My oldest brother Nelson once told me about a time when he prayed God would surprise him somehow. He was living in Nashville and had just given up alcohol. He was trying hard to make good choices, one day, one hour at a time, and it wasn’t easy. That afternoon he was in a Starbucks when Jack White walked in. Nelson didn’t go up and talk to him or anything, but he knew that was it—God’s little yes just for him.
A few months later I was at home in Florida, standing in front of the back window, watching the sunrise. I was taking some deep breaths, trying to convince myself to get ready for work—teaching English to 150 high school freshmen at a local public high school. We’d been dealing with infertility for three years or so, and had just finished an unsuccessful round of IVF that summer. It was fall now, and our window of time for more fertility treatments had closed until the next summer. The school year stretched out long in front of me, and all I wanted was to stay home. From work, from church, from family, from everything.
But that morning I was thinking about Nelson and the way he prayed. And it occurred to me that I was only asking God for things I thought might realistically happen anyway (like the time and money for more fertility treatments). So even though I felt a little stupid, I decided to ask God to randomly surprise me somehow that day. Then I pulled myself together and went to work. Later that morning at the end of our weekly staff meeting, our principal drew a name for a “free” day off—and he picked mine, out of 130 teachers.
I walked out of that meeting feeling almost scared because God seemed so near. Had He really done that just for me? Because I’d asked for a surprise? A free day off might have seemed small to someone else, but for me, in that dark season, it was huge. I knew it wasn’t a coincidence. And it made me start praying differently. Because the truth is the Almighty God of the Universe cares about every tiny detail in the lives of His children. Even when He is taking us through something really hard. Even when we are brokenhearted. Especially then! In our lowest moments He is right there next to us, wanting to encourage us if we will only ask Him.
Sometimes it’s confusing, the way God will say yes to something small and then no to something that seems really important. Who can know the mind of God? We will never figure out the mystery of prayer. But I like what Elisabeth Elliot said: “Let’s never forget that some of God’s greatest mercies are His refusals. He says no in order that He may, in some way we cannot imagine, say yes.” As it turned out, God did have babies in our future. Lots of them! But He gave them His way, in His timing.
“The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” – Psalm 145:18