Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Prayer

Actually, Prayer Isn't That Easy...

Lindsey Smallwood

I'm back at iBelieve.com this week with some reflections on prayer.

I grew up hearing it was easy - that prayer is "just" talking to God. And while there's some truth there, the reality is things worth doing aren't usually easy and prayer is no exception. 

When it came time for me to start first grade, my family moved. I found myself in a new school learning lots of new things. They had different ways of lining up in the hallway, eating in the cafeteria, even going to the bathroom. But the most painful difference in my six-year-old way of seeing things was that everyone in my grade knew how to jump rope. Everyone but me.

Everyday at recess, the girls would form lines and play games like Down in the Valley and Miss Mary Mack. I started out watching, trying to figure out what exactly was required to move as quickly and fluidly as they did through the ropes. A few times I attempted to join in, always falling or getting tangled up as I panicked, unsure of what to do with my feet. I remember one of the girls who told me “Try again, it’s easy, anyone can do it.” Still, my efforts always ended with me on the ground.

I came home crying, telling my mom that I hated my school. But she quickly figured out that what I needed was some after-school instruction in how to jump rope. My mom and I practiced every day for a few weeks as I built my confidence and my skill set. Soon I was able to join with my classmates, laughing and singing silly songs as we jumped our recess minutes away.

Many of us feel the same way about prayer that I felt about jump rope as a nervous first grader. It seems like it should be easy, it seems like everyone around us in church, in our Bible study groups, in our circle of friends already knows what they’re doing. In fact, we get advice, from friends, even pastors that tell us things like: “Prayer is easy, it’s just talking to God, anyone can do it.” And while there’s some truth there, the reality is a bit more complicated.

Prayer is talking to God. But if you’ve ever had any kind of meaningful relationship, you know... 

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What I Pray for My Children

Lindsey Smallwood

I want a lot for my kids.

I want happy days playing in the sunshine and the chance to for them to learn to ride a bike. I want memories made by the pool on long summer afternoons and the joy of conquering winter’s biggest sledding hill.

More importantly, I want them to develop in all the right ways. Physically, relationally, intellectually, spiritually. I long for their little lives to flourish, growing into their full potential as people, loving God and loving others the way they were made to love.

But raising kids is not another project.

If you want to write a book, you set a goal of two chapters a week, clear some time in your calendar and get after it. If you want to lose 20 pounds, you throw away the chocolate and reacquaint yourself with the elliptical machine. Turning tiny humans into actual full-fledged adult humans is different, because:

  1. it takes 18+ years, and,
  2. ultimately they get to decide how much they will develop.

My first few months of motherhood, these thoughts paralyzed me. I considered every tiny decision in light of the huge scope of parenting.

If I wait ten minutes to pick him up when he cries, will he learn to fall asleep on his own; thereby becoming a more independent person, capable of sleeping, and perhaps other tasks, without my help? Or will I teach him that the world doesn’t care about his distress, that he’s actually alone in that tiny crib-cage?

But seriously, I wondered about this stuff with everything from how to do tummy time to what kinds of food I should offer at meals. It was overwhelming.

At some point, I became more confident in my parenting decisions, realizing letting him cry while I took a much needed shower wouldn’t keep him from mental health in young adulthood, and if my dad wanted to give him an ice cream cone, it wouldn’t change his taste for healthy fruits and vegetables.

And as I’ve continued learning how to be a mother, trusting my instincts and consulting with experts (aka: the moms of adult children in my Bible study group), I’ve come to understand that while I’m responsible for shepherding my little ones through the little moments and tough challenges they face each day, I can only do so much. Both because I’m only one person with 16 awake hours every day (give or take, actually no, please don’t take), and because my children are people with hearts, minds and wills of their own.

So what do I do with all my wants? How do I manage my hopes and dreams about the people they’re becoming in light of the day to day demands of work and parenting?

I pray.

I know. This is not mind-blowing insight. But sometimes the seemingly simple tasks are the ones we need the most and tend to forget.

As I lay my babes to sleep each night, I pray they’d grow to be like Jesus. I’ve been using Luke 5:52 as my guide. It’s a tiny little verse that tells us nearly everything we know about Jesus’ childhood.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Oh that my own children would grow in wisdom! That their minds would be sharp, full of God’s truth and their intellects would develop as they better understand the world around them.

And stature! I pray that their sweet little bodies would grow healthy and strong, able to do every good work God has planned for them to do.

And that they would find favor in relationships, most importantly, with their Creator and also with all the people God brings across their path.

It’s not conquering the sledding hill or mastering tummy time, but I think this simple prayer covers all the bases that truly matter. It’s my nightly act of remembering what we’re working toward and trusting God with the outcomes, whatever they may be.

It’s that trust, for me and my kiddos, that I want most of all.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places. 

What If I Tell Jesus What I Really Want?

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

Over at Middle Places this month, our writers are exploring what it means to be in the middle of healing. I'm on the blog sharing what I've learned from answering Jesus' question to a blind guy on the road.

Sometimes I pray for what’s right, instead of what’s real.

Like right now – I hope my good friend who is fighting cancer will be healed, but I don’t know whether God will do it so instead of praying for healing, I pray that God’s will be done.

And I would love to know what the timeline is for changes coming in my husband’s job, but instead of telling the Lord that, I find myself saying things like “I trust you with our future” and “I know you’ve always been faithful.”

The thing is, all of those things are true. It’s good to pray for God’s will to be done. I do trust Him with our future. He has always been faithful. But those aren’t the thoughts and feelings bouncing around my heart most days. Instead, it’s fear about what will happen to our family or a deep yearning to see my friend’s pain end.

Recently, I reread the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10. In the passage, Jesus passes a blind man named Bartimaeus as he’s walking down the road to his destination. The man calls out to Him, and Jesus stops, asking him this question: “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you want?

 

On its face, it seems like a simple question. Yet answering it requires great courage because we risk finding out we may not get what we hope for. Even the good and godly things.

In Bartimaeus’ case, he asks to receive his sight. Jesus immediately heals him, and Bartimaeus looks at Jesus and follows Him down the road.

I can’t help but ask – what if my story isn’t like Bartimaeus’ happy ending? What if I tell Jesus what I want, what I really want, and He says “no” or “not now” or “wait”?

It’s scary to tell Him how much I long for another baby because in the simple act of saying what I want, I’m acknowledging I might not get it.

Yet relationships, real relationships, can only flourish where there’s honesty and open communication. I think that includes our relationship with God.

I know God wants me to have right theology, to pray for His will to be done, to understand He’s ultimately in control. But He also desires me to bring my whole self to Him: my questions, my challenges, my longings.

As I hear Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus, I imagine Him asking me: “Lindsey, what do you want?”

Slowly, carefully, I let my unspoken desires come to light.

I want my friend to be completely healed from cancer.

I want another baby.

I want the restoration of a broken relationship with a friend.

Saying what’s really in my heart, out loud, to the One who knows me better than I know myself is scary and liberating all at the same time. It’s a step toward deeper relationship with Him. It’s the best possible place to be vulnerable, telling the truth to a God who will never leave me or forsake me, even if His answer is no.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places.

There is No Fear in Love

Lindsey Smallwood

Lately I feel like I’ve been playing whack-a-mole with fear.

It pops up in the strangest spots and as soon as I’ve put it to rest, here it comes again, showing itself in a place I wouldn’t expect it.

Like at Bible study last week, when I was supposed to be listening to a video about prayer, I found myself wondering what would happen if someone with a gun burst into our classroom and started shooting. Would I be brave enough to cover the sweet little lady next to me with my body? Or could I try to make a run for it and get to the nursery where my babies were having snack time? What would I do if I only had seconds to decide?

I fought off the panic, reminding myself that even though mass shootings are more common than they’ve ever been, it’s still unlikely. I can trust God with whatever happens, and our church has a great building security team.

But then, just hours later, I called my husband to ask what time he’ll be home. When he didn't answer, I tried to imagine where he was. I began to find dread creeping back in. What if he’s collapsed in the basement lab where he works with no one there to help him? What if there was a shooting on campus? What if his experiment exploded and he’s been badly burned? My mind works overtime, asking wild questions like “Where would I live if I end up being a single mom?” and “What kind of funeral would he want?”

Recently after church, I went up for prayer, explaining to the prayer minister how terror and worry have been occupying my thoughts at the strangest times, how I’ve tried to fight these worries back but they just keep coming. She smiled gently, sadly almost, and told me in her service as a prayer minister, she hears a request like mine nearly every week, people wrestling with worst case scenarios and terrible “what ifs?”

She prayed for me, asking for peace to guard my heart and mind. I held onto the image, imagining peace as a little solider, playing whack-a-mole with the worry in my head.

Just a few days later, I found myself telling some friends about my mental struggle against fear as we shared lunch together. And even as they nodded, acknowledging how in different seasons each of them had waged their own battle against anxieties big and small, they began to repeat back that precious phrase about peace as a guard for our minds.

It comes from Philippians 4.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

As my friend quoted that passage, reminding me of the rich promises of peace, she pointed out there are also two things this verse tells us to do.

  1. Pray. Tell God what’s worrying us. Don’t sit there until the fear is overwhelming but speak our concerns out loud, telling Him what you want and need Him to do.
  2. Give thanks. Remember all the blessings we have, all the ways we’ve been protected and sustained by God’s Spirit. Fight fear with gratitude for the abundance of things there are to be thankful for.

What a sweet gift. Not only does God promise his peace to watch over my mind, He gives me something to do with my anxiety, work to do in order to keep the worry at bay.

My wise friend also reminded me of 1 John 1:18, which, among other things, tells us that

… perfect love casts out fear.

If God Himself is love and I’m invited to find my life in Him, then fear has to go.

Have the worrisome thoughts stopped coming? Truthfully, no. Just yesterday, I lost track of my littlest as we were leaving the gym and though it was only a matter of moments until I figured out where he’d gone, I found myself beginning to imagine the horror of losing this little child I love so much.

But there, in our truck as I drove back to our house, I began to pray, thanking God for the gift of my two children, for His grace in giving us a home to live in together, for food to eat. By the time I had finished praying, I realized the fear had given way to quiet gratitude, peace was on guard again.

Thanks be to God.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places.