By: Cynthia Butler (Spring of 2008)
A year or two ago, I held an all night prayer vigil to request healing for my chronic jaw problems. It was a difficult night, and my prayers were more depressing than hopeful. In retrospect, I think my attitude reflected an immature faith. I tried to believe that God was answering my prayer, but in reality I felt that all my efforts were in vain. As far as I could see I was missing a good night’s sleep for nothing. This was only one of the ways I was attempting to achieve miracle-working faith through discipline during that stage of my life. I am sure there is spiritual value in discipline, but something was missing in my efforts. I thought about Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” But I felt no rest in my Christianity at that time. Instead, I felt oppressed by my self-inflicted regiment of personal sacraments. And every extra effort I put forth in prayer seemed like nothing more than a song and dance to get God’s attention. Maybe I even resented it. After all, why would a God who already knows our thoughts need us to repeat our requests over and over again.
So at some point my focus changed. I no longer wanted to pray or fast because it was on my calendar. I wanted these things to be a natural outpouring of my faith. The problem was, so often in the course of a busy life, I did not feel a desire to pray. It occurred to me that if this was going to work I would need to take full advantage of those rare moments when I was desperate for God or when something was heavy on my heart. So I began trying to respond to those inner stirrings by dropping everything and dropping to my knees. I’d be organizing or washing dishes or checking my e-mail when I would become deeply concerned about something or someone. I would leave what I was doing and go somewhere private to kneel and pray. After a while prayer started to feel less like a required burden and more like a welcomed haven.
In fact, I felt like I had come full circle when I recently held another prayer vigil; this time because of an immediate need that started with a phone call in the middle of the night. Instead of calling out to God through the night to try and get His attention, I felt that He was beside me; that I was on mission with Him. I realized that night that fasting (whether from food or sleep) is not just an academic exercise. It is a way that we can stay vigilant in our prayer. And we are willingly vigilant when we expect an answer.
I did receive my answer that very day with another phone call just after sunrise. I felt the joy of victory like the restfulness after a hard day’s work when you have accomplished what you set out to do. But more than that I felt thankful to God for the lesson He had taught me, knowing that He was and is leading me into greater understanding.