Pray About It

The day the Teen Mania Summer Mission Trip guide came in the mail, the boy told me to kneel on the floor.

Draw a circle around yourself, he said. Pray and pray, and don’t move from that circle until God gives you an answer.

He was 18 to my 14, a senior to my freshman. He was on-fire for God, extreme where I was timid.

I was a little bit in love with him.

So I knelt on the rough carpet of my basement bedroom that afternoon. I spread the glossy brochure in front of me and I poured over every country description, every page. I read the statistics and looked at the map and waited for God to give me a heart for one particular place.

My knees grew prickly and uncomfortable beneath me and my feet started to tingle, and still, I waited.

I thought it would come like quiet certainty, like a secret whispered into my ear. I imagined that it would be a flash of lightning, and the knowing would feel as bright and electric in my bones as if I’d been struck. If I stayed there long enough, the boy had said, God would eventually have to give me an answer.

I waited. I waited. I waited.

I don’t know how long I stayed there; my back was turned to the clock so I wouldn’t obsess. But I know that at some point, prayer and practicality got mixed up in my brain. In one broad stroke, I dismissed all of the countries which required month-long commitments. (My parents were a little unsure about this whole thing anyway, and I knew they’d never agree to let me go away for that long.)

All that remained, then, was one measly page. Three countries that had two-week mission trips. My eyes darted between the three options: Haiti. The Dominican Republic. Trinidad and Tobago. I sat and I prayed. I said Show me your will, and my knees burned and my feet went numb.

And then finally, as a last resort, I closed my eyes and moved my finger in a circle around the page until I felt like I should stop.

I chose the Dominican Republic that afternoon not because I heard the voice of God but because that’s where my finger was pointing when I opened my eyes. I wasn’t guided to it so much; I just landed there. I prayed, and I prayed, and then I petered out, and this is where I landed.

*

This fall was heavy with decisions for me. Without going into the specifics, I can tell you that the decisions felt crucial to the trajectory of my life. (Truth be told, they probably weren’t. These things are almost never as important as we think they are.)

There were all these paths, all these ways I could go. I was presented with them one after another, told, “Spend some time praying about it.” And I felt entirely debilitated.

I spent a lot of time this fall sitting in chairs, staring out the window, believing  somewhere deep inside that if I stayed still long enough, God would speak the answer. That it would be quiet but unmistakable.

I had this nagging feeling that if I didn’t hear it, it was because I had failed in some way. That if I didn’t get an Answer, it would be because of my own impatience, my inability to listen. Because my heart wasn’t soft or my eyes weren’t open or my faith was too small, way too small, smaller than even a mustard seed.

Here it the truth: sometimes you kneel until your legs are totally numb, and you never hear an answer.

Faith is a little bit like an empty room. Sometimes you have to just walk toward the unknown, even though you can’t see anything there. You try a door and find it open or find it locked. You pray. You breathe. You keep moving.

And in the end, God speaks or he doesn’t, and it doesn’t really change anything. Faith is less about hearing than it is about doing.

If you wait until you’re sure, until you hear it clear in your mind, you might never move. You might stay balled up on your carpet forever, afraid.

If I learned anything this fall as I sat and waited, as I prayed and nervously eyed that empty room, it’s this: where I end up is not really my concern. My job is to get up. To walk forward into the emptiness with my heart wide open.

The work of faith is to trust the voice that I can’t always hear, the God that I can’t always see. To believe that he is there anyway, his hand invisible on the small of my back, leading me on.

  • http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2012/06/05/all-points-north/ Marilyn

    This past summer while driving to Maine to do a workshop there was this big green sign that said “All Points North” It was so clear, there was no ambiguity. But rarely has my life been like that. Thank you Addie – for the reminder that there are times where there is no compass, no sign, no map, and Heaven is silent. And that’s when faith walks.

    • Addie Zierman

      It would be so nice if there were just billboards for every decision (and what a great one!) Yes, I love how you said it: “faith walks.”

  • Jen

    Amen, sister!

  • http://everydayawe.com Stephanie Spencer

    It is fascinating to me that we both wrote about prayer today, but from such different angles. I wrote about praying with boldness (http://everydayawe.com/2012/11/13/why-cant-i-have-that/). You wrote about praying without the assumption you will hear clear answers. I absolutely believe both are true. Faith is such a mystery. There are so many seemingly opposite realities that dance side by side.

    Love this part: “And in the end, God speaks or he doesn’t, and it doesn’t really change anything. Faith is less about hearing than it is about doing.” Have you ever read Francis Chan’s book “Forgotten God”? He has a chapter called “Forget God’s Will for Your Life” about that very thing. How Christians sometimes get paralyzed as we wait for specific directions about what to do. But God already told us what to do: love Him and love others. When we are living that out, we are following His will for our lives. And the specifics? Those tend to be a stumble through the darkness with the faith that God is by our side.

    • Addie Zierman

      Loved your post about praying with confidence, Stephanie. And I’ll have to check out that book. This idea of “God’s will” was a big pit of indecision in the Christian college culture where I made my BIG DECISIONS about life. I’ll have to do a post on that one of these days. :)

  • http://annieathome.com Annie Barnett

    Addie, I love the way your story reminds me of parts of mine I’ve forgotten. I know that grasping-waiting feeling. There’s a goodness in knowing it’s more about the trusting and leaning into the unseen, and a goodness, too in learning to quiet our hearts in prayer. Phileena Heuertz’s writing on contemplative prayer has been a gift to me in re-imaging this.

    • Addie Zierman

      I’m loving the ways my life has led me toward contemplative prayer too. Will have to check out Phileena Heuertz…thanks for the name and for the kind comment.

  • http://KatieAxelson.com Katie Axelson

    What a great post, Addie! A friend in ministry once told me rather than waiting for God’s calling, sometimes you have to do things with the intention of doing it for His glory and let Him close the door if that’s now how He wants to use you.

    • Addie Zierman

      Good advice. Thanks Katie.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    Love this. Addie, I would humbly argue He did lead you, just not with His words. It may not be taught from the pulpit but I have found it to be true. I have had to learn this lesson time and again, especially when I’ve desperately wanted to know His plan for my life. And what I’ve settled on is this: He’s given us brains, character, and life experience for a reason. Yes, we should pray for clarity and wisdom, as well as discuss it with people we trust. Then we need to make the best decision we can and move forward with it. If for some reason, God wants to further direct our course, He will. There’s been such freedom in realizing this and seeing how He’s shown up post-decision making.

    I love seeing you walk forward, moving in this new direction. There are unknowns but oh, the possibilities! I’m excited to see how it all turns out.

    • Jenna

      I agree with Leigh, though Addie, this is right where I’m at in this season. Not for direction or decision-making, but just to know He is there. Presence. Joy. Hope. The silence is such a hard place to dwell, no matter how solid our head-knowledge of Him or how much scripture we ingest.

    • Mark Allman

      I was going to comment but Leigh said it for me. Ditto.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for this, lady. Yes, I guess that’s what I was trying to say when I wrote about the invisible hand on my back. There is so much faith to believing that it is there, leading me, even when I can’t feel it. In the on fire evangelical youth culture, I learned to distrust my own decisions, to believe that they are ever-motivated by selfish ambition. Not sure where I got that, but I’m slowly learning to unravel myself from it. Thanks so much for your encouraging words.

  • http://hoxeyville.blogspot.com/ Eric

    Ben Franklin tells a story of a ship off the coast of England breaking up and sea and beginning to sink. Folks on shore saw what was happening and started a prayer service. Ben, not exactly a Christ-follower, said what made perfect sense to me: they should have manned some lifeboats. I know that is not at all what you were writing or thinking. But I was reminded of the story.

    Sometimes it seems that in prayer God communicates to us. But a lot of the time I get the impression God is out fishing somewhere and and wants me to just make a decision.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes. I agree…particularly in situations like that when the answer is so clear. If someone is drowning, you help them. Thanks Eric.

  • http://www.findingfruit.net Jennifer Lundberg

    Yes! I remember someone at my Christian college telling the student body at chapel that we need to stop spending so much time praying and lose out on the doing. He used Isaiah 30:21. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” His point was that you need to be moving to turn to the right or the left. If you are standing still waiting for an answer you may never hear it. I often go back to those words when I am faced with a decision and am not feeling clear guidance from God. Try something. Take a chance. Turn the knob on the door and see if it opens. Love this post.

    • Addie Zierman

      Great insight Jennifer. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    “My job is to get up.” Yes. It’s taken me a long time to learn this – I am still learning. Thanks for this post, Addie.

  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    Not long after Sharon and I got married, I woke up and was suddenl;y terrified. What if I had missed God? What of this wasn’t the one? (I still loved her and was super happy to be married to her, but Doctrine was attacking.) And I asked God. “Was she the one?”
    Immediately I got the answer.
    “She is now.” And that took care of everything.
    I’ve found a lot of life, a lot of my walk with God to be like that.
    You found the truth: When you don’t get an answer, just go. He’s in the going, and there’s always grace.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes! Absolutely. Sometimes I forget that God is big enough that he can accomplish what he wants no matter which avenue I choose.

  • http://awakemysoulblog.com Laura Crosby

    This brings to mind Acts 15:28 which has always been an encouragement to me in this area. The leaders of the early church wrote to the believers in Antioch: “it SEEMED good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” They did their best to listen and respond, though it wasn’t crystal clear.

    • Addie Zierman

      Love that! I’ve been reading through Acts too and noticed when they were choosing the next disciple, they just cast lots and called it good. No hours on the floor praying over the weighty decision, just this casting of lots and this simple trust that God would work it out. I kind of love that.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    Oh, I have felt like this so many times in my life: “I had this nagging feeling that if I didn’t hear it, it was because I had failed in some way. That if I didn’t get an Answer, it would be because of my own impatience, my inability to listen.”

    Then at other times, when I felt like I did get a clear answer from God and I did listen, things didn’t turn out like I expected. I guess what I’m saying is that even hearing God and obeying doesn’t necessarily lead to the life we expect. Sometimes I think we need to let go of our ideas about what’s “right” and try to grasp that God’s at work doing something much bigger and more complex than “right” could ever be.

    • Addie Zierman

      “Sometimes I think we need to let go of our ideas about what’s “right” and try to grasp that God’s at work doing something much bigger and more complex than “right” could ever be.” This is so beautifully said. I kind of want to frame it.

  • http://vincenzofrancesco.wordpress.com/ Vincenzo

    Today, I commented to my daughter something along this line; “I wish I had an internal life coach who could soothe me through every conflict, trial and cross road. Instead I face this daily silence that you alluded to Addie… and therefore, I’m haunted by the uncertainty of questions like these: Did I say the right thing? Did I invest my time correctly? Are these harsh criticisms true about me or are some people just toxic and to be avoided? Am I a loser living in denial of reality?

    • Addie Zierman

      I guess I would argue that the “internal life coach” is the holy spirit…but that it doesn’t always feel like he’s speaking in the way that we can hear or feel. I want him to guide me only toward successful roads and healthy people…but oftentimes the hard places are the places that I need to go.

  • http://simplelivinginc.net Neal Brower

    I am seeking God for my future and He is answering…in the most humbling, even humiliating, way I could never have predicted. I’ve prayed. I’ve waited. Like you, I’ve pursued. Like you I am really sincere (in a more adult way, right?). And like you I am acting. But all my prayers and all my actions have resulted in the same answer. Yep, I’ve received an answer. Who says God doesn’t answer prayer, at least sometimes. The answer has been “No.” Five, count ‘em, five times in a row. So here I remain on my knees on rough basement carpet.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for sharing this. Wow.

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  • http://www.inthetangles.blogspot.com Janice

    Arg! For some reason none of my comments on blogs are showing up this week – so I’m going to try to rewrite it, if for some reason you end up getting two copies of this comment, sorry!

    I almost wrote in a comment on another post of yours that we would have had identical youths if you had only gone on a Teen Missions trip. Teen Mania is close enough, (although I thought I read in another post something about Teen Missions?). I, too, got the huge brochure. I didn’t have the cute senior to tell me to pray, but I sat on my bed for hours, pouring over it, praying, asking, wondering.

    I ended up picking Guatemala because my friend, Beth, was going there. It felt so unspiritual and there was all sorts of uncertainty when I heard everyone else’s reasons for coming – feeling “led”, “having a heart” for that particular place or people. I’m certain I never admitted to them that I selected Guatemala for such secular reasons. Probably not even to Beth.

    And that summer was good (and hard) and God used it to teach me a good amount of truth I wouldn’t have learned staying home. But I wonder, looking back, how much I marginalized myself and discounted my purpose there because of the nagging feeling that it wasn’t God who had sent me there, but just my own choice.

    So this is a beautiful post. Good in retrospect to think about what my expectations of prayer were and of course what they still are today.

    “his hand invisible on the small of my back,” – love that.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Janice. I so resonated with your feeling that you were this secretly unspiritual person among the devout. I felt that too. I always felt like everyone else was getting these Messages from God, and I was just bumbling through, faking it.

      In retrospect, I wonder how many of those people ever really did get the audible kind of answer that they said they’d heard. I’d wager that there were a lot more of us pretending than not.

  • http://oneironwaiting.blogspot.com/ themooninautumn

    30 foot letters of fire would really be nice sometimes, wouldn’t they?

    One book I liked about this topic was called Just Do Something: a Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will OR how to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc. Lots of similar stuff in there to Forgotten God by Francis Chan that someone mentioned above.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll add it to my giant-and-ever-growing-list of books I must read!

  • http://hisnlovingembrace.wordpress.com Mia

    Hi Addie
    This sounds an awfull lot like you trying to do what only our Pappa God can and will. I did it myself and have found that straining myself to hear His voice, causes havoc and an orchestra of noise in my heart! I might be siting still, but my heart was racing at full speed, fully convinced that God cann’t run His universe without my valiant assistance and sacrifices. I sort of believed our Lord Jesus meant that He and I will build His church!
    Thanks for sharing. It is good to know that one is not alone in your stupidity. But we learn, don’t we?
    Much love and quiet blessings to you
    Mia

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, “heart racing at full speed.” I do know the feeling! Thanks for stopping by, Mia, and for the comment!

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    Jerry Sittser and Garry Friesen have both written excellent books on this topic and so many of your commenters have made wise contributions to this thread. I believe God gave us brains and wills for a reason. He also has given us a very simple blueprint for life – love God, love others as we love ourselves. Three prongs, each important. If we wonder and waver about which path to take, sometimes we’ll get a nudge from behind to go a certain way. But more often than not, BOTH ways will be within the parameters of God’s larger will – and either one will help us grow in each of those three areas of love-let-loose-in-the-world. And so we are given permission to make the choice ourselves – yes, with prayer and with the input of others who know us well. God will go with us no matter which door we open.

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  • http://betty-wiseheartedwomen.blogspot.com Betty Draper

    Addie, your post is honest, revealing, convicting and God honoring. Your quest for the voice of God for direction in all things is both common and yet personal. There are many times we do not need to have that personal direction, He has told us to love Him with our whole hearts and to follow His example. He came to seek that which was lost so if we are somehow involved in some way seeking the lost we have direction.

    I remember God spoke to my husband through the Word to go south (south of Louisville he thought). So we drove to a little town and found a church on every corner…enough churches for one small town. A couple years later we were challenged to go into over seas ministry while on staff at a church as a youth pastor. He was interested in New Tribes because they work with people groups that not many were going to. He first thought Australia but New Tribes did not work with the indians there. All through the training we just kept up our daily task given to us trusting God to direct. Last part of training was language school. Our first term we were approached by leadership from Bolivia, South America..(remember he was going south ). Long story short we ended up as dorm parents in Bolivia, loved it even though our first choice was being a tribal missionary even though we were not good at language.

    Just a little more about God’s direction…when we were searching out Australia we saw on a large map that Papua New Guinea was the property of Australia, so we said ok, we misunderstood and started heading to PNG. This was before they approached us about Bolivia. We did 7 years in SA, came home did a few years as staff at the same langauge school we were in before. Leadership talked to us about serving, where else, Papua New Guinea…7 years there. I am throughly conviced if we just serve faithfully where ever He has us NOW, He will direct the next steps. God is looking for faithful people in the small things so He can see how we handle the large things.

    I did write a bunch, it’s just your post stirred up those memories which is exactly what it should do…stir our hearts. Will stop by to find out the next step…blessing.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Betty. So cool to see the subtle, beautiful ways God was guiding your story.

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