When I was 11, my grandfather had a brain aneurysm rupture. He was hospitalized for days before he died. The entire time he was in the hospital, I had a horrible dream each night that a masked man with a gun was threatening to shoot every person in my extended family. That dream was my adolescent brain’s way of dealing with the intense emotions surrounding the loss of a loved one. Eventually there was a night where I did not dream that dream.
When I was 26, I was stopped at a stop sign in a shopping center parking lot and a man on a bike rode right into the front of my car. Then he picked up that bike and threw it through the windshield of my car, came around to the driver’s side and began threatening me. Bystanders had to physically pull him away from me. Following that incident, I had intense, dark and really frightening dreams that were a byproduct of PTSD. Eventually there was a night where those dreams did not come.
Recently, I have been having dreams where my son is somehow not safe and as hard as I try I am not able to protect him from a threat (sometimes he has been taken away and I don’t know where he is, sometimes there is somebody trying to hurt him and I can’t get him to safety). These dreams are clearly a result of the fear I feel when I send him out into the world each day. Every morning, I take a deep breath, put on my brave face, send him out into the world, and then spend the rest of the day praying he makes it through without a panic attack or an anxiety fueled angry outburst. Some days are fine, some days are awful. There is no way of really knowing which way any day will go. So every night, I lay in bed and pray that the next day will be one of the good days, that the next dosage increase to his anxiety medication will be the one that works, that the next psychologist appointment will be the one where my son finally decides to talk about what he is feeling, that, that, that….
And eventually I sleep.
I know that eventually there will be a night when those dreams will not come. Eventually.
In the meantime, it may be time to hang a dream catcher in our room to help me hang onto the good dreams.
When I talk to kids about prayer – my own kids or kids in my ministry – I talk about the fact that sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we want or expect, and sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers at all. Prayer is how we talk to God and build a strong relationship with him. If we pray about something, but don’t see the outcome we are hoping for, we have to remember that God is not our fairy godmother and prayers are not meant to be a wish list for the things that we want.
That’s what I say.
This is what I’ve been doing.
Everyday for the past 18 months, I have prayed for answers. I have prayed for resolution to problems. I have prayed for things to be easier. I have prayed for God to take away everything that is hard, uncomfortable, messy, painful and ugly in our lives. I have prayed a wish list. And God hasn’t answered those prayers the way I want him to answer.
In the months I have been praying those prayers, I have watched my son retreat further into his anxiety and pain. My husband and I have struggled to be the best partners and parents we can be, and haven’t always succeeded. My daughter has become increasingly confused about her relationship with her brother. In the months I have been praying those prayers, my family has been breaking, and I have had many, many moments when I have been angry that my prayers have gone unanswered.
But they were not unanswered prayers. What I was asking for was the equivalent of “Hey God, could you just make all of this brokenness go away? Isn’t there a magic wand you can wave?” He can’t do that. That’s not the way it works. What He did give me was strength and perseverance to keep looking for answers, hope that there won’t always be so much struggle, and people who love me even when I have been at my most unlovable. He gave me what I needed, not what I wanted.
When I stopped and looked around, I realized He had been listening all along. He had been listening, and answering my prayers in a way that has helped me to be stronger in myself and stronger in my faith. When I started actually DOING what I tell the kids to do, there was no doubt that God is at work in my life.