Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Paradigm Shift on Prayer

I've been given a lot of books since Samuel died.  I've read some while others are stacked up on the floor by my bed.  I think an author's story is what has drawn me to read select books -- has the author lived through some horrific heartbreak that makes my ear want to turn toward him or her, that makes me perk up to listen and willing to spend time delving into the wisdom he or she offers?  I find I am willing to hear what someone who has suffered has to say.  Two of the books I have read have been by women who know the profound loss of the death of a baby.  One of them I finished just last week.  What made me open the cover and start to read it was an article a friend passed along about the woman who wrote it.

When her daughter was only a few days old, Nancy Guthrie found out her baby girl, Hope, had a fatal and very rare condition.  Hope's systems slowly shut down, and she died when she was 6 months old.  Since Zellweger's Syndrome is genetic, the Guthries decided to prevent future pregnancies by means of a vasectomy.  However, the vasectomy failed, and they found themselves expecting another child.  That child, too, had Zellweger's, and Gabriel lived just short of 6 months. 

When I read the article about the Guthries' story, I had a few really bad days.  I cannot -- CANNOT -- imagine living this all over again.  And the thought that it's possible -- that I really could have to live this grief and heartbreak twice -- was terrifying.  I was reminded that God does not work the way we expect Him to.  He's not "fair."  (Thank goodness He's not because I surely don't want what I deserve!)  I don't get a pass on future hardship just because I've already suffered.  Losing another baby could, in all reality, happen again.  How horrifying.

But reading about what Nancy has endured made me open her book, Holding on to Hope.  And it made me read closely and with a pen in hand.  My copy is very marked up.  Much of what she says, I too have said on this blog.  It was good to feel a kinship with her -- to know someone else could relate to what I've felt and experienced, to what has comforted me and what has served to deepen my pain, to seeking God's face in the midst of constant heartache, and to longing to honor Him with my pain.

Some of what she says, however, has really challenged me.   For the last week I've been thinking about what she wrote about prayer.  She writes:
                "Often, I see the body of Christ put so much into pursuing God for healing.  With great boldness and passion and persistence, we cry out to God, begging for physical healing.  And in these prayers, there is often a tiny P.S. added at the end where we say, 'If it be your will.'
                 "But shouldn't we switch that around?
                 "Shouldn't we cry out to God with boldness and passion and persistence in a prayer that says, 'God, would you please accomplish your will?  Would you give me a willing heart to embrace your plan and your purpose?  Would you mold me into a vessel that you can use to accomplish what you have in mind?'  And then, perhaps, we could add a tiny P.S. that says, 'If that includes healing, we will be grateful.'
                  "Isn't real faith revealed more through pursuing God and what he wants than through pursuing what we want?"

Wow.  I keep thinking about this.  I have expended a lot of energy praying for what I want.  When Samuel was alive, I certainly begged for his healing.  Since he's died, I beg for my healing.  I don't regret that or think I've done something wrong, but I am deeply challenged by Guthrie's point that we should spend effort beseeching God to accomplish His purposes rather than tacking it on to the end of the prayer -- almost out of habit.  If anyone else had written this, I don't know that I would have been receptive.  Probably I would have thought, "What do you know about pleading for healing?  Come back to me after you've watched your infant son suffer and die."  But Guthrie wrote this when she had watched the long and drawn out suffering of her daughter and, what's more remarkable, when she was pregnant with her son and knew she would watch it again.  I am awed by her courage and her faith.  I think if I was in her shoes, I would spend every waking moment asking God for a miracle, for my son to be born perfectly healthy afterall.  Would I have had the courage to pray instead that He would make me a willing vessel for whatever He had in mind?  And then, simply, without ado, mention that healing would be wonderful, if that's what He wanted?  I can answer with almost perfect assurance, no!

These days I don't have a sick child to beg God to heal, but I do have things that I desperately want, and I spend a lot of time asking God to grant them to me.  How much time do I spend asking Him to accomplish His purposes in me?  It's not even comparable.  I have begged God, for the last almost 7 months, to one day grant me another child from my womb who is perfectly healthy and strong, who will have a strong heart and strong lungs, who will come straight into my arms after birth, who will be in our hospital room with us, who will come home to this house and grow up with Caleb and Joel teaching him how to do the things they love to do, who will trust in Him and grow old serving Him. That is what I want.  Desperately.  But more than that, do I want what God wants?  If I search my heart, the answer is yes, but it's a really scary yes.  Can I trust God enough to lay down my hopes and desires and pick up His instead?  I can.  And I pray that I will.  As Nancy Guthrie writes:

           "...because I believe God's plans for me are better than what I could plan for myself, rather than run away from the path he has set before me, I want to run toward it.  I don't want to try to change God's mind -- his thoughts are perfect.  I want to think his thoughts.  I don't want to change God's timing -- his timing is perfect.  I want the grace to accept his timing.  I don't want to change God's plan -- his plan is perfect.  I want to embrace his plan and see how he is glorified through it.  I want to submit."

Lord, help me submit to your plan, whatever it is.  Accomplish in me whatever it is you want to accomplish.  Give me a willing heart to walk whatever road you lay before me.  Use me and my story for your purposes, and give me courage to lay my own desires down and to pick up yours.  I love you.  Help me to love you more with each passing day and to trust you more with every moment.  Amen.


  1. My absolute favorite book! Got me through some of the worst of times! So glad you feel like it helped in some capacity. Miss you guys and hope to see you soon!
    Beth :)

  2. I have been following the blog of this sweet family in Kansas I came across while shopping on Etsy a year or so ago. They lost their 11 month old daughter Cora to cancer and have blogged through their grief journey. I remember reading the following posts in October and thinking about you. Cora's mom talks about some of Nancy Guthrie's books and she and her husband went on a retreat with the Guthrie's this year. Here is the link to her October posts:

    you can scroll down to read about the Respite Retreat. Her heart is so much like yours and I hope that you can find some comfort in someone else who is in your shoes...And for what its worth- they just welcomed a healthy little boy in January :)

  3. Thankful for you and Nancy Guthrie who can communicate so well through writing and turn our hearts consistently to the Lord and His goodness. Thank you and love you.

  4. I'm so grateful to know that you found companionship in my book with someone who understands your deep sorrow. I can see that he is at work in your life, calling you to trust him in deeper ways with everything you have, everyone you love and everything you desire.

  5. I really relate to the first part of your post talking about this could possibly happen again. Denny wants to have more babies. I'm scared to death. I can't imagine going through any of this again. But then that makes me feel like I'm not trusting God. I totally understand where you are coming from. I feel those things too.

    Thanks for continuing to share your story! I read all your posts:)

  6. Kathryn, Happy Easter! Ben and I had a discussion about this post today. We talked about how the kind of prayer Nancy Guthrie describes is indeed a kind of submission, but also ironically not at all passive--rather it would seem to require an incredibly active and open stance toward every aspect of your life and any path you may follow. We were thinking of the etymology of the German word for prayer "Gebet," which among other words is probably related to "betteln" (to beg). I think "beten" may also related to "bieten," which means to offer. It's interesting that one word could gesture towards both kinds of prayer you describe.

  7. Since my wife, Trudie, died almost two and a half years ago, I've known that I'm not in charge of what happens in my life, God is. My prayer has been that God would use me in His service. I just "clean up, show up, and leave the rest to God." [trademark pending :-)]