To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 3
These days we are becoming more aware that people are very different in significant ways. Most of us are familiar with the differences between outgoing extraverts and inward looking introverts. And we are also aware that each person may tend toward one, but to different degrees. And our work personality may be quite different from our private one. Many preachers, teachers, and even actors are introverts. They do beautifully “on the job,” but are exhausted and need to refuel alone after being “on stage.” The extroverts are energized by the audience and hang around for interaction with people.
Our spiritual styles will vary accordingly. I think, I, and many others have done damage when we have expected others’ spiritual journeys to be the same as ours. One thing I have witnessed in my eighty-four years, is people changing drastically in how they relate to God and even to people at different stages of their lives.
I’ve seen people who found spiritual riches in rote prayer and ritual, lose that source and then discover a relationship with a living Savior present in their personal lives. And in my own case, the riches of insight and relationship that I found for decades in Scripture simply stopped at one point. But I found peace and strength in ritual and repetitive prayer after panicking over my loss. I think this is a very personal journey, but with the differences being mostly in timing. It is to me a “dying to self.” But it isn’t permanent. The spiritual goal is wholeness. It’s beautiful really, because we finally understand people who were simply mysteries to us, even appearing to be in opposition to us.
I want to stress this because as I share my experiences of prayer, if those do not fit your experience, simply file them and ask God to show you when it’s time to be open to them.
My husband and I were opposites to the extreme in pretty much every way. Like Thomas, the Apostle, he was logical and loyal, but accepted the limits of his times’ understanding of reality. He played by the rules, seeing God as a judge. But he envied me my joy, so he said the prayer and began to read Scripture. I tried to get him to start with the New Testament, but that wasn’t the way his mind worked, so he began at the beginning and bogged down somewhere in Leviticus. One morning as he was driving to work he prayed. “God, Eileen says you’ll talk to us. So, I’m listening.” As he said this, he heard a siren and saw flashing lights behind him. A police man pulled him over for going 40 in a 30 mile zone. As the policeman went back to his car to write out the ticket, my husband was thinking, “I can’t wait to tell Eileen about this answer.” When the policeman came back he said, “Mr. Norman, while I was writing this ticket every car that went by was speeding and most were going faster than you were. I’m tearing up your ticket, but you try to be more careful along here.” And he tore up the ticket. My response was “All fall short of the glory of God, but because of Jesus, God tears up our tickets!” And Julian being such a concrete visual thinker, it seemed like a perfect answer to me. It was many years before Julian was able to be open to a relationship with Jesus that gave him joy, but finally he did.
Another woman who had grown up Baptist and had followed Jesus for many years was in my ecumenical prayer group. Betty told God one night, “Eileen gets all the miracles. Why don’t I get miracles?” The next morning as she was driving her new Buick home from taking her children to school, she didn’t realize that she was on black ice and when she started to turn she drove off the road and dropped about six feet into a group of trees. She didn’t hit any of them and the ground was muddy, not frozen, so she wasn’t actually hurt, just shaken. She got out and called a tow truck. When the driver got the car out and checked it out, he said, “Mam, it’s a miracle not only that you didn’t get hurt, but your car didn’t either. You can drive it home.” That night she prayed, “Thank you God for keeping me and even the car safe. But, it’s okay now. Eileen can have the miracles.”
I’ll continue with my prayer stories, but do remember our spiritual journeys are on different schedules and miracles are answers to problems. And some problems have reasons, instead of miracles. And sometimes we won’t know the reasons until we’ve reached the other side of life.