2 Ways To Pray on the Roller Coaster Ride of Uncertainty
Do you ever feel like God designates some folks to have roller coaster rides in life instead of steady journeys? That certain people attract drama and stress all the time?
Ever feel like you’re one of those people?
If we’re going to get real here, all of our lives have ups and downs. Mine just feel more dramatic than yours look when I stalk you on social media. If we dared to lay the bare truth of our lives out on the table, we’d likely find enough curves and twists to make the most stalwart among us seasick. I get it. I’m not all that special. But when the squeeze is on, I, for one, feel like I get extra attention from life’s toughest corners. Each wave of emotion intensifies, amplifying the next one until I’m spewing my emotional guts all over everyone around me and crying into my pillow.
And nothing throws me for a bigger loop than uncertainty about the future.
Which brings me to the subject of prayer. Because nothing drives me to prayer faster than when I see the freight train of my future barreling towards me and I don’t have a plan for how to get on that train or get off the tracks before I get run over. In the moments/days/weeks/months when I’m uncertain what the right move is or where God would have me stand, I fall to my knees. I pray. It’s not because I’m super spiritual. I haven’t a clue what else to do. But I’m finding that even in my prayers, I have a decision to make, a choice between two ways to pray in my fearful uncertainty.
OPTION ONE: LORD, GIVE ME INFORMATION
When uncertainty hits, my roller coaster of life dips down into large gaps of information. How is blankety-blank going to work out? What will such-and-such a person say or think about the situation? Will this-and-that-and-the-other work out the way I want it to? My lack of omniscience and knowledge of the future sends me into a downward spiral where negative outcomes lurk in every shadow. It’s a self-preservation strategy, really. I’m preparing myself for the worst and hoping that I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Faced with these information gaps, I’ll ask God to fill in the blanks for me, to be a fortune-teller of sorts. I want to be faithful and obedient to his plan - I’m not trying to take control of the details or even the big items on the lists, honestly I’m not. God gets to decide how all this works out. I just want to know the plan in advance. And so I beg and plead for information and clues, scanning my horizon for signs of which way things will go. I’m tempted to put “fleeces” out (see Gideon in Judges 6:36-40) as a way of cajoling information out of him. My frantic and fearful brain comes up with all sorts of crazy ways he might sneak some advance tidbit my way, and I second-guess every circumstance as a potential sign from God.
I’m not saying that praying for signs and confirmations is a bad thing. It’s certainly not, and checking in with God for direction is quite biblical, especially when the stakes are high. Wisdom calls us to make sure the voice we listen to is the Voice That Matters. But discerning God’s voice over all others and trying to discover the future before it happens are two totally different things.
When I’m praying for details, I believe the lie that if I just had all the information, I’d be okay. Truth be told, my track record reveals that the more data I have about what God has planned for me, the less I tend to cooperate. My struggle shifts from a lack of information to a lack of trust that God knows best. If God did choose to light up the path in front of me, I’d probably spend my time coming up with a “better” plan instead of resting in his choices. Or worrying about the hard stuff just over the horizon. Or trying to talk God out of the whole thing.
I certainly wouldn’t be less stressed.
OPTION TWO: LORD, GIVE ME PASSION
Despite appearances, this roller coaster ride of uncertainty doesn’t run on the same track over and over and over again in an endless circle. God is taking us somewhere. And he’s not going to leave us on the ride any longer than necessary to get us where he wants us to go. We get to choose our attitudes as we stay strapped in our seats.
When I have the good sense to remember that God is good and his purposes for me on this journey are good, too, then my prayers change. Instead of asking for details along the way, I’m learning to ask for passion for the destination. I want to fall so madly in love with his plans for me that whatever highs and lows come along the way, they’re worth it.
I think it’s like the trip my husband and I took to Ireland for our tenth anniversary many years ago. With no direct flights from Austin, Texas to Dublin, Ireland, the journey had a few ups and downs. Up in Austin, down in New Jersey, then up again, then down again in London, then up again, finally landing on the Emerald Isle. Along the way, thunderstorms delayed our New Jersey landing and we missed the one daily flight over the big pond into Europe, postponing our arrival by a full twenty-four hours. Whatever you may think of the adventures of traveling, New Jersey isn’t the most fun place for a layover. We went to the movies and hung out at the mall, which was a far cry from the castle tour we had planned. But our excitement for getting to Ireland made the hardships worth it. Yeah, we were bummed out for a bit, but the joy of reaching our destination far overshadowed the delay.
Can I remind us that God promises - PROMISES - we’re going to get where we’re going? He doesn’t start something without completing it (Philippians 1:6), and that includes this roller coaster ride we’re on. Sure, the journey might be excruciatingly hard, the highs might not boast nearly the views we want, and the lows might drag us down in the pits. But if we can catch even a glimpse of where we’re going, we might agree with God that the journey is worth it.
In this season, I suspect God’s got me on a track towards a lot more dependence and trust in him for my day-to-day. Not too long ago, I had my tasks laid out for me, my goals assigned, my path secured. These days, I’m in wider, more open spaces with more opportunities and less guidance. I hear God asking me to turn to him directly for my daily path as well as my daily bread, rather than relying on others.
Your roller coaster may pull into a different station in the end. Perhaps God wants you to let go of something, or pick up something else. Each loop might be an opportunity to release long-held misconceptions about yourself and God. Each hill might be another chance to throw your hands in the air and learn deeper trust in him. Each curve might strengthen you for some challenge waiting further down the track. If you and I fall in love with God’s plans for us, get a glimmer of the better lives he’s working in and through us with all the ups and downs, then we might actually start to enjoy the ride.
Passion for our destination fills our souls a lot better than information can.
WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE
Faced with the uncertainties I have in front of me today, I have a choice. I could ask God to fill in the gaps of information on how life is going to work out. I know that he knows. He’s got the future in his hands. He’s already there and sees the whole thing laid out. And, I reason, if he loves me, he’ll fill me in.
Every once in a great while, God in his mercy does give me a sign, but more often, he knows better. He knows that giving me more information will probably only result in me having more questions, or getting all angsty because I don’t understand the choices he makes for me. So I’m not finding God answering this kind of prayer a whole lot in my life, or if he does, it’s with a gentle, “Wait and see” which only leaves me frustrated and still uncertain.
But lately, I’ve asked him for passion for the destination, for a clear vision of where he’s taking me, something I can fall in love with because it’s a gift he’s giving me. Instead of filling in the lows with information that probably won’t be helpful, I’m asking him to fill me with passion and joy that makes whole ride worth it. I’m asking him to make me more like Jesus.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
It might not surprise you to know that God answers this prayer a whole lot more frequently. The more he fixes my eyes on where I’m going with him, the less concerned I am about the path I’ll have to take to get there. The more I pray this kind of prayer, the more I feel the burning in my bones that won’t settle for anything less than what God lays out before me. Bring on the curves. Throw in a few extra loops. Who cares? Just get me where I’m going with you, Lord, and that’s enough.
So I’ll strap on my seatbelt and ride this roller coaster as long as I necessary to get where I’m going. And I’m not alone on the ride. I know so many folks going through wild days, riding the highs of new relationships, careers and successes, then wallowing in the lows of loss, sickness, and disappointment. From my point of view, God’s given me a lot of practice living with the highs and lows of transition and uncertainty. I can either acknowledge that and figure out how to live faithfully in seasons like this, or I can pitch a fit and scream my way through it all, not because it’s fun but because it’s terrifying and I want to puke. And until God lets me off of the ride, these are my options.
Screaming and pitching fits while my stomach churns hasn’t gotten me anywhere and honestly isn’t the way I want to live. So I’ve been practicing the other option. Trying to live faithfully which means living with hope, joy, and fortitude. Easier said than done, for sure.
I’m finding that the way I choose to pray makes a HUGE difference in which mode I live in. Instead of asking for more information, I’m asking him for more passion for what he’s doing in my life.
Which option will you choose?