A few nights ago, my 2-year-old daughter Mari woke up screaming. I blearily rushed into her room and scooped her up out of her bed. While shushing and bouncing, I asked her what was wrong. She continued to cry uncontrollably. After a few repeats, I was able to interpret: “My leg hurts.”
I was thinking, “Cramp? Dry skin? Some unknown injury from earlier today?” I tried rocking her, more crying. Sometimes she gets dry itchy skin, so I asked her if she wanted to put on lotion. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” After minutes of hard crying, I could finally interpret what she was trying to say. “Mama, KISS IT!!!”
This is seriously, for some reason, the cure-all. During the day, with any given injury, that’s always my response because it magically heals 80% of all wounds. Maybe I didn’t think of kissing it that night because I thought it must have been a “real” injury for her to wake up crying. Because, my kisses don’t actually heal. (Sorry guys.) It was also the middle of the night, so I wasn’t at the top of my mom-game.
But all of this to say, after my kiss to her leg, she immediately wanted to return to her bed, and peacefully went back to sleep.
As I laid back down in bed, I was drowsily thinking, “Why didn’t I remember to kiss it?” Why didn’t I think to do the thing that almost always works? There are a lot of reasonable answers to that question, but as I was asking myself those things attempting to go back to sleep, I felt the whisper of the Holy Spirit singing an old hymn:
“Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
I have a lot of “coping mechanisms,” some healthy and some not-so-much. What God was gently speaking to me in that moment: Where does prayer fall on the list of things that I turn to? Why don’t I find myself in prayer in more of my desperate moments? In the same way that I forgot to “kiss it,” why do I so often forget to pray?
As I’ve been thinking about this over the past few days, the crux of the question of when I pray is why I pray. What happens when we pray? The Bible says a lot (obviously) about our interactions with God in prayer, a few things came to mind as I was tossing around this question.
Jesus tells his disciples that they can ask for anything in his name, and he will do it (John 14:14). We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are reminded that Elijah prayed for a drought and got what he asked for (James 5:17-18), and that the prayer of faith will make sick people well again (James 5:15). And then, in Romans 8, we see that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God. Sometimes we don’t know how to pray, but the Spirit within us prays with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Finally, in the story in Numbers 14, God appears to change his mind based on prayer. God is fed up with the Israelites and tells Moses He is going to strike them down. Moses spends some time in prayer, and God says to Moses that he will relent “as you asked” (Numbers 14:20).
As I process through this, it’s clear that interpretation of these verses rests on “embedded theology,” that is, what somebody already believes about who God is. (Some of this is conscious, but much of it is not.) For example, do we believe that everything is predetermined? Do we believe that God cares about the little details of our lives? Do we believe that God still speaks and moves today like He did in the New Testament church?
And the way that we see God (who He is and what He does) directly leads to the way that we pray. Just like there are those neighbors that you can ask for a cup of sugar, and those neighbors that you just simply wouldn’t ask. What I know of my neighbor determines how I speak with him. The relationship I have with my neighbor influences what I would ask for, etc. It’s the same with prayer.
This has been helpful for me just to write and process through this, so thank you for doing this with me. I have no interest in starting a loaded theological debate, but I am curious – what do you think happens when we pray? In what situations do you naturally turn to prayer? In what situations is prayer forgotten…and why do you think that is?