A Wide Believing

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diana trautwein -a wide believing-3“If I could ask anything of us, this ragged band of us looking for a way home, crossing the Jordan River, it would be to believe wider for each other.” —Hilary YanceyForgiving God: A Story of Faith, p. 57

I have heard that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. This is a phrase often shouted by voices around the world—words that flow after the painful experiences of those who are oppressed, victimized, traumatized, ostracized, threatened, abused and neglected. And these words are true. Thoughts and prayers are too often not enough, at least in the way “thoughts and prayers” are so often understood and defined.

I find myself wondering if we have allowed our language about prayer to descend into the realm of cliché, because we have not fully grasped what prayer is and what prayer can do. I am in the late autumn of my life and I still do not fully grasp either the definition or the experience of prayer. It is an idea we use (and abuse) far too easily, I think. It is a word better saved for deep times of soul connection and firm commitment. It is no small thing to promise someone that you will pray for them. No, it is not.

Hilary Yancey’s words, quoted at the top of this post, are from her new memoir, which tells the story of a difficult pregnancy. In it she details the emotional and spiritual peaks and valleys of living with the hard news that her son would be born with a face that is different from most other people.

Hilary prayed fervently for a miracle, for an erasure of the ultrasound and MRI results, for healing for her son. Healing came, but not in the way Hilary prayed it would. The healing came—and continues to come—in Hilary’s spirit and in her good, good mind. And what she came to understand about prayer in the midst of this particular inferno is a lovely and helpful thing to read.

She talks about the prayers of others—friends nearby, friends far away and friends gone ahead to life eternal. There was the friend who asked just the right question at a difficult time early in her son Jack’s life and who then said, “I will believe that God is love for you, I will pray to the God who I know is love for you. I will hope for you.” (pg.42)

Can you imagine a better way to pray for a friend in the depths? This, this, is what we can do for one another, friends. We can come alongside in the midst of suffering and hold faith for the one who is losing it. We can offer hope to the hopeless, we can breathe love on those who don’t dare to believe in it, we can be love and hope at work in the world by the way we pray. Learning to listen well—to God and to one another—and learning to pay enough careful attention to ask the right questions, we can move away from trite promises of “thoughts and prayers” to real, earnest, spiritual work.

Because that is what prayer is—it is a wide believing in the power of Love at work in the world, a believing that encompasses the pain and struggle and loss that come to all of us. More particularly, prayer for another also includes naming the work that must be done for change to happen, and then doing it.

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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Comments

  1. One Person says:
  2. One Person says:

    Thank you for this, Diana. Trackback: https://wordpress.com/post/becominghuman122.wordpress.com/41

  3. Diana, what you said about learning to listen well to God and each other, THAT’S IT!!! I’m convinced if we learn to really listen to God and each other, our relationships will become incubators of innovation, reinventing every sphere of life. Thank you for being a champion of the type of fertile listening that leads to naming God’s work, and joining in it!

  4. Margie Bicknell says:

    When I have told someone I would pray for them, ‘in the Name of Jesus’, that His hand would be on them and His arms would hold them….but never did I think to pray about the ‘Love of Christ’ upholding them…specifically. What a wonderful discovery to add to my prayer life. That the power of Love, aka Jesus, would inhabit the person or situation with all the power of the Living God….wow, that is, indeed, the power of prayer/Love in the world.

  5. Nancy Ruegg says:

    So much wisdom in that last paragraph, Diana. God’s “power of Love in the world” does sometimes include glorious miracles that take our breath away, but not always. Not even most of the time. But he does come alongside and “encompass the pain and struggle and loss,” giving us the wherewithal to press on, trust in him in spite of circumstances, and even rediscover joy. I also love your explanation of what our prayers for others should include: naming the work that must be done for change to happen and then doing it. Thank you, Diana!

  6. Lynn Morrissey says:

    Diana, I can only speak for myself, but sadly when I’ve said, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” it’s a big cop-out. I’ve used that phrase, nearly flippantly, when I either I don’t know what to pray or worse, really have no intention of praying, and I know it. What hypocrisy. Prayer is mysterious, and prayer is work. A book that has helped me to understand it more is Clinging by Emilie Griffin. But there is a point where I must stop reading about prayer and begin to pray. And like you, I don’t think I can ever fully grasp prayer’s depth and meaning, but when I pray with humility (and with kind compassion for others and for myself), I can truly trust that the Holy Spirit will both interpret my feeble attempts to the Father, and also give me the very words to pray. That’s mystery at its deepest. But one thing you’ve driven home for me in this post, as I read it and just how it impressed me, was the reminder to say what I mean and pray what I mean. Otherwise, it would be better if I said nothing at all. (And I know you are hardly talking about gun violence in America in this post, but I would just add that now when I think of the use of “thoughts and prayers” in our politics, I see these words as excuses not to take the action so desperately needed in this country to stop this onslaught).
    thank you as always so much for sharing!
    Lynn

    • pastordt says:

      I have read other things by Emilie Griffin and liked them very much — I’ll look for that one. Thanks for you usual kind words and encouragement, my friend. That is a real gift of yours!

      • Lynn Morrissey says:

        I so appreciate your kindness. thank you.

        Oh, you will really appreciate this book. I’ve read a # of hers, and her memoir is next up.

  7. sandyhay says:

    I opened sheloves this morning and you know what I did when I say your name…I smiled. I knew that your words would speak directly to me……. I’ve struggled with this for years. When I pray at home alone for someone, my words are different, sometimes no words at all, just an internal moan that I have come to understand as lament. Sometimes I “give myself” permission to pray this way in a group but usually not. I feel like such a fake. I will be reading this again and again Diana .

    • pastordt says:

      I’m glad you smiled, Sandy! What I didn’t have space to get into with this essay is my belief that the deeper we go into prayer, the less we use words. Walking prayer taught me that — I found images coming to me with each step and all I did was lift the name of the person in my mind’s eye. Those were some of my richest prayer times, ever.

  8. I’m coming back from a wonderful vacation in which I heard no news, read no blogs, and wrote no words, so the gift of this post is my re-entry to the world of online-stuff, and the mercy of God is everywhere.
    I’m learning (and continually re-learning) that real prayer is an entering-in alongside another person, and while I’m not sure what I think about C.S. Lewis on co-inherence, I do think there is a way in which we are enabled to help a fellow believer in carrying a burden through heartfelt and focused prayer. I have so much work to do here.

    • pastordt says:

      SO GLAD your time away was rich, Michele. Thank you for these good words and for retweet earlier today.

  9. O, that we would have a wide believing. Thank you for this, Diana.

Trackbacks

  1. […] reading my last post on “Leaving it with God”, my wife shared with me this blog post by Diana Trautwein called, “A Wide Believing.” This part especially resonates with […]

  2. […] I took a month off from SheLoves in March, but I’m back in the April edition, pondering some words that I found in the memoir I reviewed here last week — “Forgiving God,” by Hilary Yancey. Come on over to their site to finish this reflection. Click here. […]

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