My father had a serious accident that nearly took his life this year. He spent a month in intensive, acute and skilled nursing care located four hours from my home. His hardship taught me how to pray with more audacity than I have ever dared.
I begged for unity in our family in making healthcare decisions, for access to the right doctors, nurses and healthcare providers to lead his care, for a future that would restore Dad to the remarkable person he had been before the accident, and finally, I prayed for the strength to face whatever God had in mind for Dad and for our family.
Somewhere in the middle of Dad’s recovery, I had to come home. I’m a self-employed freelance writer, and I had an assignment with a deadline that had been looming while I was away dealing with our family crisis. The day had finally come to take action. If I missed the deadline, I ran the risk of losing a good, repeat customer. Dad’s condition was stable, and it was time for me to take a break to tend my responsibilities.
I arrived home on a Friday night, knowing that I was in no condition to write. My head was cloudy, and my body was drained. After a night of rest in my own bed, I awoke Saturday morning feeling some better, but my recovery wasn’t miraculous.
To make matters worse, the project was prodigious—a complex 2,000-word story based on 13 interviews, all of which had been done several weeks before. A lot had happened since the interviews, and I had barely given any thought to work. I couldn’t remember much of what I’d learned from the interviews.
Under normal conditions, I start early and allow plenty of time to think before writing. In this case, I had no such luxury.
When I realized how ill-prepared I was to write, I sat down and prayed. My prayer went something like this:
Lord, you know that this work must be done today.
You also know that I’m in no condition to do it.
The thing is: I really need you to do it for me.
I know that you have already done so much for our family and that you have better things to do than this, but I cannot do this without your help.
Please organize my mind. Refresh my memory. Guide the work I’m about to do so I can return to my family tomorrow afternoon. I’m asking this impossible thing because I know you can help. Thank you for your faithfulness and for your might. In Jesus’ holy name I pray, Amen.
Afterwards, I sat down, reviewed my notes, and wrote the entire piece in three hours—an unheard-of turnaround for me. It felt almost effortless—as though the whole thing had been given to me. All I had to do was listen. I read it once and found it only needed the slightest edits. Not only was it finished; it was among my best work.
It was such a remarkable experience that I began to wonder if I could accept a byline. Had I written the piece? Or had God?
For the record, I’ll say this: I don’t think of God as a divine Santa Claus who exists to fulfill my every dream come true.
Here’s what I do think: Many Christians (not just me) routinely pray from a position of strength. We “check in” with God daily, then go on about our business. But God isn’t really in charge of our lives. We are. We give God very little to do and very little space in which to do it.
I believe that God heard and answered my prayer so abundantly for at least two reasons:
- I had been walking in lockstep with Him for weeks, depending on Him for everything, aware of the way He was helping our family. We were communicating intimately and often. I knew that I was powerless in my Dad’s recovery and powerless to work normally. I came to God, worshipping His power and His ability to intervene in my life. I wasn’t praying from a position of strength; I was completely humble.
- The world, in God’s view, certainly doesn’t revolve around what’s best for me. I couldn’t return to my family until my work was done—and my family needed me. The writing I was about to do also impacted other people. When I asked for God’s help, he must have felt it was best for His Kingdom. My need must have been in harmony with His will for everyone—not just me.
I don’t normally ask God to complete my assignments, but maybe I should. Instead of striving to do my work, it might liberate me to do more of His.
The poet and author Wendell Berry writes, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”
Here’s to the journey you’ll have in 2020. Don’t dread the rocky road that may rise to meet you. It may be the path where you finally merge with God.
P.S. Dad did not die. He’s doing remarkably well, thanks to God and to all the believers at North Central Church of Christ and beyond who bent God’s ear on his behalf.