"God, please protect Elliott. Keep him happy, healthy, and strong. Keep him safe and I pray that he will one day meet a beautiful, godly lady and that you'll bless him with a family and that they will serve you and live to be 100 years old." (Yes, I really did pray that he would live that long.)
I thought God would respond to that prayer a little something like this:
"Of course I will protect your precious baby boy. Of course I will keep him happy, healthy, and strong. Of course I will keep him safe and bless him with a wife and children and he will live a full and long life. I'll do that just for you, Ashley, my sweet child."
But, quite frankly, that's not what He said. Like, at all.
Since the day Elliott was born, I began a journey that has involved my whole being: mind, body, spirit, and soul (can I get a witness, fellow parents?). It's been tiring, challenging, encouraging, exhausting, fun, exciting, energizing, refreshing, exhausting, transforming, stretching... did I mention exhausting?
I think that more than anything, though, being a parent has begun a spiritual transformation in me that I never anticipated. Maybe that's been the main source of the feeling of exhaustion that I've faced time and time again.
Sure, the late nights and long hours in the beginning wear you down when you're up every hour, on the hour to those cries of hunger or thirst or that cry that you can't seem to figure out. Of course it pushes you to your physical limits when your husband, child, and yourself are sick and it's 3am on a house boat in the Amazon Jungle (ok, maybe that one's a little specific....) Who wouldn't be worn out after working all day then chasing a one year old all evening trying to get dinner ready and keep the house at least functional?
Physically, I get tired.
But it's those spiritual lessons, the ones that I seem to be in need of learning over and over again... those are what really take a toll. If I'm honest, though, I'll admit that it's not really the lesson that tires me. God's Truths don't exhaust me. His "yoke is easy and [His] burden is light." (Matthew 11.30) No, the part that wears me down is my pride, my wholehearted resistance at times to what His Spirit is saying to me. Things that, in my ignorance, I don't want to hear.
When I was praying for Elliott like I said in the above prayer, I longed to hear a response like the one I mentioned. I wanted so badly for God to tell me--promise me--that He would protect my child from hurt or harm. That He would keep him safe and make him happy.
So when His response instead was, "Pray according to My will, not your own." I was frustrated. This was my child that God had entrusted to me so I needed to know he would be safe.
Still God's reply each time I prayed that way was, "Pray according to My will, not your own."
I didn't understand. Shouldn't it be His will, too, to protect my baby? Shouldn't He want that too?
My mind goes back to the Gospels where Luke describes the scene in chapter 22 when Jesus is praying to His Father shortly before He was to be taken and crucified.
39. Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41. He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;”
But He doesn't stop there. He continues:
"Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Matthew gives us another insight in chapter 26. Jesus didn't ask God once, but twice:
42. Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
So there it is. Jesus is about to face the most grueling death one can imagine. He was going to feel real pain--real, tormenting pain. Yet His prayer was, "Yet not my will, but yours be done."
God spoke to me very clearly on this one evening as I rocked Elliott to sleep. It was almost as if He was looking at Elliott with me when I felt His Spirit say to me once again, "Pray according to My will, not your own."
Again, I didn't want to hear that.
Why was I so resistant?
Because I know what my will is. I know that if it were up to me, Elliott would never hurt, never cry, never be in pain... and neither would I. But I don't know what God has. I don't know God's plan for his life.
For a long time, I still refused to pray that way. I didn't want to let go because I was afraid that as soon as I did, something bad would happen. Something out of my control.
Then I took another look at the example that Christ gives us when He was praying to His Father. He didn't pray, thanking God for the pain He was about to suffer. He didn't pray that God would carry through with the plan. He prayed that God would take it away. But the key is, he went on to say, "Yet not my will, but yours be done."
It hit me. It's OK to pray that God protect my child and keep Him healthy... as long I'm willing to accept that He may not do that. And that is faith. That is faith because I'm trusting in the fact that God is good and God is sovereign. That indeed He does have a plan for Elliott's life and it's a good one. It may not look like what I have in mind, but if it were up to me, Jesus wouldn't have had to die on the cross. To my human mind, that's not fair.
But to God, it was good.
God sees the big picture. He sees a humanity that is utterly lost and broken. A people that need a Savior and redemption. A people that are empty and fallen. And He loved us so much that He didn't take that cup from Jesus but followed through so that you and I could know Him and the power of His resurrection.
And that is good.
So now, I pray differently. I don't pray for health and wealth for Elliott. My prayer goes a little something like this:
"God, thank you for this beautiful boy that you have entrusted to me. Thank you for loving Elliott enough to send your Son to die so that he has hope. Please use this little life to glorify You. Whatever that looks like, whatever that may be, I want his life to glorify You. I know that you have a plan for his life and that it's a good one. It may not be what I would choose, but it's a good one that will honor You. I want him to be healthy and strong and happy. Yet not my will, but Yours be done."
If I'm honest, I don't pray this every day. Some days I can't because I don't really mean it. I'm still holding on to my pride, thinking that I know what's best for him.
But each time God ever so gently reminds me of the beautiful story of a Savior who wanted the will of His Father more than His very life and the redemption that followed when He surrendered knowing that God's will was the best.