The Space Between


The weak tea in a Styrofoam cup accompanied by two signature Delta airline ginger cookies tasted like a feast. I was sitting on a plane en route to Boston after a short layover in the Atlanta airport. We had boarded at 6:40 in the evening and at 9:30 we were still sitting on a plane that had lost its antiseptic smell long before and was now beginning to reek of dirty socks.

Anticipating smooth transitions and a quick flight I had not changed from my business grey dress and high shoes; shoes that magically transformed me from short to tall, demanding only a blister and achey feet as payment.

Everyone felt the tension when the flight attendant first announced that we would be delaying take-off. He “hoped we’d understand that it was not safe to travel in thunder and lightning”. 

We understood.

A couple of minutes after his announcement, rain of Noah’s kind began pouring down. The tiny oval-shaped window gave a limited view but it was enough to see pelting rain and lightning. The thunder was loud and ominous, adding its stamp of validity to the words of the flight attendant.

And we were enclosed in the space between. There was no where we could go and nothing we could do. We weren’t in the middle. In the middle we at least would have known we were going someplace. We were in the space between.  I was cold and achy and I was in the space between.

The spaces between. Spaces of insecurity and restlessness; spaces of tension and anxiety; spaces where we want to know the answers. Spaces where we ache from shoes too tall or circumstances too big.

The resigned, the practical, the matter of fact would tell me “There is nothing you can do, you just have to wait it out.” And I know this is sound advice – to a point.

But perhaps in the space between I am provided with the best possible context for praying.  Prayer for restlessness to be replaced with rest, tension with peace, anger with calm.

A crowded plane of people growing increasingly perturbed and anxious set the stage for this space between. My heart was the actor, my words a prayer. A prayer that in this space between I would remember there is One whose authority is over all space and time. And in remembering, rest.

“Thank You For Backwards, Yesterday and Tomorrow

It is our tradition to pray before meals as a family. We do this as a way to stop, pause, and express thankfulness for our meals. As much as we believe in doing this it is easy to not pay attention to these prayers. They become, in a word, tradition.

Last night my husband prayed, and although my son and I initially had our eyes closed, we peaked at him, bewildered, as he prayed “Thank you for backwards, yesterday and tomorrow”. We opened our eyes (ok, well I admit, they were already open) looked at each other and him in surprise as he said, eyes still closed, “I was just seeing if you were paying attention”. It was a humorous moment. We were indignant. We admitted to distraction (there were hot, fluffy biscuits competing with the prayer) but we were well aware that the words did not make sense.

The truth is, despite the best of intentions, prayers can become rote. Prayer can lose its meaning and impact as we, wearing our busy badges of honor, rush from one place to another and one activity to another. There is also another difficulty – it’s easy to know the right words and have them fly off the tongue without pausing to really think about them. We have a “prayer vocabulary” that isn’t always helpful in communicating the cries of our heart to an Almighty God.

One of my favorite books is an old classic written by John White called “Daring to Draw Near“. The book looks at 10 people in the Bible who communicated from the depths of their souls to a God who they believed could, and would, hear and respond. Although the people featured are in completely different circumstances, from an adulterous king (David) to a wife who desperately wanted a child (Hannah) the common thread is their stark honesty before God. They were not talking about “backwards, yesterday and tomorrow”. They were pouring out the pain of their souls and in doing so walking away comforted. The God that they prayed to is not portrayed as a comfy grandfather, but rather a God that makes us tremble with His power and strength.White’s goal was not to write a book on prayer, but to offer us a renewed picture and vision of what prayer is and can be by, in his words, “eavesdropping” on these prayers.

He sees these prayers as “windows on eternity, looking out at the profoundest issues of life and death. Before long you forget you are dealing with a prayer, so startled are you by what you see beyond it” (from “Daring to Draw Near” by John White, copyright 1977 Intervarsity Press)

From Daniel’s great prayer of intercession to Hannah’s personal prayer of loss, we eavesdrop on people communicating with God. From calls for forgiveness and action because “Your city and Your people bear Your Name” to wordless heart cries of personal pain, there is a glaring absence of clichés, and a strong presence of people who are candid and authentic before a living God.

Our humorous moment at a dinner table prayer that included “backwards, yesterday and tomorrow” has given me a chance to once more remember the many honest dialogues that are available and purposefully written. Recorded so we can eavesdrop, so we can tune in, not to a formula, but to passion, pleading and purposeful communication with the Almighty God.

Beyond the Headlines – The High Cost of Service

Three days ago, tucked in the back pages of newspapers from various news organizations around the world, was a story about three aid workers kidnapped in Somalia. You may have missed the story – I certainly did. Maybe it’s because three is not a critical mass. Maybe it’s because the story is not sensational enough for our tired ears. Maybe it’s because the aid workers don’t know the right people. For whatever reason, we have not heard much beyond these short stories.

The aid workers were from a Danish organization and included an American woman, a Danish man, and a Somali man. They were abducted mid-afternoon on Tuesday by Somali gunmen. The workers are part of a humanitarian effort to remove landmines and bring mine risk education to the area. Somalia has struggled for years to have a proper government and the Shabab as well as other extremist groups are active in different territories.

So what brought it to my attention? On of my friends and readers taught the sister of the American aid worker. It’s a Kevin Bacon case of six degrees of separation and reminds me that the world is sometimes smaller than we think. As I read the little information available about these workers, I am reminded that there is a high cost to service. The words in newspapers describing the situation are not adequate to convey what brings people to leave a place of comfort and help in a desperate situation. Words are not enough to communicate how worried the families are in this situation, how desperately they want to know that their daughters or sons, sisters or brothers are safe, and how the nights are sleepless as families pray that they will be released unharmed.

There is a high cost to service. For every story that ends up in the headlines or in a best-selling book, there are hundreds more untold stories of people sacrificing to serve, motivated either by idealism, humanitarianism or God.

I want to end with the words from my friend with hopes that they will compel some readers the way they compelled me. She writes this:

I read or hear these things on the news and have grown somewhat callous to the reality of the individuals and their crises.  Then suddenly it becomes personalized and I am ashamed to not have been concerned earlier.  It is such a strange world we live in… and yet the fact that God brought this to my attention makes me think that He would have us praying for this dear girl of faith, as well as her family. As a fellow mom of  “designed to travel” daughters who shares a sense of admiration mixed with  fears that we try to keep in check for our adventurous offspring I ask you to remember this “anonymous aid worker” and those like her in your prayers and ask others to do the same.

A Morning Prayer

Thank you that You are writing my life narrative, that it is in process and that the final chapters are not yet written.

Help me to look to You and You alone for help and healing – Help me to seek Your face.

Give me renewed love for Truth, for Your word – for You.

I confess I am weary – Restore my soul and my body. To You alone I look.

Father, may I walk in obedience. Everyday may I get up and look to You.

When my heart is dissatisfied, Satisfy it with You. When my soul is weary, Restore it with Your presence.

When my body and mind feel old, Revive them with memories of Your grace throughout my life.