account. Maybe He was never supposed to in the first place. After all, I’m not God and His ways are above mine, I know. I’ve heard the stories of how God crushes those He means to use, and how trial and suffering are the pruning that produces much fruit. And I believe it, but I’m also a parent like Him, and I feel like I know how much I’d let my children suffer before I swooped in to help, and it’s not as long as this.
Still, maybe He’s helping in ways I can’t see. I know that’s probably true, that He’s opening doors and sending people and strengthening us for whatever’s coming next. But when I read my One Year Bible, and some of the underlined scriptures and scribbled prayers were the same in 2014 as they are today, it takes my breath away. It must be that I am stubbornly not learning the same lessons over and over, or that grace is flowing so slowly that I sometimes can’t see it, but it’s the relationship I mourn most of all. I used to feel that God had me by the hand and we were walking together. He’d show me something as we went, and whisper in my ear what it meant, and I felt special and like we were in it together. I loved that.
The other day, I arrived at the indoor running track, and there was a woman there who kindly warned me against a puddle of water on the floor. As she fast-walked away from me, I noticed on the back of her t-shirt an anchor and a scripture from Hebrews that read, “Hope is the anchor for the soul.” It felt like the old days, when God lifted my eyes to see the truth of something, a message meant just for me, and I smiled as I took it in. Hope is heavy, like an anchor, and it can be hard to lift, but it is my choice to be rooted and to avoid slipping as I run this race. Some days, hope is the hardest thing I’ll do, but I’m doing my best and I know it will be worth it in the end.
It really will.