Prayers

“I thought you wouldn’t come”

“Long story.” He said, removing his jacket.

“You don’t have to sit with me, you know.”

“I want to. Besides, you don’t have a partner yet” He said, and asked me to scoot over a bit more.

As I didn’t want to make a huge issue about this business anymore, I said nothing, merely moved and made him more room. After the welcoming remarks and repeating the invitation to pray in groups for the sake of the newcomer, all thoughts turned to prayer again—and far away from me.

“That was close.” I said out loud, greatly relieved.

Tony said nothing. He simply glanced at the others and took in the soft murmur of prayer. “Everybody’s praying.” He whispered, “Do you want to go first, or do you want me to start?”

“What?”

“Pray.” He leaned in my direction, bowed his head and closed his eyes. I realized he meant it as an order, not as an answer to my question.

I began to protest “I don’t—I…”

He began, interrupting my protests, “Jesus Christ. I know you are alive and you reign in heaven. I pray for strength and deliverance from the devil and his fiery darts. I ask for courage to do what’s right, and I claim the power of your cleansing blood to purify me. Forgive me . . . ”

He paused here for a protracted time. I, who had kept my eyes open looking this way and that, now began studying his face with growing unease. His brow was furrowed, and his chin was sunk low on his chest. Fortunately he didn’t cry. He rallied himself and continued on, “And I also pray for my friend Tanya. We all come from different places and backgrounds, so I don’t know what troubles her. Please give her the power of your Holy Spirit to resist temptation. In your name I pray, Amen.”

“Amen” I said, unwittingly—and felt silly at catching myself doing it. But I was glad that he was done. I sat back in my couch and expected him to do the same, but Tony kept his attitude of prayer. He kept it so long that it was just plain weird…

“Tony. It’s ok… you can sit back now. We just wait until the others are done”

“Your turn” He said with his eyes still closed

“I don’t pray. I can’t. You don’t know I—”

“Just do it. If not for you, pray for me. I need it.”

The duration of my inner debate was not long—but it felt like it. It was so—so—awkward. How could I pray for Tony? And what for? I never even prayed for myself since that fiasco back when I’d asked for a miracle (a fat lot of good it did me)—and longer still before that. And why was the prayer time longer—much longer—than it usually took?

Tony kept his head bowed, as if waiting for me to start

I sighed loudly.

“Fine,”

Where to start?

I closed my eyes, and remembered way back when my grandmother had taught me to pray, which was peculiar—because I could not remember much from infancy.

Fold you hands like this. Yes, like that. Very good. Now bow your little head. Close your little eyes. That’s it. Now repeat after me . . . “Our Father in heaven…”

“Our Father in heaven,”

Hallowed be thy name,

“. . . Hallowed be thy name,”

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . .

“. . . Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . ”

Nothing more came. That was all I remembered, though I strove to recall the rest of the words, but I couldn’t.

What could I do?

God, what can I say?

I grasped for words, but I literally had nothing—nothingto say aside of my usual litany of incoherent rebellion.

I was on my own now.

“God. I have nothing…much to say to you . . .  just . . . ” I sighed deeply once more and continued this most difficult task, “Please . . . just listen to the prayers of the people here . . . Listen to them . . . And I pray for Tony here too, who is suffering. Amen”

“Amen” Tony repeated, and then sat back.

But I wasn’t looking at Tony now. Tony, the study group, the church, the whole city block was now a thousand miles away from me.

Because my heart and my mind were millions of light years away. Prayer had awoken the fierce and gnawing pain of loss and now all my bones and joints, my muscles, my innards, my fat, and even my overstretched skin ached as if cold, damp, sorrow had taken possession of me. And that feeling was exactly like that day—years ago—when I had told God that he and I were through.

And how sad, how cold, how vast, friendless, and empty the world had seemed, the day I’d lost my faith in prayer–that day that Grandma died.

 

part 14 of If You Only Knew

The Long road Back

Long Road Back

I sat listless on my pink couch.

“Tanya’s Couch”, they’d begun calling it.

Figures…

It was so ugly, old, and repellent. The stuffing was coming out and it had questionable stains. It even smelled funny—no wonder they named such an object after me.

I sighed.

I had argued with Zuri in the car, and said some nasty things. Now I was only tired. So very tired.

Too tired to care anymore.

Too tired to make an effort and lie to Zuri

Too tired to fight with God.

I just stopped struggling.

With the acceptance that I was nothing short of a disgusting dumb animal—intelligent, but an animal nonetheless—I had given in to life and all it threw at me. I escaped my drab existence as often as I could, each time hoping I would never return. And when I wasn’t away, I was only . . . tired.

I continued going to the meetings. What’s more, I even talked a bit. I didn’t sit in their circle—oh no. But I participated from my seat in the couch.

True, I began by making questions meant to stir discord within the group and aim resentment at me. But they considered my questions seriously, which was actually kind of funny. In time, as they neither looked shocked or annoyed by what I brought up, I shut up. Or on rare occasions I actually asked questions in earnest.

But not often.

And during testimonies and prayer requests I told Zuri that if she could pray for my Cousin Eva’s health I was sure my prayer request would be more likely to be answered, because I thought I was already far beyond the reach of God.

And yet, I never imagined that giving up the struggle was the beginning of my healing, and the first step of many in the long road back to Him.

 

part 10 of If You Only Knew

On the Couch

Monday and Wednesday evenings found me in Zuri’s car on my way to her church for Small Groups and Prayer Warriors.

The Small Groups meeting was held in the church’s Community Services Center. The first day I ever went I was welcomed and was promptly given a Bible. I was invited to take a seat.

I did so in style, plopping into an old dusty-looking loveseat of a vile pink color. For good measure I put my feet up to keep people from sitting next to me. They tried to strike up conversation, but as I was not encouraging it, they gave up.

Ha, ha.

When the study began, I was invited to sit in the circle of plastic chairs with them. I refused as civilly as I could. Zuri did not glare at me as Mara would have done. She placidly took her seat.

I did what was agreed: I sat, I listened. Zuri led the testimonies and prayer time. I didn’t kneel. I was angry at God, and told him so in my prayer—if it could be called a prayer.

A man with a balding head led the Bible study and discussion.

Yeah, Yeah. John 3:16. Everyone knows about that…

After the Bible study there were refreshments. Everyone seemed to brighten up. I saw coffee, and pastries and sandwiches and soup and fruit. I was not taken in, however. I remained where I was and watched everyone chat and stuff their faces. I hated them.

God.

Church people.

I knew what they could do. I was not taken in by their nice appearance.

8:30 came at last, time for me to go back home. I didn’t immediately spot Zuri, until I saw her praying with two other people in a quiet corner of the room. Suddenly I was incredibly exasperated. I had liked Zuri quite well before she found out my secret. Of all my mom’s friends she was the only one who was not toxic. She was kind, and she knew how to treat everything naturally from migraines to menstrual cramps. Every Christmas she gave each of us a small gift. She had taught me how to pay the piano years ago, and though I had stopped playing, I still enjoyed falling asleep to her Bach many a rainy afternoons.

Now I hated her with an intensity that was almost scary in my emotion-parched life. But what could I do? I’d approached God with a business proposition—what I got in the end was outright blackmail.

And I was trapped.

 

part 7 of If You Only Knew