Learning the same things all over again

Well my infertile friends, here I am again.

I keep writing and re-writing these first few lines. How personal should I get? Who even cares? But when I read blogs and things like this, knowing a little of where those words are coming from means a lot to me. This is a more personal post than usual, but I’ll keep it brief and as vague as possible. After a while of trying for baby #3, I had an ectopic pregnancy a couple months ago. It came out of no where. It ended in surgery and I lost my tube. It was a bit overwhelming. God was unimaginably faithful. And now, we wait again.

We have been reliving so many of the same lessons we walked through years back as we waited for our first child. Will we ever get pregnant? Is this it? What is God doing? What story is He writing for our family? A God-given yearning for a baby that often overwhelms and surprises me. Where did this feeling come from? Why did He give it, if He might not meet it? So many possible fears and unknowns. Two weeks to the day after my surgery some of our closest friends told us they’re expecting. We’re thrilled for them, for sure, but it was those same conflicting feelings all over again. Will that ever be us? Do they know this is painful? 

Back then hearing about “secondary infertility” often made me roll my eyes. You already have kids, I would thinkThis is not the same. And it’s true, it’s not the same. I have full arms and a full home with two sweet little boys. I have seen the Lord faithfully meet my deep longing to be a mother, in some really incredible ways. Stories we get to retell over and over of miracles and mercy. I will not tell you it’s the same at all.

But He is meeting me here, and that is the same. Continue reading “Learning the same things all over again”

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The fruit that grew when I was barren

 

flower

This is probably going to read like a summary of this whole blog, but it is what it is. My baby boy turns 12 weeks on Monday, and every.single.day. I still look at him and can’t believe he is here and he is my baby. I can’t believe that happened to us — which is ironic, because in our years of infertility I would so often think, I can’t believe this is happening to us. But he’s here. A living and breathing testament of the hardest season in our life so far, and of the faithfulness of God in mercifully bringing us through it.

I once thought after all of this was over, I would just put it behind me and finally move forward with our life. I’ll get over it and move on. Surprisingly (or not), I can’t really get over it. I mean, I’m not obsessed with it. I’m not always talking about it. I’m not about to become the Infertility Awareness spokeswoman. But there’s no denying that it’s a part of me. How can it not be? I’ve written over and over about how this is a sanctifying work. If it changed me so much (and boy, did it!), how could I ever just forget about it? It’s so clear to me now how much this trial reshaped me.

If for nothing else than my own reflection, I’d like to share with you some of the biggest lessons I learned in my infertility. 

1. This isn’t my baby. When I was about 9 weeks pregnant, my husband and I were casually preparing to go out to dinner with some friends. Out of nowhere, I discovered I was bleeding pretty heavily. Panic washed over me like never in my life. I screamed for my husband and broke down sobbing. We prayed hard, pleading with God not to take this baby yet. I remembered calling out, Father, you may ask a miscarriage of me some day with some baby, but please don’t make it today or this baby. I ended up on bed rest for a month, and, obviously, God was merciful and our baby was fine.Quote1

Now that he’s here, like all mothers, I spend a silly amount of time sneaking in to check on him while he sleeps. Our first few nights home, he slept like a rock, but we lost tons of sleep jumping up every 10 minutes to make sure he was ok. I still pop up a few times a night just to peek over and see his chest moving. The scary thought has crossed my mind a few times: What if I come in one day and he’s not breathing? 

The lesson from both of these stories, and every other worry my new-mom mind conjures up about his life, is the same lesson I learned when I was waiting for him. This is not my baby. We are daily Abraham standing with his long-awaited Isaac, ready to give him back to the Lord whenever He may require it. Of course we could stand here close-fisted, in constant terror that we could lose this dear treasure at any moment. But instead we’ve learned (and continue to learn) to hold him up, hands open and arms lifted, an offering to the Lord. There is so much more peace in this. This is the Lord’s baby, and we trust Him to do with him as he wishes.

2. Compassion. I’m a little embarrassed to say I used to be a pretty compassionless person. I think I had compassion on the really poor and needy, but with the everyday person like me, I just didn’t care that much about their problems. I probably cared about my friends’ troubles, but if I was honest, I didn’t care that deeply. But now that I’ve had true troubles of my own, He has transformed the way I think about what others may be going through. I’m less quick to judge. I cry more easily at their pain. I’m more patient with their struggles. I’ve stopped gauging how serious I think someone’s trial is — if it’s really that bad. If it’s that bad to them, then it’s that bad. It was that bad to me. I regret that this wasn’t my heart sooner, but I’m grateful the Lord has brought me here.

3. God is trustworthy. This is one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when we saw that surprise positive pregnancy test. Wow, He actually did it! All that time I was hoping He would — I was trusting He would — but there was no way to be sure He would. Having that confirmation has totally changed the way I pray and how I see Him. I thought I had faith in prayer before, but now it is no longer blind faith — I know that He can do it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I remember thinking that morning that, even if He took the baby the very next day, this would change everything. It was no longer praying and getting back silence. He had heard and acted for us. And now I know He could do that again, about anything else we ask of Him. This has changed our relationship with Him so much.

Quote24. Nothing is hopeless & impossible things can happen. Like many of you, l bet, last summer we sat in a fertility clinic across from a doctor who calculated the percent likelihood we had of conceiving a child on our own. I kind of forget now (it’s not the kind of thing you store up in your heart), but I think it was something like 9%. Now, my husband is in economics, so he’s a little more knowledgable about statistics — in fact, him not liking the way the doctor “tweaked” his math to come up with that number was a big reason we changed clinics. Nevertheless, we knew our odds were looking grim. It only looked worse when our treatments later failed. But then one day, we were pregnant. It happened. By all calculations, it wasn’t likely. But it did. Since then whenever we’re asked to pray for seemingly impossible things, I am so much more optimistic (read: faith-filled) — I was there when it wasn’t supposed to happen, and I was there when it did. So why couldn’t it happen again?

6. Really terrible things can happen to me. I guess this is kind of a strange thing to call “fruit,” but I see it as part of a sober mindset. Knowing how to “number my days” and have an accurate estimation of my life as a vapor. We always think it won’t be us. God wouldn’t do that to us. I wouldn’t be the one whose baby dies from SIDS. My husband wouldn’t be the one who becomes a paraplegic. My mom wouldn’t be the one who gets horrible cancer. “God forbid,” we say. But God may not forbid, if it’s for our better. For the sake of making me more like Christ, nothing is off limits. The first step in handling it well is not living in denial of its likelihood.

7. My treasure is in Christ. Oh, the blog posts I could write about this! I wrestled so much with the desire to have children as my inheritance from the Lord. There were many days when there was nothing else I desired. How much I needed to learn that Christ is my inheritance. Christ is my treasure. In Christ we have everything we could ever want or need. I used to claim I believed that, but it wasn’t until I wasn’t going to have children — an idol I didn’t know I had; the thing deep down I really wanted and needed — that I learned it was really true. It wasn’t until Christ was all I had, that I truly knew He is all I need. I’ve been wanting a post about this image I always see on Pinterest, which I have come to, well, kind of despise:

first
I hate this.

NO! We have long had everything, because we had Christ.

First we had nothing.

Then we had everything in Christ.

Then everything else was undeserved mercy.

Including you.  

…But I guess that doesn’t look as cute in a nursery.

Decision making – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a series on Decision Making in God’s Will. I invite you to visit Part 1 first! 

We left off on praying for God to open and close doors within a certain time. I prefer to use this wording rather than looking for special “signs” from Him… this isn’t a game of chance or a dealing of tarot cards. It’s a walk on path led by the Spirit. A journey.

prv3So, how does God open and close these doors? Sometimes it’s just through our “gut” — which I’d say is really the Holy Spirit. Some great advice I’ve always held on to is when a friend once told me to “just follow the peace” — if you just don’t have peace about a decision, you may want to consider if that is the Spirit holding you back. It likely is. In the months leading up to when we finally got pregnant, we had been praying earnestly in this way — Should we do a different treatment? Should we pursue adoption? More invasive testing? Just keep waiting? While some doors were obviously closed, the biggest factor for both of us was the peace. We both still remember fondly just a week before that BFP, sitting in our living room one night at the end of our period of prayer, and sharing that neither of us felt peace with anything but continuing to wait on the Lord. Closed doors for other options, scripture given in that time, and just leading of the Spirit had led us to that painful but peaceful point.

You can also expect Him to lead you through actual events — when we started seriously praying about adoption, agency after agency turned down our initial inquiries because we live overseas. It was clear to us at that time that God was closing the doors and leading another way. On the other hand, when we first went for infertility treatments and were feeling unsure of the decision, a dozen “random” things happened that we saw as God’s confirmation that we were making the right choice — the nurse giving us all of our meds for free, the clinic offering us a huge discount because of our financial situation, and a friend handing us an envelope with a huge chunk of cash to use in any way we needed (these are all financial, but that’s not always the case). Even after the treatment failed, we had confidence and not regret, because we had sought the Lord and He had guided.

We also always pray to be united in our leading. The Lord has always been faithful to answer this request as well — even if we started off being staunchly opposed to each other’s leaning. And if it comes time to make a decision and we still aren’t in agreement, we will either decide to keep waiting (if time allows), or I will defer to my husband’s leadership as the head of our home. So yes, I always have one extra thing to pray about — that when the time comes God will guide my husband well, and I will have a submissive heart if I have to. And my husband always has the burden of the responsibility of the final decision (which honestly sounds harder to me than my burden of just submitting to his decision).

Finally — we make a decision. This sounds like an obvious “step,” but for indecisive people, it can be terrifying. However, if you did what you could to seek the Lord’s leading, have an open heart, and make godly choices (perhaps by following my advice above), you can have the peace to make a decision without worry or regret. We make a decision and move forward confidently, trusting the Lord together and never blaming ourselves or each other if it doesn’t go how we expected. If we made the choice believing it was what God wanted, then we can trust that it is what God wanted when it doesn’t go well by our estimation.

So that’s how we face decisions in our home. I’d love to know if you have anything to add (or subtract!). 

Decision making in God’s will – Part 1

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time, but I always hesitate because I’m not sure how it’ll come across. I don’t want it to sound like we have it all figured out, because we definitely don’t. However, I recall feeling like the “trying to conceive” game was a lot of one decision after another. (I guess life is, really.) Actually, it seems in our first several years of marriage and adult life, my husband and I have already had a lot of major (and minor) decisions to overcome. That being said, with a lot of prayer and discernment, we’ve sort of arrived at a system for making decisions.

I think this is important because there are a lot of considerations the Christian faces when making decisions, particularly in this arena. For one, I have to say it would be a dire error for a Christian couple to tackle infertility merely by following the medical protocol point-blank. If all of your decisions so far and to come are made solely based on the fact that your doctor says that’s what’s next, you may want to reconsider how open you’re being to the will of God. That sounds judgey, I know… but let’s just agree for the rest of this post that I’m not trying to be judgey, because there’s basically no way to write it without sounding that way.

ancientpathLikewise, the longer we’ve walked this journey the more convinced I am that there is not one set best route for everyone — except for the route that continually and sincerely seeks the Lord’s will and chooses against sin. A major part of God’s leading in our life involved foregoing or delaying medical intervention and waiting on Him. This was a big deal for us and a big work He did in our hearts. However, I wouldn’t say this is the ultimate right path for all Christians facing infertility. And I wouldn’t say following the set medical protocol is the definite wrong path for everyone. I would say you need to be sincerely seeking the Lord’s will for you — being willing to stop or go as you feel He is leading, even if it differs from what you want.

How do you do this? How do you make a decision you feel confident is God’s will when, say, you have a few days in between a failed IUI and the next cycle, and need to decide if you’re going to do another one or not? Or when you reach the one-year point of trying to conceive and are totally distressed but don’t want to (and shouldn’t!) make a decision based solely on that? I don’t have all the answers to this, but I can tell you what we do (and you call tell me what you think!).

First, we always pray. We pray sincerely, constantly, and openly. We talk to the Lord about our situation, feelings, hopes, and our options. We confess our unconfessed sins in order to have hearts ready to be spoken to by the Spirit.

Second, we talk to wise people. The Bible speaks so highly of consulting with others and seeking wisdom. We would be fools to think we can face a new situation and succeed without any help from people God has given as resources. Depending on the situation, this could include church leaders, parents, trusted Christian friends, and/or people who have been in a similar situation. This doesn’t mean we do whatever they say. We simply allow the Lord to speak to us through their experience and advice, and factor it into our decision.

Additionally, we ask others to pray for and with us. We would ask many of the people listed above to be praying with us for wisdom in making a decision. Trusting them to be wise and godly, we’d be open to any leading they may feel from God as well.

We give it time. Obviously, every situation allows for its own amount of time. When deciding whether to move overseas, you may have months or years. When deciding whether to implant an extra embryo, you have a day or two, tops. I must add, we would never make a decision based solely on short time — we did delay our first fertility treatment, for example, because we didn’t feel sure by the time we had to decide. Being rushed doesn’t seem like it should be considered direction from God; it falls more into the category of emotions and fears. That being said, we’ll agree on what feels like a reasonable amount of time to keep praying and thinking about it. During this time we keep open hearts and minds, being sensitive to how God may be leading us.

We choose a time to decide. So this is the “step” that is most specific to our little “system.” We think it’s wise, and it’s best for indecisive people like us who struggle to be confident with our decisions. But it’s not exactly taken from any Bible passage or command. It’s just a way we feel comfortable seeking guidance from the Lord. After, for instance, a few days of initial prayer and thought, we will agree together on a time that seems right to make a decision. Oftentimes, we have also agreed on the decision we will make by that time, unless the Lord leads otherwise. Then during the period in between, we will be praying and seeking any direction God is giving — we will be sensitive to the Spirit and honest with what we think He’s telling us.

What this sounds like is: we may approach the Lord and say something like, Lord, unless you lead us otherwise, we will be signing the lease for this house on the first of next month. In between now and then, we ask that you will be giving us confidence in this decision or closing the door. For us, this is the best way not to be frozen in decision making (which is often a decision in itself), while sincerely staying open to God’s will and leading. And can I tell you something? The reason I’m writing about this is that God has always been faithful to answer this prayer. I could write for you story after story of times in our life — and even just in our infertility — when we approached God in this way, and He closed or opened doors to give us confidence in our decision.

…To be continued! In Part 2 of this post, I’ll attempt to answer the question of how God opens and closes doors. I’ll also share one of the most significant things we pray for, and the most important step in decision making. 

One thing

one thingSeveral years ago I heard a Bible Study lesson about the “one thing” verses in the Bible. These verses focus our hearts to the one really important thing in the world: Christ’s work for us and following Him above all. I have treasured these verses since then.

Psalm 27:4, as the Psalmist proclaims there is no other worthy pursuit in his life

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”

Mark 10:21, when a rich man came seeking eternal life

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'”

Luke 10:41-42, when Jesus was teaching Mary and busy Martha

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Philippians 3:13-14, when Paul counts all things in his life as nothing, except this one thing

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

…What other verses am I missing?

Of course it was pretty exciting recently when a worship song came out, singing about the one thing! You probably know it, but in light of our reflection on this one thing above all things, listen again with new ears.

And on and on and on and on it goes; and it overwhelms and satisfies my soul. 

Listen to your Bible time

I’m probably the last person on the planet to think of this, but I’m so excited about it I just wanted to share.

Our small group is reading through a yearly Bible plan, and right now we’re in Leviticus. I love every book of the Bible in its own right, but Leviticus can be rough, you guys. Have you read Leviticus 15? Gross. Anyway, it’s my selfish sinful side that allows me to fall behind in my reading when it doesn’t excite me much. But last week I had a day of cleaning my house (also thrilling), and the idea came to me: I’ll listen to my reading while I clean. And it was awesome! I got so much more out of it (though some weirder parts I was hoping my neighbors couldn’t hear), when I often read some sections and don’t even pay attention. I even went a few chapters ahead without even noticing.

I was just about to do the same during my cleaning time this morning, and thought it was a tidbit worth sharing. If you have trouble keeping up or finding time for your reading every now and then, why not try listening? I love this website: http://www.bible.is/ — which offers multiple versions (and languages), a free App, and you can download whole versions for free! So you can listen while you work like me, or even in your car or on your morning run!

Click to visit the site. You can set up a log-in, but you don't have to.
Click to visit the site. You can set up a log-in, but you don’t have to.

 

Be all there

I’m not big on idolizing human beings (as none of us should be, I think we can all agree). Really, I probably overreact to my pre-Christ culture, which included the secular obsession with the rich and famous, as well as Catholic saints (for the record, I love Catholics and had a great experience growing up Catholic, but I reject the practice of idolizing saints). However, I have learned in recent years the balance of appreciating people who have spent their lives well for the Kingdom, leaving an eternal legacy that far outweighs any earthly one. I don’t want to teach my children someday that some people are super-saints who we hold up high and revere as near deity. We strive to be like Christ, and need no other example, of course. But in a world that truly does idolize people who, by my assessment, are really wasting their lives for no worthy cause, I see the value in encouraging future generations to look to people who spent their lives for the One Worthy Cause.

All that to say, I have said before that Jim and Elisabeth Elliot are two of my earthly heroes. By my estimate, they spent their lives for eternal causes and left an admirable legacy. In short, the Elliots, with several other similarly admirable people, put all their energy into taking the gospel to an unreached tribe in Ecuador. When the men reached the tribe, they were killed on the spot. Later, Elisabeth and the women took their children to live among the same tribe that killed their husbands. Their love and forgiveness were two major factors in slowly leading that tribe to Christ. Aside from that inspiring story, the Elliots are also very godly people in general who have a lot of biblical wisdom to offer (I recommend reading any of their books).

So I said all of that to point to two of Jim Elliot’s famous quotes that are special to my life. They’re not more important than scripture to me – not even close — but they echo ideas from scripture in a wise way, and I appreciate that.

Since we were first married, my husband and I have had this quote framed in our living room:

elliot1

You may have heard it before. We cherished it as a bit of a family motto from the beginning, in seeking to go into the same line of work as the Elliots. It was a long process with a lot of waiting, and even after we got started we were instantly thrown off course and sent, at the last minute, to a different country than planned. We clung to this motto as we lived in a “stand-by” country for a couple years.

But I was clinging all the more to this motto in our years of infertility (see, there is a point to all this rambling!). I really do think that, in addition to, and perhaps more than, talking about where we geographically are in life, Jim Elliot was encouraging us to “be all there” in any situation in life. It was a great fear of mine that I would waste those barren years (which, at the time, I didn’t know weren’t endless) just waiting for them to be over with already. That’s a fear I have for you, too.

One reason I’m convinced he meant that is because of the second quote I want to share. Jim wrote it to Elisabeth before they were married, in a loooong time of debating/praying over whether it was best for the Kingdom that they should marry at all.  I found it in my favorite Elliot book, Let me be a Woman, while I was in the midst of a loooong, long distance engagement with my now husband. He said:

elliot2

How applicable to infertility! Let us hate the thought of spending months or years, lost so much in our longing that we forget to live! …and may we likewise hate the thought of living for anything but the Kingdom!

An extra thought: Could I encourage you to at least use some of this time as an opportunity from the Lord to pray about if you really are using your life to the fullest extent for the Kingdom? He may not ask you to move to another country or be killed by a tribe (but He really may!), but He may be asking more of you, and this is His time to get your attention. Don’t let it pass you by because your eyes are fixed on something else.

Secret Church

If you don’t know about Secret Church, I recommend checking it out! It’s a long, intense time of Bible Study and prayer put on by the Church at Brook Hills in Alabama each year. It is held on Good Friday and, while this year may be my first participating, I’ve always heard rave reviews. You can participate by registering for access to the study guide and the video simulcast. The major purpose is to mimic the type of study and house church many believers around the world participate in instead of the more Western idea of church. You can read more about it on their website.

It would be perfect for your church, small group, or family. If you’ve participated in Secret Church, please comment and share about your experience!

secretch

 

Sermon Series – “Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffering” (Piper)

I just stumbled upon this four-part sermon series by Pastor John Piper. I think I’m going to start working my way through it in the coming weeks, and I thought some of you may want to as well. If you listen, please come back and share any thoughts or words that were meaningful to you in the comments section!

John Piper’s sermon series, “Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer” is accessible by clicking these links: part 1part 2,part 3part 4

Enjoy!

Growing your prayer life

I’ve shared before that prayer is really a big deal in my life. I don’t think I’m special because of that, I don’t think I’m spiritually gifted or anything, I say this with honestly but total humility — in my Christian life, prayer has always been significant. I’ve also shared that a huge contributor to this was a prayer class I took at Bible college. I know — what a weird class, right? It completely changed my life though. In the course we discussed why we pray, how to pray, how to motivate others to pray, and other similar topics. We read several prayer-related books, and, most importantly to me, we learned to develop our personal prayer lives.

iwillprayFor the course, our “homework” included a minimum of 30 minutes of prayer a day. Confession: the first week or so, 30 minutes was basically torture. For one thing, I speak quickly, so I ran out of things to say pretty fast. And it was hard to get used to talking to Someone who wasn’t talking back. The professor helped us fill this time by giving us specific things to start off a prayer list. He assigned everyone an obscure country to pray for (see this site/book for guidance), as well as random people from our government (example) and other world leaders. Each week, we had to bring a personal prayer update to class with enough copies to give everyone. So we ended up with 20 or so prayer updates to help us pray personally for our classmates. I think we may have also been assigned professors and college employees. We were also taught the biblical value of praying using scripture. We were encouraged to keep a list, which I used a journal for, of specific things and people we were praying for. Within a few weeks, I can honestly say my prayer time could not be contained to just 30 minutes, and I cherished my prayer request journal, which, by the end of the semester, served as a memorial to dozens of prayer requests the Lord had answered in just 12 weeks of daily prayer.

We were also taught not to just use prayer as a time of asking for things. God is not Santa Claus, after all. When Jesus taught His disciples (and us) to pray (in Luke 11), He covered a lot in just a few verses:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.'”

First of all, He says “When you pray” — this assumes your prayer time is happening. It’s not optional or occasional. If you read the gospels, which tell the story of Christ’s life, you see time and time again that He spends a lot of time in prayer. He expects the same of us. In fact, in the prayer class, we were encouraged to pray in solitude early in the morning, just like Jesus often did.

In the example prayer He gives, Jesus covers important aspects of prayer. He starts with praising God and asking for His will, He petitions the Lord for provision and tells us to confess our sins and ask for protection against future sins. You may have heard the prayer model of “A.C.T.S.” — that is, Adoration (praising God for who He is), Contrition (confessing sins with a repentant heart), Thanksgiving (thanking God for what He’s done and given), and Supplication (asking God to answer requests). I learned this little method, which follows Luke 11, in that class, and I often follow it to this day. I see it as a “protection” against only using prayer to ask for things, and a guide to balance my prayers and stick to Christ’s instructions for how to pray.

By the time I finished the prayer class, my prayer life was completely transformed. I loved spending an unlimited block of time each morning seeking the Lord, I loved adding people’s prayer requests to my list and seeing God answer them, and I felt closer to the Lord than I ever had.

Over the years since, my prayer life hasn’t always stayed so extraordinary, but I can testify that the effects of the class still linger greatly. Unlike before the class, I now cherish the fundamental belief that a personal prayer life is not optional or only for times of need. I can honestly say I really enjoy meeting with God in prayer, and I really need it. If I go too long without a solid time of prayer with Him, I can feel it, and I have to have it. This isn’t because I’m a super-saint — I was not like this before that class. I mean, sure, I liked praying, but anything more than a couple minutes was agony. I don’t naturally have a great attention span, and I had never given myself the chance (or had the guidance) to intentionally practice the discipline of prayer.

And that’s what I really want to get at with this post. A couple semesters after taking that class, I remember a friend asking to have dinner with me to discuss something. At dinner, she started asking my advice on how to build her prayer life, at one point asking if I thought prayer was a spiritual gift. I absolutely do not think that. A prayer life, as we heard and saw from Jesus Himself, if a nonnegotiable necessity to any healthy Christian life. If you, like I once did, think you’re bad at it or don’t really need it, what you really need is an intentional period of growth.

It would be the natural temptation of many of us to read about the requirements for the prayer class and cry legalism. And you’re right in knowing that Christ freed us from the law — so we don’t have to pray special prayers at special times in special ways. 30 minutes is not a magic, holy number. However, there is much said in scripture about discipline and intentional growth — and I would hate for anyone to miss out on that beautiful, life-changing growth because she’s confusing intentionality with legalismpray

If you’re thinking about your prayer life and feel it’s lacking something, or you even kind of cringe at the thought, I challenge you to consider how you can intentionally change this area of your life. There isn’t a special formula, but I can personally recommend the methods I shared about above. I am going to share some book recommendations, but it’s really as easy as (perhaps) setting a time limit, scheduling a daily prayer session (P.S. If you don’t schedule it, you probably won’t do it!), and making a prayer list. Consider raising the time limit every week, and soliciting prayer requests from friends, finding them in the news, or using your church’s prayer list. Get creative. If you don’t have a lot of requests, spend more time thanking and praising God. Or just talk about your life and thoughts, like you would with a friend. I personally prefer to pray out loud (it helps my attention span); one of my best friends has long loved to write out her prayers. Embrace the freedom God has given, and find what works for you!

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback — how have you grown your prayer life in the past? If you take up this challenge, please come back and share how it’s going!