Last week my family and I visited Theophilus, a church in Southeast Portland. I’m getting to know their pastor, AJ Swoboda, as we see each other in the halls of the seminary where I work and he adjunct teaches.
He led us in a beautiful, authentic, vulnerable reflection on prayer. As he explained our default posture toward prayer he remarked, “Prayer in scripture is not a footnote, it’s the whole text. Our lives are a footnote to prayer.”
I was struck by the notion that “our lives are a footnote to prayer.” That is not the case with my life. I pray little these days. My expectations that anything will be changed because of my prayers are at an all-time low. Hence why I have not prayed much.
Toward the end of the gathering, AJ asked us to specifically pray for him and for Theophilus. In a moment of transparency before those who look to him for leadership, he shared that he’s having a hard time in life right now and he needs our prayers.
I resolved in that moment to become a better pray-er. It shouldn’t be hard. Just start praying. At all. About anything. I was also quite aware that I was entering into a very difficult week of doctoral work. I would be working with my cohort on a week-long learning intensive for our dissertation research course. The expectation set by the instructor was that we would spend at least 20 hours over the Monday – Friday span, working on our research question, thesis, claims, and warrants.
Everyone in my cohort is employed full-time. Nearly all of us also have families. Adding 20 hours of mind-sapping work into five days is a daunting thing to have on the horizon. A perfect time to take up prayer again. So as we left Theophilus I felt centered and confident, ready to enter into “hell week.”
That lasted until we got home. One thing you should know about me is that I have a pretty advanced case of spiritual amnesia. I’m pretty quick to forget all the things God has done for me, all the stuff He’s brought me through. Despite my resolution to the contrary, I did no more praying during that week then I’ve done in the weeks and months past.
The week lived up to its name. In addition to the demands of the coursework, all three of my ladies at home came down with head colds. Zombies. As the week progressed, I felt more and more uneasy with my research direction, eventually tossing it all in the eleventh hour and starting from scratch on a new topic Thursday evening. I had to take Friday off in order to redo the previous four days of work.
How often did I think about praying? Maybe once. How often did I pray? Not once. I mean, perhaps there was a little “arrow prayer” as I put my head on the pillow one night (“Jesus, help”), but that’s it. And I’m exhausted because of it.
I got the work done. I was even moderately successful in crafting a research question and claim that I feel fairly confident about. But I’m wasted. I can’t help but wonder if things might have been different if I’d taken AJ’s request to heart. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t pray for him, either. For that I’m truly sorry.
So what’s going on with me and prayer? (You could really replace “prayer” in that question with just about anything these days.) I’m not totally sure. Part of it is that I feel like I need to “do things on my own.” Part of it is a general lack of trust in anyone or anything over the last 8 months or so. Part of it is laziness. Part of it is priorities. Part of it is busyness. I could probably go on, but at some point it will just appear to be a list of excuses. It already does.
I’m going to ask you, dear reader, to do something for me. Pray for me. That’s pretty twisted, right? After paragraphs about my failure to pray, I’m going to ask you to do it for me? Yeah, that’s right. See, there’s this story early in Israel’s history that gives me a little hope. The people were engaged in a battle and Moses was up on the hillside overlooking the goings on below. When he held his staff and arms up in the air, his people gained the upper hand in the battle. But when he lowered them, they lost ground.
The battle was a long, close one. Moses’s arms began to physically tire. He got to the point where he just couldn’t hold them up any more. Without his arms raised, his side started losing the battle. Then something amazing happened. Two of his friends stood on either side of him and they raised his arms. The tide of the battle turned and they eventually won. Not because of Moses, but because of Moses’s friends.
I don’t know if I remember what it feels like to be on the winning side. I’ve dropped my arms and am getting my ass kicked. I really need a couple folks who will stand by me and hold them up. If you would be one of those people, then pray. That’s all. Pray. It doesn’t matter to me if you believe in God or not. I do and I believe He listens to prayers. So don’t send me your good thoughts, your best wishes, or luck, happy feelings, karma, energy, whatever. Hold my weary arms up. Pray for me.