Here’s something I was thinking about over cooking breakfast this morning.
Once, when Ben and I had good, steady paying jobs with a regular salary, when we could budget because we knew how how much we were going to get paid each week for the foreseeable future, when we had a mortgage on a house we would still own now and which would be worth three times what we paid for it if we hadn’t sold it, back then, I used to lie in bed and panic about money. I used to cry from the stress of it, and constantly worry about having enough and being broke, losing everything and having it all go to shit. I prayed all the time to get what I didn’t have, to get more, to have more, money, things etc. I was obsessed with it. I know now what I wanted was feelings of safety and security. But no matter how much I prayed to God to give me as much as I needed to feel like I had enough, like I was safe, like everything would be all right, He never did. I never got all the things I thought would stop me feeling stressed, anxious and like I needed more. And so I went on being anxious, afraid and manifesting intense lack and poverty in my life for quite some time.
Oh, I always knew I needed to be grateful for what I had. But I spent probably one eighth of my prayers saying thank you for what we had, and the other seven eighths praying for more of what we didn’t. More money. Better, bigger house in a better area. Better pay. Fatter back accounts. Lottery wins. Gifts from relatives. I begged God to gimme, gimme, gimme all the time. And whenever something did happen, like a tax return or a gift of money, I always thanked him. But I wasn’t grateful. But it was never enough. I always expected more, wanted more, needed more.
I’ll be grateful, God, I promise, I would pray. I’ll be the most grateful Christian ever. I’ll tell everyone just how awesome you are and testify to your generosity and provision. Just give me more. Please, give me more. I’ll do ANYTHING.
It’s not like that any more, in just about every respect. We have had our miracles, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t have anything like what I used to, in terms of material security and physical wealth. No house. No salary. No home, in fact. A few possession in a trailer, a couple of appliances in a storage unit. No investments, barely any superannuation. The idea of living like this, two decades ago, would’ve horrified me. This is the exact situation I begged God to help me avoid, at all costs. And whilst I’m mostly okay with it now (I still get a little worried at times) this was the sum of all my anxieties back then. Not only would I have felt like God abandoned me, but I would’ve felt deeply ashamed. How can I show others – my friends in church, the “world” outside the church walls – that God exists and takes care of believers, if I as a believer don’t have physical evidence He has “supplied all my needs according to His riches in glory”? When I don’t believe He has helped me, because I still FEEL this way?
I honestly thought I’d know when I had enough or what I wanted, because I believed I’d stop feeling anxious about having more of it. Silly me.
While we can say I was just young, immature and materialistic then, and I’ve grown up, there’s something else going on here. I didn’t really know what I was asking for, when I was praying for God to give me more stuff. I thought I NEEDED more money because I deserved it (I’m His child!) and could always use it, but what I really NEEDED was for to God to fix my negative feelings about poverty, to repair all my phobias about how having less is being less, to allay my concerns about how Gods love equals me being comfortable financially, to take away my terror at being unsafe and unprovided for, by giving me a big pile of money, without me having to do anything else about having more money but pray about my negative feelings, voice my terrors, express my concerns and tell God about my phobias.
In other words, I believed that expressing my abject fears to God would activate His giving to me the things I thought would take my fears away, in this case, more money and security.
How often are our prayers not really about getting help to attain things we need, but come from a place of not wanting to feel uncomfortable, afraid, insecure or anxious about the way things are for us?
I have come to believe that when we pray, we are often praying for God to fix circumstances for we won’t have to feel or think anything we don’t like, far more than we are praying about finding a real solution to a real problem. Sometimes, it ain’t actually broke, and doesn’t need fixing. What’s broken is our thoughts and emotions, not our circumstances. I prayed for more money, not because I needed it (we had more than all we needed at the time) but because I wanted relief from my feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, fear and insecurity.
It was ironically when things actually took a turn for the truly catastrophic that things – and when I say things, I mean I – began to change.
When I had cancer, it started to become clear to me I had no idea what I was doing when I prayed to God about stuff. Of course, I prayed for the cancer to go away, to be healed, especially at first. But after a while, I thought to myself, this is dumb. Either it will go away or it won’t. Either I am going to get better, or I’m not. My feelings about this change every day. And who knows which way it’s going to go? I had seen enough to know even if I prayed, I had no guarantee of the result I wanted. I worked out it would be better to pray that God would help me deal with my feelings about dying, and my feelings about living. That way, I’d be ready for whatever happened. Then, I began to feel less afraid of dying, because I felt like if it came, I would be able to deal with it. The less afraid I felt, the less I prayed about being healed.
Thank God, I didn’t die from the cancer. But here’s the next point I want to come to. How grateful am I to God for not dying, if I never prayed actually about not dying? Did I get an answer to prayer by not dying? I didn’t pray for that. I prayed that whatever happened, I’d be able to cope. And I got an answer to that prayer. And I’ve been praying it ever since.
Friends, sometimes I think when we pray, we forget to meditate on why we are praying for what we are praying for. Are we praying for God to fix a situation, simply because we cannot tolerate our own emotions and thoughts concerning that situation? Do we think God can be coerced into giving us what we want simply because our feelings of anxiety surrounding that thing are extreme or intolerable to us? Like a tantrum in a two year old? A wise parent takes a tantrumming child aside and helps them ride out the emotional crisis, and when sanity returns, counsels the child about the reality of the situation, reassuring them they are safe and secure, and helping them see what is actually going to be good for them. Given the opportunity, because God won’t force it on us, God will work with us to do the same.
I still pray for God to help us get by. But instead of praying for a huge pile of money in the bank because that’s going to help me sleep at night, I pray we will see opportunities to bless others, and not miss opportunities to provide well for ourselves. I still pray God will help me deal with whatever comes, and then I trust Him concerning whatever comes, instead of trying to get Him to give me what I want to come, because I think a particular thing will make me feel less afraid and anxious and insecure.
I believe God wants us to feel safe, but He does this by helping us confront and examine what makes us afraid, and by guiding us through an education into our own condition and thinking, not by taking away everything that frightens us. If you’re still praying for God to fix your life so you don’t ever have to feel scared, poor, judged, anxious, nervous, or like you’re going to die, may I gently exhort you to consider that maybe your life works just fine, and doesn’t need fixing, and it’s actually your emotions and thoughts that need healing. Instead of asking God to make all your ducks line up in a row so you never have to be out of your comfort zone, you’d be better to pray instead about whether ducks were created to stand in rows, and why they make you feel so bad when they run around the place, after all, they are ducks for crying out loud.
I believe faith is trusting that God wants us to be safe and happy. I also happen to think faith is the spiritual discipline of learning to feel safe and happy in Him, regardless of what circumstances come our way.
Blessings, my friends,
Ps – as always, your thoughts welcome.
Pps – Having said all this, if someone in your life is abusing you, physically, mentally or emotionally, don’t just pray about it, or ask God to help with your feelings about it, unless it’s to help you have the courage to get the hell away. Leave, now, and seek support and even legal advice.
Felt it needed a caveat, friendsby