In Which I’m Pretending to Be Close to God

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leslie verner -pretending to be close to god3

White blades sliced the sky as a field of giant windmills pounded the air, their arms ambling round and round in rhythm. We were beginning our bi-annual night drive from the Midwest back home to Colorado. Our three kids were clad in PJ’s and snuggling stuffed animals in their car seats, readying themselves for a long night of stopping at truck stops in Iowa and Nebraska as my husband and I traded driving every two hours. I was on first shift and decided to take it in silence instead of listening to the audio book I had saved for the trip. In fact, I decided to try something I hadn’t done in a long time during my drive. I prayed.

I hadn’t even realized I was giving God the silent treatment until a friend emailed me with an urgent prayer request a few months ago. “Would I pray?” she asked. She said that she had always known me to be a person of prayer. I hesitated in my response.

I hadn’t made a conscious decision to stop talking to God; it just happened. Just as a married couple can slide into silence, finding it has been months since they had a heart talk, I had slowly stopped talking to God. Perhaps it was the lack of community in church. Or I could blame the baby I had to nurse first thing in the morning, the other children I had to tend to, or the sleep deprivation that is the banner of the first years of parenthood. But the truth is that I stopped seeing the point in prayer. God was going to be God and he was going to do what he wanted to do whether I prayed or not.

But I have not been sleeping. What used to be once or twice a month of waking in the middle of the night has become once or twice a week. My mind switches on and I cannot turn it off. One night I sat up at 2 am staring at the glow of my computer screen, researching all the natural ways to cure insomnia. I started asking other people to pray for me. But I didn’t consider praying for myself.

It wasn’t until I clutched the wheel and drove into the blackness of the night, talking to the God I had tried so hard to turn away from, that I felt a weight lifted.

I recently listened to a TEDTalk where a non-religious man spent the year trying to follow every one of the 700+ rules of the Bible. One of the most surprising things he learned was that the Bible actually supported cognitive psychology with the idea that, “if you change your behavior, you change your mind.” He found that by visiting sick people, he became more compassionate; by donating to a cause, he became more emotionally invested in that cause. He found that by pretending to be a better person, he actually felt like a better person.

I had been waiting to feel close to God before I approached him, when what I needed to do was approach him to feel close to him. By going through the motions of prayer, entering the daily rhythm of it, I am starting to feel God again.

As I pour every thought, worry, task and burden through the sieve of prayer, what remains is a lighter load. I had forgotten this peace. I am testing out C.S. Lewis’ answer when he was challenged about his prayers for his dying wife. He said that he does not pray to change God, but when he prays, God changes him.

But prayer does not come easily to me; it feels like work. There is a reason Paul describes prayer in Colossians 4:12 as “labor.” If I’m honest, prayer feels like cleaning my house. I put it off until the clutter, crumbs and rings in the toilet overwhelm and then I put hand to mop, broom and toilet brush. But just as a clean house helps me sleep better at night, so does prayer.

I’m returning to the spiritual practices that once worked for me, trusting the feelings will return. I’m scribbling Bible verses on notecards, listening to soulful music instead of angry podcasts, listing out things I’m thankful for, underlining in my Bible and trying to pray through lists like I used to do. My mother-in-law has a picture above the toilet in her bathroom, with the words “Pray, Trust, Wait,” her anecdote for anxiety. This is my new rhythm.

Though we wander, Malachi 3:6 tells us God does not change. Over and over in the Bible, God tells his people, “Return to me and I will return to you.”

A few weeks ago I took my kids to a crowded children’s museum. At one point, my son wandered away and I saw him glance up in a panic, not seeing me. But I was there in the crowd, watching and waiting. Just as God watches and waits for us to turn back to him, though we think we are lost.

This is the mystery. God doesn’t need our prayers, but as we pray to the God who doesn’t change, he changes us. We pray, trust, wait–pray, trust, wait–pray, trust, wait and slowly, slowly the windmill blades of our routine prayers produce more energy and power than we could ever have believed. As we return to God, we find he has been there all along.

 

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Leslie Verner
I am a goer who is learning how to stay. I’ve traveled all over the world and lived in northwest China for five years before God U-turned my life and brought me back to the U.S. to get married to an actor in Chicago. I’m a former middle school teacher, mama to three little ones and like American cuisine the least. I currently live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and write regularly about faith, justice, family and cross-cultural issues at Scraping Raisins.
Leslie Verner
Leslie Verner

Latest posts by Leslie Verner (see all)

  • E.

    I needed this… but I don’t remember how to pray. How did you start again?

    • The way I started was to use “ACTS”–Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (asking)–my husband uses “ACTOR”–same letters, but at the end, it’s “Others and Requests.” Sometimes it helps me to have a formula–like liturgy, it offers a bit of scaffolding to stand until you can get your footing again. It’s better if I can pray aloud, but that is really hard for me for some reason. I’m also literally looking at the clock and forcing myself to pray during a certain amount of time. I keep a list and read through the list. On the side of the list, I have verses about prayer, so I read those, too. This is where the “discipline” part of spiritual disciplines comes in, right? It is work for me right now, but I’m slowly feeling close to God again. I hope that helps a bit!

      • E.

        Thank you!

  • I feel this deeply. I so easily get in this mode of wanting to feel God before I pray. This is me: “I had been waiting to feel close to God before I approached him, when what I needed to do was approach him to feel close to him.” I needed this encouragement today. Much love to you, friend!

    • Wait. Missionaries don’t always feel close to God?? 😉 You’re on my list xoxo

  • There’s something magical about a post that manages to be helpful and spiritually weighty while also mentioning the word “toilet” twice. Is this a metaphor for our real lives?

    And I’m thrown back to a Frederick Buechner quote about prayer (which I will not get completely right): “If you beat a path to God long enough, He will come to meet you on that path, bearing the gift of Himself.” In obedience, let’s keep beating that path.

    • That’s so funny, I didn’t even remember using the word “toilet,” much less twice! But you’re right…I’m just surprised I said “toilet” and not “potty”;-) And I love that quote–that’s the first time I’ve heard it. Definitely where I’m at right now–trusting God to meet me on that path!

  • Leslie, I am like you – I put off prayer until I find my life too cluttered. I’m still not great at cleaning my house as I go, nor am I great at the discipline of prayer. But you’ve reminded me of the importance of that discipline. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Annie! There’s a reason they’re called spiritual “disciplines.” 😉 So hard! But so needed.

  • E.

    I thought this quote was relevant: “Prayer was never meant to be magic… it’s an act of love” (from Madeline L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light)

  • Oh I so appreciate someone else who does not find prayer to come naturally. Thank you.

  • You’ve said what I’ve not wanted to admit to others about myself. You’ve also encouraged me to press on.

  • Thank you for your honesty… especially about prayer being like a chore. I need the glow of the Holy Spirit more than the glow of a screen. “Search me O God and know my heart! Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139: 23-24 NASB