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The life-changing advice I got from my pastor when I shared a recent struggle

PRAYING
Khosro | Shutterstock
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This chance conversation at church stopped me in my tracks.

A few weeks ago, in a chance conversation with a pastor at our church, I received some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my life.

I was telling him about my new attempt to pursue a different career and the various obstacles I was facing. Not only is it daunting to consider a major career change at 35 with five kids depending on me, but the change I’m trying to make is a drastic one. It’s something I’ve never considered—truth be told, it’s not something I thought myself capable of just a few months ago. It took an enormous leap of faith to even take this idea seriously, but I was quickly learning that the myriad amount of tests and trials inherent in pursuing this career make that first leap of faith look like a 3rd grade game of hopscotch.

As I was explaining this current challenge and all my fears and doubts surrounding it, the pastor stopped me to say, “Have you asked God to help you with this? Have you told him you want this, and asked for his help?”

He wasn’t using “this” generally, to encompass the broad spectrum of my desires, hopes, and fears—he was talking about a specific “this.” This career, in this city, and these challenges I was afraid of. A specific goal, accompanied by a specific obstacle—both of which challenged specific weaknesses I’m aware of in myself.

I actually didn’t know how to respond. I stammered something like, “Well of course I’ve been praying about it” — but he cut me off and said, “No, Calah. I’m not asking if you’ve been praying generally. I’m asking if you’ve asked God to help you get this—to help you face these fears and do the work to earn it.”

I hadn’t. I had never asked God for something like that—asking God for something concrete has always seemed presumptuous at best or selfish at worst, like I wanted God to make my life work out the way I want, instead of the way HE might want. But when I told my pastor this, he shook his head and said, “Calah, if this doesn’t work out the way you want, are you going to walk away from God and never talk to him again?” I laughed and said, “Of course not.” My pastor nodded and said, “I know that, and so does God. So why wouldn’t you ask him for this, especially since it means so much to you? He wants to be a part of your life—closer than your friends and family. He wants you to ask him for the things you want the most—so much that He told you as much in Scripture! Trust him enough to ask for it.”

Everything he said resonated with me in a way that nothing has in a long time. Somehow in the years of my life, I developed the idea that it was rude, presumptuous, and even just flat out selfish to ask God for specific things. Sometimes I would, but I would quickly follow up those requests with a caveat —“Of course, God, if that’s not what you want please give me the grace to accept it.” But it wasn’t until this conversation that I realized my quick follow-up, my reluctance to ask God for specific things, isn’t a sign of humility. It’s actually a wall I’ve put up between myself and God.

Deep down, I think I’ve been afraid that God either can’t or won’t give me the desires of my heart. Sometimes it’s probably based in the fear that I don’t deserve good things, and other times it’s mostly doubt that God even cares that much about me. Either way, until this conversation I’d never realized how little trust and vulnerability I show to God, my Father and Creator.

Like any child raised in a Christian home, I’ve always known that our God is omniscient. He knows all things, even my thoughts before I have them. And to me, that seemed to pretty much cover my bases. I mean, if God already knows everything in my head, why should I bore him by repeating it? Instead, when I prayed I tried to show God my best self. Not my real self, but the me I thought He’d be most pleased with. But when I thought back through that conversation, I realized that “best self” is just another form of dishonesty.

It doesn’t matter that God knows the desires of our hearts – if we refuse to tell him what they are, surely that breaks His heart a little. I know it breaks my heart when my kids won’t be honest with me about things they want or need or are struggling with – especially when I already know what those things are. I don’t want to force their hand. I don’t want to make them tell me something they don’t want to. I want my kids to trust me enough to know that I will love them and guide them and help them in whatever way I can, even if it’s beyond my power.

With that in mind, I started praying in a different way. It was uncomfortable, but I started asking God for what I really wanted … and I was shocked by how powerful this action was. Not only did the act of voicing my desires make them more real for me, it also helped me understand why I wanted those things in the first place. I was able to express — both to God and myself — all my deepest motivations and all the secret fears I’ve buried so far down that I wasn’t even aware of them. My prayers have become more authentic, genuine, and vulnerable than they’ve ever been before. I don’t end with caveats or apologies—I just lay my heart out before God. In doing so, I’ve been able to see my own heart more clearly than I have before.

When it came to my specific prayer, the answer I got was both yes and no. I got a green light where I least expected one and stumbled where I had been convinced of my success. This was incredibly difficult, obviously, but it was also a great gift. It allowed me to see that I’ve been overestimating both my strengths and my weaknesses. It helped me realize that my pride had blinded me to my own deficiencies, while also preventing me from seeing actual strengths. It was a disorienting moment of character reassessment that showed me all the ways I’d been going about things wrong—and how to straighten out those tangled paths. I’m confident I wouldn’t have been able to see clearly what God was trying to show me if I hadn’t been so specific in my prayer.

It turns out that when we open ourselves up to God and invite him to see us completely — warts and all — there’s a real grace that accompanies it. It’s the grace of being able to see ourselves clearly and to realize, sometimes for the very first time, that sometimes our strengths are actually flaws and sometimes our flaws are actually strengths. And with that grace comes hope and trust that God will give us the strength to become more like the people He wants us to be—more like Him.

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