Newsletter / Issue 34, August 2017

A Girl and Her Backpack

Reflections on Prayer (My 2017 WOTY)

By Crystal Lenz

Girl with Backpack

I grew up on a farm that has a quarter mile gravel driveway. It’s a quiet, serene little five acres, and to this day, I still think of it as one of the most peaceful places on earth. I have this memory of getting off the bus as a kindergartener and starting the short jaunt to my house when, having walked a third of the way, I had the sudden feeling that no one was home. I was instantly overcome with fear and abandonment. Why wasn’t anyone there? Where could they be? I sank down on the gravel and began to sob. I’m not sure how long I cried on the ground, though to my five-year-old brain, it seemed like an eternity, but my mom eventually pulled into our driveway; she had been at a job interview in town and was hoping to make it home before the bus. She didn’t. Needless to say, I made my mom pick me up from school every day for the rest of that year. Home just didn’t feel like home when those I loved weren’t there. Home no longer felt safe. The best place on earth suddenly felt scary, lonely, and dark.

As an adult, I can look back on that story and laugh. I tease my mom that I still suffer from the “trauma” of that day, but the reality is, I still feel like that little backpack-wearing kindergartener; I’m at home, but no one is there to comfort me, love me, and take care of me. As a Christian, I know this sounds absurd. We are never alone. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, comforting us, giving us peace, interpreting the groanings of our hearts to our loving Father, but the truth is, I feel pretty lonely most of the time.

This year, I chose ‘prayer’ as my word of the year (WOTY), and through that, the Holy Spirit has been gently and patiently revealing to my heart (as only the Spirit of God can) that I feel lonely most of the time because I still live like no one is home – like I can’t depend on God to comfort me, love me, and take care of me. I’ve developed a deep-seated belief that I’m all alone in this world and that no one is going to take care of me, but me. You can probably imagine what this insidious lie does to a person’s prayer life – it chokes it, suffocates it, kills it. Prayer has always been difficult for me. I pray, but my prayers often feel mechanical and empty. After all, if when I need someone the most, no one’s going to be home, what good is it to pray? I need to use whatever resources are available to me in my My Little Pony backpack to make the best of what I have, expecting no better.

The Spirit has been graciously and lovingly pulling back the layers of my prideful self-reliance over the course of this year and showing me that I’m not alone, that God really does care. Two powerful images that have played out repeatedly for me over the course of the last few months were the two times Jesus called out to his Father and no answer came, as if no one was home. It may seem strange that these two images have given me comfort, but they give me comfort because Christ’s unanswered prayers – his agonizing feeling that God had turned his back on him – are the reasons that I can be absolutely certain that God is always home, that he’s always listening, that he does care.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, “withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond [the three disciples], knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:41-44).

Three times Jesus prayed that he not have to drink the cup of suffering and death, but three times, his plea went unanswered and the Chief Priests, temple guard, and elders showed up to take him away.[1] You might be wondering, “How in the world does this depict a God who cares?” It would appear that, just like my five-year-old self, Jesus’ dad wasn’t at home when he needed him. But let’s consider the fact that Jesus didn’t descend to simply live out perfect relationship with God; he descended to give us access to that perfect relationship with God. Knowing that there was no other way, God had to ignore the request of his beloved, suffering Son, so that our relationship with him might be restored and our prayers to him heard. He cared enough about us that he let his Son’s legitimate prayer go unanswered, so we could have access to a Father who never leaves us, nor forsakes us. In other words, because God didn’t answer Christ’s prayer, God is always at home for us.

The second image that plays out in my mind is the image of Jesus crying out to God in agony on the cross, “‘Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?’ (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)” (Matt. 27:46). Much like I sank down, sobbing in my driveway because I felt scared and abandoned, Jesus cried out to his Father, asking why he had been forsaken. In his moment of need, God wasn’t there for him. It begs the question: if God wasn’t there for his Son, how can we expect him to be there for us when we need him? It’s true, if anyone in all of history deserved to be loved and comforted by God, it was Christ, who lived a perfect life. However, we can’t forget that the game plan wasn’t Christ’s salvation; it was ours. Just as when a seed dies, it bears much fruit, so Christ’s sacrificial death bore the fruit of not only our reunion with God, but also his. 

As I reflect on that scared little girl looking out through my thirty-something year old eyes, I am pressed to remember that I am not alone; that I don’t have to be scared; that I have a God who ignored the prayers of his Son in order to comfort me, love me, and take care to secure for me the salvation that I could not secure for myself. The resources in my backpack are useless to pay my ransom and the best I can hope to achieve with them are a hefty dose of anxiety and a constant fear of the unknown (check and check).

What I’m believing God for in this season of being vulnerably laid out for my prideful self-reliance is that he not only loves me, but he cares deeply about me and the burdens of my heart. He wants to hear what scares me. He wants to walk me home down the driveway. He wants to see the baggage weighing me down and he wants to lighten my load. He wants to see what’s in my backpack and talk about how I can use the resources I have to join him in helping others to feel less fearful and abandoned.

So, although I can’t say that I’ve become a prayer warrior, what I can say is that I now continue that proverbial walk down the driveway, knowing that God is home. Comforted by this, I put down my pack and sit and talk for a while.

 


[1] Matt 26: 36-46