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:
- 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.
- 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.
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