A Call Back to Prayer

I can’t remember exactly when I started to crave conversations with God, but it was somewhere in the late ‘70s. One Sunday morning our pastor challenged us to choose one hour during the week to spend in prayer. His sermon detailed prayer’s incredible advantages, and when he threw out his challenge, I decided to take it up.

But one whole hour? It sounded like something only a monk could do. I knew with three little children at home, I’d have to get a babysitter if I was going to do it. I picked a day, dropped the kids at the sitter’s and went home to pray. Because I was tired, I decided to write my prayers longhand, a surefire way to stay awake.praying man 2

Once I got started, there were so many people and topics to cover, I didn’t even finish before the hour was over. I’d failed at regular praying in the past yet knew it was the right thing to do, so tried to pray another hour the next week, too, and every week after that. Sudden obstacles often jumped in the way, and sometimes I’d have to stay up very late, but week to week, the prayer got done.

I began looking forward to our meeting times and had full confidence God would always be waiting for me. And amazingly, praying brought changes. I wanted more of that so thought I’d try to bump my weekly prayer hour to a daily 30 minutes, and it worked well. Often we’d talk for over an hour. God seemed to bring that time out of nowhere.

The two of us sailed along with our daily conversations for 11 years. Then Nate got sick, and everything about our lives changed overnight. The schedules filled with doctor appointments, and our empty nest filled with family. My passion to pray was suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to spend time with Nate and the rest of the family gathered from far and wide. I felt guilty ignoring my appointments with God but had to completely let go of organized prayer. That left us with an intense need for God’s steady counsel but a lack of time to seek it out. It was a dilemma I couldn’t fix, and I felt terrible about it.

One day, a couple of weeks into our 42 day tornado of disease, my mind flooded with God’s solution to the problem. “I’ve appointed others to stand in the gap for you and yours,” he assured me. “Down the road, we’ll pick up where we left off.”

Then he proved it to me. Day after day we opened stacks of mail from precious friends and even strangers. Nearly every card included the words, “We are praying for you.” Some detailed exact requests they were taking to God on our behalf, and others cited specific Scripture passages they were claiming. An astonishing number said, “We’re bringing you to God every single day.” I will never get over such devotion and love.

And here we are, five weeks after Nate’s death. Monday morning it was as if I heard the Lord say, “How about getting together today?”

We’ve been meeting ever since. When I stopped praying those 30-plus minutes each day, unwelcome circumstances had rushed in to fill the time. But this week, the time came back to me. After relocating my prayer clipboard with its lists, notebook paper and pen, I could sit down and heave a deep sigh of contentment, thankful to once again partner with God in this unique way, because I need our conversations now more than ever.

“If we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:25-26)

Satisfying a Longing

The minute Nate and I learned of his cancer diagnosis, I wanted to talk to Mom, but she died in 2005. I knew she would have delivered wise counsel as our feet left the edge of the cliff we’d just been pushed from. She didn’t mince words or say flowery things that would perfume over the truth. And at that moment, I wanted the truth, raw as it might be. I craved her empathy and wanted to ask what I should do next.

As Nate and I sat looking out the van windshield on our drive back to Michigan that day, stunned by what we’d just heard, I needed someone who’d already traveled through hardship to come alongside and whisper wisdom into my ear. The unsatisfied longing to talk to Mom popped up again and again during the six tumultuous weeks of Nate’s illness. Oh how I yearned for her advice, her leveling. But as the old proverb says, “Wishing doesn’t make it so.”

Today, however, I heard from Mom. It happened in a most unlikely way, and I view it as God’s gentle plan to fill up the pothole of longing in my heart.

Mom in red coat

A friend from childhood named Al who often comments on my blog, mentioned the close relationship our two mothers had had. These women raised their children together so closely, the kids grew up thinking they were all cousins. When Al’s father died, his mother, Ione, received a long letter from my mother, written four days after the death. The letter was meaningful enough to save for 43 years and was re-read again and again.

Today both of those women are gone, but the letter isn’t. Al thought it would hearten me now, in my new life-assignment without Nate, so he mailed me a copy. When I opened his envelope this morning, the first thing I saw was Mom’s familiar handwriting on four pages of stationary. That alone made me smile.

I set aside the letter for a quiet moment later on, eventually sitting down with a mug of cranberry tea and an eagerness to hear from Mom. I read it twice, thinking of the sweet relationship between these two women. Then it occurred to me that since I believe God put the letter into my hands to help me, too, I would read it one more time as if Mom had written it directly to me, a new widow just like Ione had been. And from the letter, here is the gist of her counsel after she began with, “Dear, always-brave [Margaret]” :

  • Think back at least three generations and count your blessings. Thank God for “stoic, loyal, living examples of the Scriptures – steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Bless the memory of those who lived long, long ago.”
  • Cherish your women friends. Receive their comfort. They are “…golden threads of friendship which, through the years, have knit [you] together in a near-holy bond of fellowship. Who would have dreamed [your] socializing could have become such a blessing?”Ione's letter 2
  • Never doubt that God took [Nate] home for important reasons. “Perhaps the bodily affliction that laid him aside was for his grooming in the hand of God.”
  • Be grateful for the family you still have on this earth, even though your husband, the family leader, is gone. And remember with fondness that Nate loved each family member and the warm home you made for him. “A man could ask for no more, earth-wise.”
  • “The greatest of your blessings is – as you well know – the presence of Christ in your lives and your home. Herein is Love.”
  • As for [Nate], “he is very alive in the presence of the Lord… with the very Lord who gave him you, [Margaret], and the children [and grandchildren].”
  • Now, “work harder than ever for the Lord, because of your [Nate]. I commend you to the God of all comfort.”

Only God could have orchestrated such a creative way to not only help me during a time of need and encourage me for weeks to come, but also to do it in a way that filled the longing in my heart to hear directly from Mom.

“‘All this,’ David said, ‘I have in writing from the hand of the Lord upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.’ David also said to Solomon, his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work … is finished.’” (1 Chronicles 28:19-20)

Changing Expectations

An important part of my transition to widow-status is to consciously set a different standard. For example, every time I think, “Nate will be home soon,” immediately on its heels is a second thought, “He isn’t coming.” My widow friends tell me these “false starts” will happen less and less often, but for now, each thought-couplet (he’s coming; he’s not coming) is a fresh disappointment.

Riding this emotional see-saw drains energy, but I can’t wish it away. The passing of time helps, they say, because all major change takes some getting used to. I buy that, because I’m doing better this week than last, which was better than the week before that. Nate always used to say, “The only constant in life is change.” I know that wasn’t original with him, but it’s his voice I hear in my ears, reminding me of this truth. Life has changed dramatically for both of us. At first I categorized his change as positive (heaven) and mine as negative (widowhood), but I’m trying to pull away from that now, opting instead to call our changes “different”.

With a windy snowstorm today, our new winter season is shouting about change. Christmas without Nate is also telling us how radically our holidays will change. But just like the current seasonal changes, I’ve come to a new life-season personally. Nate has begun his eternal life season. I’ve begun the season of widowhood.

What could possibly be positive about that? After all, I’ll be without a partner at weddings, graduations, funerals, christenings, any formal gathering where Nate and I used to go together. I’ll sleep alone, drive alone, shop alone, do everything we used to do together, alone. The first thing to do is to set aside false expectations about my new season. When I see a couple leaning against each other in church, instead of thinking “if only,” I need to tell myself, “You’re done with that season now.” It isn’t the end of the world.

There’s a Scripture passage that says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man [or woman], I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) The season of childhood ends for all of us. Many of the things we’ve looked at as positives from the perspective of a child disappear when we become adults, but that doesn’t mean new good things aren’t coming.

So far, I’ve only been faced with the negatives of this new season of widowhood.  Today I’m working on changing that. Will there eventually be positives? I believe there will be, for one reason: God doesn’t pull the rug out from under us without planning to catch us when we fall. But even better than that, I believe he has a brand new positive plan for me, a new place to stand “on a new rug,” so to speak. Although it won’t include Nate, I have confidence it will be a good plan anyway. I don’t yet know what it is, but in due time the Lord will show me.

Midge plus kids

In the mean time, he’s given me a little peek at what my new season will hold. It will involve grandbabies, five so far (2 born, 3 almost born). I know it will include travel to see these little people in Florida and England. I know I’ll need to swing a paint brush to freshen up our needy cottage. I know I’ll learn to think like a widow, which will expand my understanding of all the widows who have preceded me into this season. I’m in their club now, and being “included” will be a good thing.

I want to fulfill whatever purpose God has in mind for me from here on, and do the work he’ll assign me to do. As my missionary friend is fond of saying, “God’s work done in God’s way will find God’s supply.” I know I’m going to make it, and I know it’s going to be good.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… and a time to heal…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,3a)