My son is a rock climber, with an affinity for bouldering. He goes to his climbing gym and does problems, which means he swings his body from the floor up a low wall, using various ‘holds’, which, to the uninitiated, look like different kinds of drawer pulls fastened in random spots on the wall.
I love watching the videos of him, making his way up the wall, one arm after the other reaching up to find the next hold. Sometimes, he can’t see where to grab onto next, but he knows the hold is there–somewhere. He just needs to fling all of his weight upwards and crimp his fingers.
Life has been a bit like this for a while for us. Do you ever feel the same way? We’re working to pull ourselves upward, struggling to get to the next level, but we can’t quite see the place to hold. My hands are reaching and not finding a grip.
When this happens, I am tempted to despair. I am tempted to give up. I am tempted to entertain the idea that I’m up here on the wall by myself, that there’s no plan, that no one has laid out the problem and made sure the holds are possible to find. I’m tempted to believe that I’m fated to fall, to crash, to fail.
If I allow myself to stay there, in that belief, I’m going to end up dangling by one arm, hurting, frightened and powerless. I have another option, though.
When the hand-hold isn’t readily found, the first thing I need to do is ask God where it is. I need to tell him that I’m scared and worried and unsure, and that not finding the grip is making me doubt everything. I need to come clean about my anxiety and my fear, because let’s face it, he already knows about it, and by keeping it inside, I’m lying to him and to myself. He would rather that I’m honest and blunt than secretive and smooth.
A lot of my prayers these days happen in bed at night as I’m going to sleep, in the car as I’m driving alone or on the way to the mailbox. They’re not pretty and flowery; none of my gift for language is revealed in these gasping pleas.
Please, please, please, Father, let there be something good in the mail.
Please, dear Lord, provide for us. Send your gifts of abundance, and please give me your peace.
Father, bless my husband this day, because he is giving his all to do your work, and he is so discouraged. Please fill him with your love and your spirit, and send messages of affirmation across his path.
Thy will be done, Lord. Thy will be done, but please, please, please, don’t let us starve/get kicked out of our house/have the electric turned off.
Am I doing the right thing? Please open a door for me, if I am. If I’m not meant to be an author, please close this door finally. Limbo is killing me.
Father, I know you want us to make Christmas about you and the birth of Jesus. We do. We have. I know it’s not about the gifts, and I know my kids are mostly grown, but please, Lord, provide me the ability to just have one small thing from the thrift store under the tree.
Annie Lamott calls these HELP prayers, and clearly, I’ve gotten the hang of them over the years. I’ve practically gotten them down to a science. Don’t worry; I know others, too, but for the purpose of this article, I’m focused on the help ones.
I knew someone once who claimed God didn’t want to be bothered with this kind of prayer. He boasted that he only prayed for lofty, important matters. I refute this in the strongest possible way, because it is counter to everything Jesus taught us, to every word of the loving Father who wants to share everything with us, who wants to be our Father, our Friend and our God.
Jesus often reminded the disciples of this truth. He answered their unvoiced prayers for, among other things, a big catch, money for taxes, healing of a relative, food for a crowd, wine at a wedding, safety in a storm, and a place to celebrate the Passover meal. He never said, “That’s not important enough to bother me.”
God already knows that I’m struggling mightly. He knows that we have needs. He knows my hand is flailing around, searching for that next grip. As I ask for his help, I trust that he’s going to gently and lovingly place his large hand over mine and guide my fingers to the next hand-hold–and he might even give me a little boost, so that I’m not relying on my own body strength to get to the next level.
He’s that good a God.
God already knows where that hold is, and he knows when and how I’m going to find it. He’s got it covered. So why then must I pray? Because it teaches and strengthens me. Prayer doesn’t change the heart of God; rather, it aligns my own heart to his perfect will. My perspective shifts to be closer to his.
So as I go about my day muttering help, help, help, I’m learning to sprinkle in a few thy will be dones. And I’m struggling to actually mean them, too.
I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.
Thy will be done.