How to Pray When There are No Words

For years I listened to this woman and her husband on the radio as they taught about marriage and family and parenting; all that I was living in my world on the farm. I felt I knew this couple, but we didn’t meet until the summer of 2017. The connection was instant. We talked and laughed all afternoon. A fellow thinker, introvert, artist, Barbara Rainey values the deep things in life as do I. After reading Barbara’s psalms, her conversations with God have opened a new door for me into my own talks with my Father. It is a grace to welcome Barbara to the farm’s front porch today…

guest post by Barbara Rainey

A text from my youngest daughter.

“Something is wrong, Mom.”

It was early morning. I was in the boarding line for a flight west to Denver to help another daughter for a week. Her husband had been in a wreck; his knee was damaged and until he could get it repaired he had to wear a brace. He needed help. And therefore my daughter needed help with their five kids eight and under.

But instantly my heart was in another place. It was racing east.

As my boarding pass was scanned, my thumbs started typing.

“Have you called your doctor?”

“I’m on my way there now.”

In my seat I know I won’t hear anything for two hours … destined to wait two long circuits of the clock for another word.

Suffering has been a very unwelcome part of my life. The calendar that day read May, but it still felt cold … like winter to me. Fog creeps slowly, settles into valleys and crevices and lingers in those deep places.

A cloudy chill had descended over our lives that year. My husband and I were in a gray season of loss.

One of my survival skills had become the reading the Psalms…daily…often several a day so thirsty was I for hope, clarity, and any solid footing I could find in the impenetrable haze.

Leaning into the words of David and others as they wrote I saw myself in their words: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).

Theirs was a raw honesty before God Almighty, a kind of prayer that was foreign to me. I had for so long prayed nice correct prayers.

I knew how to ask for God’s healing, help, and wholeness for people. I had prayed through several life-altering crises with our children.

Being in a hard place wasn’t new. Prayer wasn’t new.

But I didn’t know how to cry out to God as transparently as our long-ago faith heroes had done.

One day I heard my Holy Spirit Friend say, “You can do this too.”

“Really Lord?”, I asked. It was as if these saints of old reached across the pages and gave me a little nudge like we parents nudge our little ones from behind to be brave and try.

Tentatively, slowly I began writing my own prayers in the hard, confusing moments of those days. Copying their pattern, I asked God bold questions, described my own female circumstances, and then ended with declarations of faith, thanksgiving and surrender.

God didn’t disapprove. He encouraged me to keep writing. He was listening to me, for “God truly has listened; He has attended to the voice of my prayer,” (Psalm 66:19).

As the plane soared into the air I began another prayer, rapidly typing my emotions in words to God:

My mind is racing, imagining, conjuring, fearing the worst in the unknown.”

“My life, her life, will we be okay?”

“Will another loss be mine, ours to bear?”

My daughter fears for her unborn babe, knows too many friends who have suffered miscarriage, trisomy, death just days after birth. Her sister’s first-born lived seven days.”

Why can’t I feel your presence, your peace … now … as I wait?”

“I’m afraid, God, terrified actually. My faith feels shaky. My security feels stolen.”

“I know your word, Lord. You tell me “take every thought captive,” (2 Corinthians 10:5). But my mind is wildly fluttering like a flock of birds. You who created the birds of the air, why are you not with a word taming my fears?”

As I sat moored in a hurtling tube with wings like a bird I talked to myself as another saint, Martyn Lloyd Jones, tells us to do, ”Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.” To my heart I said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me,” (Psalm 23:4).

I still felt afraid. So I repeated:

“My God, You are with me.
You  are with me.
You are sufficient.
You are enough.
You are with me.”

Slowly … I remembered: “I have been here before. I have felt this kind of fear and desperation. Not once have You abandoned me. You always brought me to the other side. I know You will again. Even if in this moment I cannot feel or see any evidence of Your presence. I will choose, “’when I am afraid I will trust in You,’” (Psalm 56:3). I will. I will believe.”

Before touchdown I’d powered up my phone. Laura had texted, “All is well.”

My head fell back on the head rest as I closed my eyes, tears leaking, I exhaled and whispered, “Thank you Jesus. You didn’t have to stop her bleeding. You owe us nothing and we owe you everything. I worship you.”

A clearing had opened in the fog that day.

In the weeks after, the fog of losses continued to descend and lift, decend and lift, and I continued to write prayers. Dozens more prayers have been written including one in my mother’s last week of life that I read at her memorial service. And I know He delights in my words to Him because “this I know that You delight in me;” (Psalm 41:11).

The kindness of God is rich beyond measure. 

He loves to hear from His children.

I have felt a failure in prayer far more than a success so it’s ironic that God would lead me of all people to write prayers. But they are for Him first so that is what matters most.

And today my daughter has a healthy just-turned-two son and a new baby girl.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,”(Psalm 23:6). Amen.

 

Barbara Rainey is married to Dennis and together they co-founded and led FamilyLife for forty years and FamilyLifeToday radio for 25 years. Barbara is an author, artist, and ambassador for Jesus. She’s written several books, including Letters to My Daughters, The Art of Being a Wife, and The Art of Parenting. She also writes regularly on her blog. She’d love for you to stop by! 

Written prayers can serve as welcome guides to tune our hearts to the heart of God. In My Heart, Ever His: Prayers for Women Barbara Rainey shares 40 prayers to invite other women to bravely and authentically talk to God in the same ways the psalmists did thousands of years ago. Like King David’s conversations with God, Barbara’s prayers are honest, even raw. Her transparency around experiences common to women encourages us to continually surrender to Christ and to see God as He is, not as we assume Him to be. 

My Heart, Ever His guides readers to become transparent with our God. He already knows us intimately yet is ever eager to welcome us in His boundless love.

[ Our humble thanks to Baker for their partnership in today’s devotion ]