I’m a person who runs on hope. With it, I feel I can sprint across mountains. Without it, I find it hard to stay motivated (And that’s understating the situation). Recently, I decided to go to a prayer and worship night my church hosts once a month. Typically, I wouldn’t spend Friday night singing and praying, but I had recently experienced personal loss and decided it was the best thing to do, lest I be tempted to start the weekend shaking my fists at God, bitter and sore. Besides, it was being held at my friend Jason’s house and I practically live over there, anyway.
I went over early for dinner. It turned out Jason was leading music for the evening; I grabbed a guitar and we ran through the songs together. The organizer, Kimberly, arrived early and we did some prep work.
Kimberly’s the prayer director at our church and also a good friend of mine. One of the reasons I like her is because she’s as much Pentecostal as Presbyterian. Hands in the air, head on the floor, Holy Spirit—the whole charismatic bundle. An hour into the evening, she asked, “Is there someone named Kristen in the room?”
“Does anyone have a friend named Kristen who needs prayer?” she asked.
The cynical side of me thought, “It’s time to head for the door.” But darned if one of the women in the room didn’t say, “I have a friend named Kristen. I was going to ask prayer for her tonight. She lost her job and is having a tough time.”
“Okay,” I thought. “Kim gets some street cred for that.”
The woman prayed for Kristen. A few minutes later, Kimberly said. “God’s telling me that someone here is discouraged and has lost hope. The message I’m getting from God is to tell that person, ‘It’s okay to still hope. My answer is not No. It’s okay to hang on. You can still hope.'”
Jason, not one for dramatics, but one who knows the guts of my life, let out a quiet ‘hrrmphh’ and hit my leg with his knee.
Now, I’m sure there are a million Kristens who need prayer. And I’m sure half the people in the room could have used prayer for discouragement and loss of hope. But I drove home strangely optimistic. I didn’t know what “The answer is not No” meant, and I still don’t. Perhaps it could mean many things. I was encouraged all the same. I chose to believe it had been a message from God to me. The next morning, I woke at five thirty, couldn’t go back to sleep, so I drove to the nearby Starbucks (the only place open) and did some reading and thinking. The next day, I thanked Kimberly for her prayer.
It had softened my heart, which was threatening to become thorny and proud. It allowed me to bow my head; whether I prayed or not was another matter. At least I’d put my head in position to do so.
And I guess that’s life. We get beaten down to the point where we are about to cave in, and then we are given a small taste of hope that allows us to keep going. Six days of running through quicksand and one Sunday of soaring through the heavens. But we do it—because we believe in a God who can send messages through whispers, and prayer requests through raised hands and open hearts.
A few months ago, one of the women in my community group asked for prayer for her brother. He’d been feeling ill for several weeks but didn’t know what was wrong. The doctors had no diagnosis. Several weeks passed; he couldn’t eat and was losing weight rapidly. He went to see a specialist and the doctor found a 20-lb tumor in his abdomen, thought to be cancerous. The doctor scheduled a surgery for late January.
Our friend went home to be with her brother and family, while those in the group went into rabid prayer mode. We prayed every day for weeks. We sent chain emails on a consistent basis and, when gathered as a group, prayed collectively for the family.
The surgery went down on January 26th, where they removed the tumor (The family members had named it “Marco”—some levity in darkened circumstances). The next week, they released him from the hospital, still unsure as to the nature of the tumor, whether it be benign or malignant, and if malignant, what would be the chemotherapy process.
Two weeks later, we received this:
“We just got good news on the pathology of his tumor… and it is BENIGN!! I would have never dared to dream that that was a possibility. So essentially, it turns out that he does not have cancer, he doesn’t need chemo, and he is cured! We (including the doctors, I think) are all surprised and very relieved.
“Thank you so much for keeping him and my family in your prayers. It has been an emotional roller coaster for the past couple of months. I don’t know if this is considered a miracle, but God, once again, demonstrates his goodness, mercy, and compassion.”
She returned to our group last week. She spoke of the experience.
“This time,” she said, “I didn’t know what to pray. I saw my brother in so much pain. Knowing that he could be taken from us. Was I supposed to ask God to heal him? Or just pray, ‘Thy will be done?'”
“What did you pray?” I asked.
She teared up. “That God would show mercy.”
Because she was willing to open the door of concern to us, we got a chance to see prayer answered. She let us share some of her burden, even though it was infinitesimal next to what the brother and family had gone through. We spent the rest of the evening praying, giving thanks but also praying for those in need, whether it be financial, emotional or physical. Because that’s the way it works. One person will be buoyant with joy, perhaps having just come out of a dark place. Another will entering his or her dark night, though it won’t last forever. And we are there for each other, an army of schizophrenics—freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional—but still able to pray, still able to give thanks, even in the dark times.
(Note: Thanks to my friends, who’ve allowed me to speak of them in these posts. You guys are awesome. I’m forever blessed.)