Learning to Pray

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They’re prayers. Post-it note prayers – folded brightly colored squares, inscribed with a date, and tucked away in a simple wooden box. They tell a story, those prayers, of the pain and the struggle inflicted upon someone I fiercely love – my daughter. Only God remembers the exact words my broken spirit scribbled on her behalf and placed in that box several years ago.

When someone you dearly love is hurting, you go to the ends of the earth to save them. You buckle in and ride the scariest roller coaster of your life with them. You look to everyone and everything you can think of for answers. And, you may even surprise yourself by fervently learning to pray.

Shortly after starting college, my daughter began a slow decline in health. She became extremely fatigued and her joints ached. She felt anxious, depressed, and sometimes her stomach hurt. Concentrating and making sense of assignments became very difficult. She suffered from the effects of vertigo and anemia. Doctors assessing the symptoms offered a wide range of diagnoses and sent us to an even wider array of specialists. We tried natural and prescription treatments. She took a medical leave from school. It took a full year and an intestinal stricture (narrowing of the colon) to finally discover the right diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease.

Crohn’s is an elusive bandit. It sneaks up on you and robs you of your capability to live a normal life. Difficult to catch in its early stages, it tricks even the most seasoned doctors into blaming different culprits. Eventually, however, its damage can no longer hide – all the clues make sense. Gastroenterologists properly identify it, and then the slow process of managing it can begin.

If you ask my daughter now about the months when her symptoms were their worst, she would tell you she does not remember much about that time. And, I would tell you that is one of God’s blessings to her – erasing the depth of her pain. God’s blessing to me – learning to pray. When someone I love started hurting, I suddenly became a very eager student. A few things I have learned about prayer:

  • There are no magic words. Nobody prays better than someone else. God is not waiting for the perfect prayer; he simply wants to hear from us. Talk to him like a friend. If it hurts too much to find the words, then just be quiet with him. He hears what hurts too much to say.
  • Give him the details. When my kids were babies, I came up with a mantra of sorts that I would sometimes say to them as I tucked them in, “May God bless you and keep you happy, healthy, safe, and kind.” While there is nothing wrong with offering up a general statement like this in prayer, God also wants to hear the nitty gritty details and desires our lives.
  • Pray throughout the day. Prayer is often seen as a reverent activity, reserved for a specific time and place, and carried out in a formal manner. Ritualistic prayers are meaningful, but may not bring us as close to God as informal, ongoing conversations throughout the natural course of our days.
  • Pray in different ways. Prayers can be written on post-it notes, spoken silently or out loud, written down in a journal, or thought about on the treadmill. There are sites online to request prayer from others and prayer ministry services offered at local churches. Reading the Bible, memorizing Scriptures, or applying daily devotionals also spur prayer in different ways. Trying out various approaches helps us discover which ones we are drawn to.
  • Think about the A.C.T.S. prayer model.  A.C.T.S. is an acronym for a prayer model referenced by many Christian authors. It is not a set formula to follow for every prayer; it is simply a guide for remembering important elements to include in our prayer life. A.C.T.S. stands for:

Adoration = praising God for all he has done and all he provides

Confession = expressing regret about words, thoughts, or actions which do not please God, while asking for forgiveness and strength to improve

Thanksgiving = thanking God for his love, grace, protection, and many other blessings

Supplication = asking God to help meet the needs of yourself and others according to his will

  • Listen for answers. Tossing up prayers seems simple, listening for answers is hard. God speaks in a multitude of quiet ways – through nature, other people, events, feelings, and gut instincts, to name a few. Hearing his answers, and not our own assumptions, requires stillness and practice. Allow time for an answer to become clear. Watch for confirmation in your daily interactions and happenings. Consider questions like these: Is the answer consistent with the teachings of Scripture? What do people I trust have to say about it? Do any actions required line up with my God-given gifts? Is it an answer that is God-serving rather than self-promoting?
  • Wait patiently. There is no guarantee that prayer will deliver the answer or timing we desire. God does not promise to take away our problems, but he does promise to bring us through them. He does promise to work all things together for good. Prayer helps us wait patiently for hope to arrive.

“Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.” -George Matheson   

Learning to pray sounds easy, but for many of us it takes something very hard to make us start.

I don’t plan on unfolding the post-it note prayers. That story was written from my heart to God’s heart, and it belongs to him. I pray and thank him for so many things now, everyday kind of things. And, I try harder to listen to what he has to say.

Learning to pray was a process that came out of desperation for me. I tried every solution my rational, but fearful mind could think of first. Assurances of well-being for my daughter and myself came only when I stopped trying to run the show and asked God for help.

My words were not fancy. Woven from the ache of a mother’s heart, they were written on sticky paper and placed in a box. Looking back, in my mind’s eye, I see Him unfolding my notes and reading each one with care – much like I would with one written by my own child. He presses them close to his heart and pulls me near. His embrace brought me comfort. His Word brought me faith. Somewhere along the way, I learned to pray.

IMG_0689Scriptures about Prayer:

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12 New International Version (NIV)

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26 (NIV)

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12 (NIV)

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for being patient as I learn to pray. Help me find words to express my joys and my struggles.  Remind me that you are interested in the details of my story, not just a summary. Be present with me throughout the day, in every way. Guide me in finding new ways to pray and encourage my worship through the elements of prayer. Teach me to listen intently so that your direction becomes clear. And, please bring me strength when I wait patiently for hope. To you, all glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Additional Information:

Connect to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America Website here

Information about the diet which helps manage my daughter’s symptoms here