Working in the unexpected

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What’s your deepest fear? I thought mine was unexpected spiders. I’m not that scared of spiders, in sight and obvious—but unexpected ones, showing up in my high school English folder or my tuckshop finger bun (yes I am scarred)—those are the ones I hate. Not knowing where they are, where they’re going or when they might jump. 

If your skin is crawling, I apologise. Now you know how I feel about spiders. If I thought a bit deeper, I could probably come up with rejection or inadequacy as my true deepest fear. I remember as a kid, being afraid to go to the front counter and ask for serviettes. I was paralysed by fear. Fear that I’d be told no and rejected. Or maybe that I’d be humiliated in front of everyone for asking. Or maybe just the unexpected. 

Come to think of it, maybe my deepest fear is the unexpected. The unpredictable, uncontrollable circus of life that happens to us all. The fact that our carefully crafted facades crumble in the face of uncertainty, tragedy and unexpected humiliation. Being exposed, left naked on the side of a cliff by the fickle fortunes of life is a great fear of us all, and so we fortress ourselves with insurance, control, certainty and truth. 

I try to exercise so much control over my own life, that there is little room to be surprised by the unexpected. Yet it comes seeping through. That is the nature of life on this planet. The unexpected will bust down our carefully crafted walls creating craters in our caution. And it is often only then, that we turn to prayer. As a last-ditch effort. As a desperate cry. A call for help and strength. A solution to our problems. Sickness, death, grief, hurt—we look for rescue from a strength outside of ourselves. To fight back the tides of rejection and unexpected pain. 

But what if we prayed before the storm? What if our prayers were grateful, thankful and grounded? If we sought blessings for others before ourselves. 

Daniel’s desperate prayer may well have shut the mouths of the lions. But I have a sneaking suspicion that his three times a day, in sickness and health, prayer at the window routine was more instrumental in keeping those feline fangs firmly clamped. Now I’m not saying there is a volume or a magic formula we can reach that will make prayer work for us. Prayer is more mysterious and more accessible than that. 

I know God answers prayers. He’s answered my prayers—undeserving and selfish though they may be at times. 

Once I asked my wife what her deepest fear was. With a tear in her eye, she told me: “Never carrying my own child; never falling pregnant.” 

At the time I was thinking of spiders. Her raw, unmasked grief surprised me. And so we prayed. People prayed for us. And now, when I hold my little girl, I know God answers prayers. But even before He answered that prayer, He was working on me, asking me if I would still pray if that prayer wasn’t answered. Reminding me that if I never became a biological father, He would still provide. And I still needed to pray. 

I rejoice when I hold our answered prayer in my arms. But I also know, not everyone gets the answered prayer that they’re after. Not every desperate prayer is answered. Not every faithful prayer warrior with a three-times a day routine gets the lions’ mouths shut. 

God works and moves in the unexpected. Daniel and his friends were captives, and every time they faced their very greatest challenges, God showed up the most. My need for control and my fear may be stinting my prayer life, as I use it instead to dictate to God what I want and need. Rather than building a relationship and listening. Could my prayer life be less an inconvenient and squeezed routine added to my hectic lifestyle? Is there more to prayer than formulas and wishlists? 

Maybe I need to embrace the unexpected, just as I embrace my daughter and the other blessings God has given me. The unexpected could be an opportunity for me to grow in faith and exercise my prayer life. Just not unexpected spiders.

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