Looking at the world through a lens of love

July 27, 2008 | 13 comments

This is a Part II to my post from Thursday.

“Everybody out of my house! OUT! NOW!”

That’s what I was fantasizing about yelling last Tuesday afternoon. As I mentioned, the neighbor girls are back to spending hours and hours a day over here. Normally this is fine but, as an extreme introvert, there are times when I feel like I just can’t do it anymore. Last Tuesday around 3:15 was one of those times.

My gut told me that that wasn’t the right call — if I asked them to leave, I’d be sending them to roam around our deserted street or to an empty house. And yet I didn’t see how I could possibly have them here any longer. It was my children’s naptime, my precious daily time to relax and get a few things done, and I desperately needed a few hours where I didn’t have to play hostess. Besides, they’d been here six hours the day before and about four hours so far that day. I needed a break!

I said a prayer asking for the right words to gently tell them to leave in a way that wouldn’t hurt their feelings. Instead of the words I had hoped for, I was suddenly overcome with the feeling that I was supposed to reach out to them in humility and tell them how I was feeling. It wasn’t the answer I wanted. In that particular moment, I had come to see the girls as a bit of an annoyance that I needed to rid myself of, and was searching for the most expeditious way to make that happen. But the more I prayed, the more strongly I sensed that I was looking at the girls the wrong way, that I’d put up an isolating wall by insisting on seeing them as nuisances.

So I tried it. “Girls, I am so worn out today, ” I said. I apologetically told them that if I seemed grouchy it was just because I was feeling particularly exhausted.

They all nodded sympathetically. I think they could tell that I was hoping to have the house to myself, though they didn’t want to leave. And then Catherine lit up as if she’d had the best idea in the world: “Miss Jennifer, can we clean your kitchen?”

As I wrote about in my post from Thursday, they proceeded to do a beautiful — if slightly “imperfect” — cleaning job on my kitchen.

In addition to what talked about in the other post, the two big lessons I learned that day are lessons that God has been teaching me over and over and over again in this situation:

  1. Just because you don’t think a prayer was answered, doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t answered — the answer may have been in a form you weren’t expecting.
  2. Answered prayers are easier to see when looking at the world around you through a lens of love.

A few months ago I had cried out to God for help. I was overwhelmed with all that I had to do as a mom of three children in diapers, and felt like I was quickly going to reach a breaking point if I didn’t get help soon. It was shortly after that that a group of neighborhood pranksters started ringing my doorbell and running, causing me to get even closer to said breaking point. Not only was my prayer not answered, but now I had even more problems! I thought we were never given more than we could handle — was God not listening to me?!

What I see now, of course, is that when I was looking out for the prayer to be answered, I was basically waiting for my phone to ring with someone announcing that I’d won a lifetime unlimited gift card to the best housekeeping service in town. In typical fashion, I wanted it all to work out in a way that would allow me to continue to be withdrawn and self-sufficient, my problems being solved while I remained within the safe and predictable confines of my home.

What I am beginning to get through my head (slowly!) is that God very often answers prayers in a way that brings us closer to our fellow human beings. It’s not always the simplest, least painful, least complicated way he could give us what we need; yet it is a way that is optimized on generating love. To use my recent example, I had begun praying again for help keeping up with my many daily tasks…and there was much more love in the world last Tuesday thanks to the interactions between me and my little kitchen cleaners — more love than there would have been had some corporation drawn my name at random and sent me a housekeeping gift card. Yet if I had insisted on staying firmly implanted in my usual mode of cold, inward-focused self pity, I would have missed it all. I would have missed the opportunity to play a role in an act of love, and I would have missed seeing the beautiful answer to my prayer that was right in front of my face.

I don’t mean to imply that we can always know for sure how God has answered our prayers (as I recently learned, we’re just part of his grand story, not vice versa). But I do think that sometimes we can see his hand at work in our lives; and it’s all so much easier to see when we step outside of ourselves, when we become other-focused, at look at the world through a lens of love.


  1. Firefighter

    Well said.

  2. Hairline Fracture

    “God very often answers prayers in a way that brings us closer to our fellow human beings.”

    I had never thought about this, but now that you’ve said it so well, I realize it’s true.

  3. kursten

    It feels so infantile to admit it, but truly, I struggle with VERY BADLY wanting certain prayers answered exactly my way. Still, I am able now to look backwards and see (some of) the benefits to me when prayers were not answered as I preferred . . . which is exceptionally comforting going forward.
    I have found that the times I was most exhausted, distraught, etc. and did not get the thing I pleaded for, are times that brought the largest and most lasting growth in me. This seems true in both big (life changing) and small (day changing) events.
    Does anyone else find that this is so?

  4. razzler

    This is such a lovely post. And it’s like you climbed inside my head and took out the very thoughts I’d been mulling over about prayer!

  5. graceunbound

    “Answered prayers are easier to see when looking at the world around you through a lens of love.”

    So true. What a beautiful post.

  6. november

    Thanks, big sis Jen, for this most beautiful post.

    Like you, I’m an only-child introvert who struggles to empty herself and be open to the little “incoveniences” of intruders to my sense of order and stability.

    Although I’ve been Christian for years (and just this year Catholic), it just recently dawned upon me that what life should be all about is giving myself away in love, sharing the love of Christ with the world. That’s all–love. That’s it, nothing else. (Gosh, realizing that after years just makes me feel so spiritually dense!)

    I look at the life of my grandmother. Having the very real life constraints of having less than a high school education, being the wife of a less than loving husband (with whom she stayed until he died) and a poor mother of six, she still generously showed love to those that came into her life, including me who is actually a step-grandchild, but was never made to feel that way. I, on the other hand with my somewhat fancy education, greater access to worldly opportunity, and eager ambition, after pursuing an unconsciously self-focused life for years, have been forced to reevaluate my priorities (thanks be to God!) and have come to the realization that those things mean nothing when compared to living a life of love and true service to others. I now only wish that I could lead a life that’s at least half as meaningful and beautiful as that that my grandmother will leave behind.

  7. Jill

    Kursten, you are not alone. I am almost 50 years old and struggle with my plans versus God’s plans.

    If I am honest, my plans involve me having an easy ride. If I had my way it would be one long hot fudge sundae of an existence. God, like any good parent wants my life to have more depth. He is more interested in my character, and the commandment to love one another makes that character much richer.

    Jennifer, what a beautiful, profound way to say it, ” Answered prayers are much easier to see through a lense of love.”

  8. Anonymous

    Your point about loving relationships is well taken, and one I needed to hear today. But another feature of your interaction with the girls was the choice to humble yourself, and to reveal some of your own weakness and need. Instead of having to pose as the imperturbable (or irritable) adult, you allowed them to serve a person in need. That was a blessing not only for you, but also for them.

    don (looks like I’m going to have to get an identity – but I can’t think of a clever name)

  9. Tienne

    Jen, I just adore you AND your blog. You always seem to post exactly what I need to hear (read, whatever.)

    I know God is working miracles for you and through you. God Bless,

  10. SuzyQ

    What beautiful ways of reaching out God brngs to us, when like you with these girls, we are open to excepting Him.
    This was such a wondeful post 🙂

    I have been enjoying your blog for sometime.

  11. Marian

    This reminded me so much of a recent sermon at church that I had to go take a peek in my little sermon notebook.

    It was about “unanswered” prayer, and based on the story of Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts. His death was a catalyst to make faith universal as believers (who might otherwise have wanted to stay comfortably in the midst of that blossoming, blessed early church)were scattered. His death (and the amazing attitude in which he died) likely contributed to the process of S/Paul’s conversion and subsequent world-changing ministry. (He pointed out that a reaction of anger and agitation like Saul’s is often evidence that God is working on rocking someone’s world!)

    So here’s what I jotted in my notes: “Answers that confuse us are invitations to deeper understanding and devotion. The ultimate goal in prayer isn’t self-preservation/comfort, but God’s work in others. Our prayers have implications for others. GOD’s prayers are shaped by love for the lost. RIGHT-answered prayer often moves us OUT for lost people.”

    Isn’t that what you just said? =)

  12. mary ann

    All very good and nice, but you need to think of forming the girls, too. Give them tasks and boundaries. Give them challenges. And, for goodness’ sake, talk to their parents and get permission for all this! You could really get in trouble. Also, you don’t want to take away from them, and from the mother, the challenges that ensue from their situations. You don’t want to enable the mother, who has a great deal not having to worry about her kids because she has a neighbor who has taken on her responsibilities. So be sure and start a relationship with the mother, and look for constructive challenges for the girls – doing things at home for mom that they do for you, for instance, or reading silently while you nap. It is good for them to learn to respect the needs of your familiy.

  13. Jennifer F.

    Mary Ann –

    And, for goodness’ sake, talk to their parents and get permission for all this!

    I am in touch with each of their mothers / guardians. Thank you for your concern and suggestions.

    Marian – I love that quote you wrote down in your notes!

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