My dad died on Sunday, and the memorial service is today. It seemed like this article, adapted from one I wrote for the March/April issue of Pray! Magazine in 2008, was appropriate.
There’s no question about it: Trials and hardships affect our prayer lives. The way they affect our praying, however, differs from person to person and from season to season.
When my husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, my initial reaction was emotional paralysis. “It’s not that I don’t want to pray,” I confided in a friend, “I just can’t!” My friend reassured me that she and others would be praying for me until I was able to pray again. They did pray, and eventually so could I.
Later on I went through times when it was difficult to pray because I didn’t dare to be honest with God. I was hurt, angry, scared, and confused. Anything I might have said to Him wouldn’t have sounded at all like the pretty and polite prayers I was used to hearing in church. It was then that another friend pointed me to the Psalms. She observed that the psalmists were gut-honest about how they felt and that God seemed capable of handling their negative feelings. So in that season, I learned to lament.
In still another season, I was frustrated. I had prayed all the “right” things, yet God wasn’t answering in the way or on the timetable I’d hoped for. I wondered if He even heard me. Frankly, I wondered if He cared. Why bother? I thought. But God sent still more friends to come alongside me. One helped me to appreciate and join in the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings and His wilderness cries to God. Another helped me to hear and receive God’s loving comfort even though He was not giving me the answers I wanted. During that time my prayers became deeper and richer, my relationship with the Lord became more intimate, and my trust in Him became more complete.
When my husband died (and during the weeks before when, more than once, he almost died) it was a most painful time. Yet during that time I found that I could honestly praise and thank God for many things, both spiritual and material. How God has grown me in these difficult times, I realized.
I know that the future will provide plenty more trials to challenge my prayer life. There may even be times again when I feel that I cannot pray. Still, I rejoice that God allowed me to see at least this one time that even the valley of the shadow of death can become an occasion for me to commune deeply with Him, through prayer.
While it doesn’t happen automatically, suffering can be a catalyst to a stronger prayer life. That doesn’t mean you should ask God to send trials your way! More than likely, you already are experiencing some hardship. If not, you’re probably interceding for someone who has. So whether you are in a wilderness right now, or you know someone who is, my prayer is that you can break through the numbness and pain and persevere in prayer. As I’ve walked through my own wilderness season, I’ve experienced that God really does hear, He really does care, and He really will use our suffering not only for good but also to deepen our conversations with Him.