Marathon Grace

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To every thing there is a season…”   (Ecclesiates 3: 1)

Pastors remind their congregations to take time for personal prayer and Bible study.  But our faith journey doesn’t end with those sweet moments of fellowship. Sooner or later, life will place us in the thick of action. The challenge, then, is how to remain centered in God’s will even when there’s barely time to think.

The new millennium began with sorrow for our family. We lost four members to cancer in four years. We struggled to care for the dying and then scrambled to fill the gaps they left behind. Surviving dependents needed care. Medical, legal and financial decisions had to be made on short notice.

Tying up the loose ends of a life cut short is a tough duty. Anyone who’s been through it knows how grief multiplies the burdens. Cleaning out the empty house is heartwrenching. Squaring things with creditors requires you to piece together the history of your loved one’s final months. You suddenly realize that the help you gave was too little and too late.

For me, it felt like a long distance run against a stiff headwind. My duties to the deceased were piled on top of my already-busy life. There were never enough hours in the day. My prayer time was condensed to sound bites—quick messages sent up while rushing from one task to the next. I seldom had time to open my Bible. When I did, the words barely registered as my thoughts buzzed with details of unfinished business. Unable to pray adequately, I asked others to pray for me.

Despite the lack of quiet time, I was not without God’s presence. He was my relentless pacesetter. When I wanted to go easy on myself, He was there to sternly point the way ahead. No shortcuts. No rest stops. I had responsibilities that wouldn’t wait.  Each brief moment of prayer brought clarity to the immediate next task.

A placard on our kitchen wall said, “Ask God’s blessing on your work, but do not also ask Him to do it.” I resented the second half of that sentence. Why did God leave me with so much to do? Then, one day, I finally stopped to really look at the first half of the sentence: “Ask God’s blessing…”

I had always thought “blessing” meant being showered with feelings of peace and joy. How could the grim work of coping with tragedy be “blessed?” Nevertheless, I bowed my head and asked, “Please God, bless my work.”

There was no rush of joy, but from that moment I began to trust that God valued my efforts. I remembered that friends were praying for me. Even though my frozen emotions couldn’t feel God’s love, it was enough to know that others were visualizing me surrounded by it.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Little by little, the tasks were accomplished: the legal affairs were settled, the creditors paid, the dependents provided for. Step, by step, under God’s steady hand, the pieces fell into place. A “new normal” began to emerge. Life took a different shape than before the deaths, but life did go on.

As the years went by, I emerged into a new season where I now have time to reflect and pray and study and write. The words of scripture make sense again. Joy has returned to my prayer life.

It’s now my turn to pass along the help I received from those who carried me in prayer when I didn’t have time to pray for myself. For instance, one of my friends is in the midst of her “sandwich generation” years. During an especially hectic time, she confided, “I feel so far from God. I miss the quiet times I used to spend with Him. I had such a sense of fellowship with Him, but now I feel like a dry desert.”

I knew exactly how to answer. “Now is your time of action,” I said. “Others must carry you on their shoulders in prayer. I have time; I will pray for you.”

Dear Reader, what season is your life in? Is this a time of preparation, when you can sink your roots deep into God’s word? Or is this your marathon season when you must forge ahead, strengthened by the prayers of others? Only you and God know the answer. It’s important to get it right.

Next blog: “A Time to Recharge.”

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