My oldest child is almost four years old. He is a fairly stereotypical child in his personality. He is full of energy, and keeps me running constantly. Lately he has been trying to learn how to maintain eye contact when asking for something. The other day he was asking for a game. Like any parent I wanted to ensure he was asking politely and clearly. We had to repeat the process multiple times because every time he got the first word of the question out he would instinctively move his eyes to the game instead of looking at me. “Look at me.” He would jerk his head up, and begin the whole process over and over again.
My son was so focused on keeping his eye on the object of his request rather than the person he was requesting it from. It may seem like a simple or trivial thing, but it was important to me that he maintained eye contact with me specifically to make the request. It was incredibly difficult for him, but he finally did it.
At the end of the ordeal I was hit with a realization like a ton of bricks. I do this in my prayer life all the time. I find myself focusing on the object of my prayers rather than on the one I am bringing my pleas to. It’s a real problem. People always talk about how prayer often becomes a wish list. People groan about how prayer is a chore. Countless people have written countless books on the secrets to a revolutionary prayer life.
Prayer is a worship filled act designed to focus on the creator rather than creation. It seems to me like the beginning to a healthy prayer life can at least be summarized in this statement. If I have left a period of prayer without seeing Christ then I have done something wrong. When I focus on the object of what I am praying for I am robbing myself of an opportunity to be filled up by merely experiencing the presence of God as he listens to me.
I shake my head at myself when I think of all the times I have come to God in prayer intently focused on the prayer itself all the while my father is simply saying “Would you please look at me?” I could stop there, but I don’t think that’s enough. Why is it so important to look at God in prayer? If all we did was go into prayer and look at the object of our prayer we would at best walk away with what we asked.
God focused prayer provides so much more. It provides nourishment. It gives us a richness in our relationship with him. It instills a connection that carries through the day. If we look at God in prayer we may not be surprised to find that our original purpose to coming to Him ends up feeling insignificant next to the power, majesty, and holiness of a God who cares for us. This is a God who works all things for good. He is the creator who is reaching out to his creation in order for them to experience His prescence.
A couple of months ago I was working my way through the book of Ruth. It’s an interesting book. It is strategically placed after the book of Judges. It takes the gloom and despair of the end of Judges, and points to a solution to all the ugliness that Israel is facing.
It is a book of names. Names tell stories. They can tell an audience something about the person. The book of Ruth is full of names. The names themselves tell a story. This time I was drawn to Naomi. I went into the books remembering her story. This was a woman so discouraged by the way her story was turning out that she demanded her name be changed. “Call me Mara.” The name alone tells a story. This woman is bitter. Everything she cares about has been taken. She believes her story is coming to an end. The only details left are just more death, more depression, and more bitterness. The reader almost begins to wonder if the end we experienced in Judges is only destined to continue on a downward spiral.
If you have read the book of Ruth you will likely already remember everything up to this point. There was a detail I could not remember that pushed me to look at things from a different lens. Naomi requests to be call Mara in verse 20 of the first chapter. Two verses later she is referenced again by the narrator. He does not call her Mara. He still calls her Naomi.
That moment hit me. As I read through the book I realized that she is never again referenced as Mara. She is never referenced for the bitterness she experienced. It’s almost as if God was unwilling to acknowledge her change. This is His story, and He wasn’t finished yet. It may seem hard now, but God’s not done. It may seem like there is a wasteland, but it does not go on forever.
I have never tried to change my name. I have never demanded that I be called bitter, hate, anger, fear, depression, loneliness, or anxiety. There have been moments where I feel my story is defined by those words. We may not change our names, but we often do the same thing Naomi tried to do in those moments. We try and redefine our life. We try and determine our identity off of one part of our story rather than waiting to see what the next act brings.
I try and live my life differently. The world is bound to bring up opportunities to be bring us down. It can determined to convince us that we cannot focus on the beauty it brings. The ugly moments can so easily crowd out anything that is good and worthy of this world. I know this is a reality my kids will face to. This is how I want to live my life, and this is how I wish to raise them. I want them to understand that there is a key element to the moments we most desire to change our names. There is often a new act coming up where God reminds us why we have the name we do. Naomi called herself Mara for the bitterness she experienced. By the end God reminded her why her name was always meant to be Naomi. It was always meant to be what is lovely.