It might take time or unexpected detours, it may show up in disguise like a trick or treater at the door, but you will always find an answer from God to one particular prayer. Which kind of prayer this is reveals something important about who God is and who we are created to be. Tug on a loose thread of grace before you know what it’s connected to and where it will lead, and often you’ll find this answer to this prayer unspooling in your life. The prayer God always answers may take you where you didn’t know you needed to go.
You may find there’s work in keeping the answer; you may find areas in which growth is demanded of you as you experience the answer. You won’t always live up to the answered prayer. You may question whether the answer is really all that it first seemed. That’s alright. It’s always been so.
But in my life I’ve found God always answers one kind of prayer that my heart entrusts to God’s heart. Browse through Scripture, and you see God doing it over and over and over again.
It may take time or detours or hard work, but the prayer God always answers is the prayer asking God to bring a particular kind of person or community into your life because you recognize your need for other people.
Sometimes it’s tempting to ask God for a solution or a quick fix, when God wants to deepen your relationships with others and to answer your prayers in the healthy interdependency that comes with genuine community.
Sometimes it’s tempting to ask God to heal a particular kind of wound or to numb the pain of loneliness, when God wants you to receive the grace of presence, even if it looks different than you pictured.
Sometimes it’s tempting to ask God for strength to do it all, instead of asking God if your trust in others needs to be expanded.
When you pray and acknowledge your lack, your limitations, your learning curve, and your loneliness, God will always answer your cry for mentoring or community or help or friendship, even if it doesn’t come in the form you’re hoping for or picturing, even if it takes time, even if the circumstances are what you were trying to avoid.
If you’re grieving a gaping hole in your life where a relationship should be but is out of reach for whatever reason, God may not restore a relationship with a particular person. But God can bring into your life someone who’s a similar presence, and they will be a source of grace, growth, and comfort. If your mother abandoned you or was unavailable or absent, a relationship with her may be out of reach, but God can hear the longing of your heart and bring someone mother-ly into your life. She won’t be perfect – no mother is – but whether she’s old enough to be your Grandma or just beyond you in years like an older sister, if you see a kind of person missing in your life, start praying that God will intersect your life with embodied grace.
If you’re grieving a gaping hole in your life where a particular kind of community should be but is out of reach for whatever reason, God may not relocate you, but God can bring into your life people you may not completely realize you need. They will be a source of grace, growth, and comfort. They won’t be perfect – no one is – and you will see your own learning curves and areas for growth in new ways.
One time I sat praying for a very specific kind of small community. I was at a conference; it was a stage of life when it can be really difficult to forge new relationships, especially if you’re in a vocation like ministry when peers themselves are often far-flung or regularly relocating. Someone had been speaking on the value of a small knot of trusted friends who also seek out God’s heart. I didn’t question the value, I questioned the viability; I knew it was a good thing to want, but I could not see how it would unfold. Normally fasting isn’t my first instinct; but that day, I sat and prayed, tears streaming, as others left for lunch, telling God my heart and hurts and longing. I still can’t describe how it happened with any coherence, but by the time I left the conference, I found myself part of a small knot of kindred spirits, some casual former acquaintances, some familiar but until that conference strangers, and we had agreed to form a group together. How? I had lunch with one person, chatted with another, there might have been an introduction, maybe we decided to sit together during worship? And then the final one – I think she saw us knotted together praying during a time of prayer huddles and joined us and then that was that? I’d gone from longing but not seeing any viable avenue, to going home with a fresh set of phone numbers and friends. We still had to work at making time to connect. We’re still far-flung. We all have different points of view, backgrounds, gifts. Persisting in prayer often means you and I are aware of something good that’s missing and that we can’t orchestrate by or for ourselves.
One time when I worked in a nursing home, one of my favorite residents died. He was a rascal; mischievous; gave the social worker grey hairs. I loved him. When his kids wrote to the facility thanking us for the care we had given him, they said – “Dad had been so depressed living alone. He’s always been outgoing, and with his health he was confined to home so much. He loved living at the nursing home. He was his old self again – people to talk to. The friends he made there were so important to him.” I knew what they meant. He had loved it. Not everything about it, certainly; he made that clear. But he had friends he ate supper with every night, they shared treats from “outside” that their families had brought them. He was with others. Most people avoid or dread long-term care facilities, but his extroverted, mischievous heart found plenty of entertainment and genuine friendship there.
The prayer God always answers: your need for other people – like you, unlike you, similar to you, different than you.
That doesn’t mean that every unmarried person will be married; it doesn’t mean that every specific relationship with a specific person will be restored (sometimes they can’t or shouldn’t be).
It does mean that God who is internal community, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and who created humans for and in community, takes our longing for friendship, relationship, camaraderie, and community seriously – and joyfully.
God, I need a teacher. A mentor. A coach. An auntie in the faith.
God, I need someone who’s like a Dad or Grandpa, someone who knows Your heart.
God, I need a handful of good buddies who checks in with me, who I check in with.
God, I need a long-haul friend with whom I can meaningfully share life.
God, I need people in my life who look different than me, who have different experiences, speak different languages.
God, I need a few good prayer warriors I can turn to.
Moses needed his father-in-law’s advice; and Moses needed the people his father-in-law recommended that he entrust. Naomi and Ruth needed each other. Anna and Simeon needed to bless, and Joseph and Mary needed to witness their response to this baby. Paul needed to learn that he needed Barnabas, who was right about John Mark. Esther needed Mordecai, and Mordecai and many others needed Esther. The apostles needed the Greek widows as much as the Greek widows needed them. Mary needed Elizabeth. Saul desperately needed Ananias.
“It is not good for Human to be alone…”
These are prayers worth persisting in. Tug loose threads expectantly, be on the lookout even if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Be wise in who you let into your heart, but trust that as you grow in self-knowledge, self-awareness, and maturity, that the Holy Spirit will collide into your day with people you didn’t expect but profoundly need. Fast from relationships that are all in your own image – a reflection of yourself. And then do the work of caring for those answers to prayer so that as you continue to grow and sharpen each other, you are tending to God’s beautifully given answers to persistent, expectant prayers.
Featured image courtesy Jeremy Yap on Unsplash.