Nearby in our small town a middle-aged woman reaches for her cell phone. Outside her husband, Jeff, of nearly 30 years is tinkering around with the motor of their sons Camaro, a father-son rebuilding project that the son has little interest in beyond having a super drive when he finally gets his license. His father is already angry this morning and the shouts had flung themselves around the kitchen table until Jeff had slammed out of the house. Upstairs their nearly sixteen-year-old son is laughing with his friend as the sounds of a movie echo in the background. Her name is Katy* and she’s spent the last 30 years taking care of her men. Her husband, four sons and her, their family.
Katy’s eyes sweep over the portraits hanging on the wall and the framed photographs on the bookshelves and mantel. Visual memories of their lives together. Bryan, Mark and Ted’s high school graduation pictures, Mark and Ted’s college graduation, Bryan and Ted’s weddings, Colton, Little Bryan, and Cari her grandchildren. There are candid shots of Christmas’, birthdays and Easter egg hunts and those once in a lifetime moments you manage to capture on film. Jeff and she have weathered life storms pretty well on their own, Katy tells herself. Then immediately questions her thought, “Haven’t we?”
They had managed to raise three grown sons and the last one, Kevin, was fast approaching the day he too would fly from the nest. Katy knew deep down she hadn’t made it easy for either of her older sons to find a life on their own outside these walls. They were her boys and she didn’t want to see them make mistakes nor did Jeff. Despite their need to try and control their son’s lives they all managed to still stay intact as a family. Wearily Katy admitted the battles had taken more of her strength than she would acknowledge, Jeff already thought she was too “teary” as it was, it wouldn’t do for him to suddenly come and find her weeping or not busy. From the earliest days of their marriage Katy remembered the lessons of how Jeff expected marriage to go and she heeded them. Though his rigidness chaffed at her sometimes Katy didn’t often rock the boat, the price was too high and she never really won.
Her hand stills on the cell phone and then passes over it to pick up the hand towel she’d used to dry the kitchen counter, her eyes checking off all the tasks of readying the kitchen for the next meal prep so nothing was left undone before she took the towel to the laundry room and started a load of laundry. Despite her resolve to keep the questions and longings at bay Katy felt the tears pressing against her eyeballs begging for release. Her thoughts seemed to seep from the box she had crammed them. Into the turmoil of her heart a voice called to her. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 KJV)
How long had it been since she’d really prayed? Oh, sure when she saw prayer requests for children hospitalized for awful diseases and from accidents she asked God to intervene, to heal them. But she hadn’t prayed, really prayed for such a long time. Jeff said religion was a crutch of the weak and although she’d been raised in a strict Christian home she’d willingly left behind that part of her life to marry Jeff. Jeff had been the one to love her, he’d seen someone beautiful beneath the extra pounds she’d carried then and thanks to him she had not been heavyset the last 30 years. They had observed the holidays with joy and laughter and large family feasts attended by both sides of their families. Unbidden the memories of Jeff and his four brothers red-faced and drunk reeling through the house, shouting, fighting with one another until either the wives managed to calm them or they tore away vowing never to talk to either brother again causing family squabbles until a crisis brought them together again.
Now Katy knew Bryan and Ted were struggling to be different fathers to their own children and she wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. Bryan and Beth were “Jesus freaks” as Jeff often said when they came late to family gatherings after going to church for worship or activities. Ted was beside himself with fear that Cari would date or marry a man like he had been raised to be before he’d understood there was another way. Mark seemed the most likely to follow fully in his father’s footsteps although he didn’t get loud or talkative like his father and uncles did when they were intoxicated, he withdrew into himself. Anger seethed in him and radiated off of him like red waves of heat. She feared the secret she’d harbored for years that her husband often drank too much seemed to crystalize in their son.
Upstairs she heard the sounds of the new video game Jeff had allowed Keith to buy last night. One filled with violence and the sounds of its battles had disturbed her sleep long into the small hours of the morning, her protests weak and unheard.
Though Katy had done her best to steer the ships of her son’s lives she was suddenly shockingly aware of how little control she had ever really had. They were long passed the days when a skinned knee was reason to run and find Mommy to “fix the boo-boo”. In fact, Katy realized, they didn’t need her near as much as she’d like for them too and her conscience spoke to her of how the distance between her daughters-in-law and herself was her own fault. She had been, all too often, the dreaded mother-in-law portrayed in movies. Katy just wasn’t sure how she’d gotten here. Wasn’t sure where the last 30 plus years had gone.
Again came that voice, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Then without allowing herself to think anymore she hurried back to the kitchen and picked up her cell phone. Keeping her eyes focused on Jeff beneath the hood of Keith’s car she listened to the phone ringing at the number she’d called. When the voice came on the line Katy wasted no time in making her request. “Can I come to church with you this morning?”
The first text came from Beth to her mother at 10:02 vibrating her cell phone in her purse. When Beth’s mother read it she immediately added to the prayer requests being shared in their Sunday School class. Several other women joined Beth’s mother in texting or messaging the prayer groups they belonged too, unsure how many would see a prayer request at a time most would be in church but recognizing the need for prayer and feeling an urgency for intervention for this woman none of them but Beth’s mother even knew. By the time Katy and Beth slipped into the pew that morning and her eyes swept the choir loft for Bryan, asking where Little Bryan and Colton were over one hundred people were praying for her.
One of those people was me, I received my text at 10:41 and after texting and messaging my own prayer group I fought to think through the haze the medication I’d taken to ease the severe pain in my amputation. I knew I had to write this prayer if it was to be coherent. Thankfully my prayer journal was close as I’d prayed just before taking my medication. Around me on the bed were scattered my sketchpad, pencils, Bible and stacks of books, before the medication had claimed me for sleep I had been trying to work on a blog. This prayer request wasn’t a “when you pray” type request it was NOW request. Every second felt like ten minutes, and I unearthed my prayer journal but the pen wasn’t attached! So then I had to find another pen or that one and the delay seemed to take forever, although in reality only seven minutes had passed since I received my text to pray and the time I put pen to paper. But how many of those minutes had been wasted?
I was grateful for not only the opportunity to pray for this woman who was in need on this Sunday morning. I was disappointed it took me so long to respond to the request with actual prayer though. Bottom line is I should have been prepared to pray quicker. My prayer journal and Bible should have been within arm’s reach in their designated place.
Yes, there were lessons for me in Katy’s needs this morning. The lesson on preparation was clear. Clearly I need to focus on praying without writing them more often for sometimes the call to pray will come in places my prayer journal doesn’t accompany me…a trip to Wal-Mart or the doctor’s office for example.
In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul is telling Timothy to, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” the advice to be prepared is surely applicable when it comes to prayer. We must”…be prepared in season and out of season…” for prayer.
I’ve often heard it said, “You must stay prayed up!” Meaning we have to maintain an ongoing relationship with God that includes (and I don’t know if you could even have a true relationship with anyone, much less God if you don’t) communication. For Christians this communication is prayer. Active, daily, sometimes minute by minute prayer. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 5 verses 16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
That requires an attitude of prayer, of being aware of and acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit ALL THE TIME. Every minute of every day and night because as Believers we are called to surrender all to Him. We must be prepared.
Yet in the pew of a local church congregation, as Katy stills her heart’s pounding as she sits beside her daughter-in-law and continues to fight the tears begging to be cried she is lifted up in the prayers of over a hundred people, some from those occupying the seats near her although they don’t know it’s her they are praying for. They are praying for her because they are prepared, nothing between themselves and God to prevent their prayers from being heard. And the Son Himself intercedes for Katy at the request of dozens and dozens of Believers.
There is the beginning of the opening of the secret chambers where Katy has kept her hurts, troubles and disappointments. There is the quiet knowledge that God is where her answers lay. But there is much to be overcome, both within her and around her. Katy will cry her tears in private but there among those gathered to worship and pray Katy offers a simple prayer of her own, the first for years that is a genuine cry of her lonely heart, “I am here.”
*Names changed to protect privacy. I am privileged to know the circumstances and events of this Sunday morning although accurately represented they have been altered to protect the identity of the actual people involved. But join with me in prayer for this woman and her family who have such a need for God in their lives. Join with me also to focus on being prepared to pray at all times and in all circumstances.