Ask for stuff.

For the past two years, I’ve been praying for bedroom furniture. That’s right—a bed frame, a dresser, two nightstands, and two good bedside lamps for reading (or at least one, for my side). There are dozens of furniture stores. Plus, there’s Costco. Why not just pick something and be done with it?

You don’t understand. I’ve had vivid visions of myself lying in this plush, feathery, presidential suite-type bed. The frame is soft to the touch, not hard (they’re called upholstered bed frames, in case you didn’t know). I am under a white comforter made of Egyptian cotton, surrounded by embroidered sham pillows. I am lying there reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Toni Morrison or C.S. Lewis, illuminated by a pewter swinging sconce.  A cup of hot peppermint tea is steaming on my cherry wood nightstand. The husband is downstairs watching CSI. There are no dogs barking, no cars honking, no kids crying.

Still, just pick something.

Consider my parents. They’re still using the bedroom set they bought when they got married. Consider my husband’s parents. They’re still using the bedroom set they bought when they got married. Consider thousands of other American couples who are lying in the same bed, using the same dresser, dusting the same nightstands they’ve had for thirty or forty or fifty years.

Buying bedroom furniture is like buying a wedding band. It’s too inconvenient and expensive to replace. You only get one. Forever. So you better pick something you love.

I’m thinking Restoration Hardware. Or Ethan Allen.

Now you understand. We’re talking already-assembled pieces. Real wood. Maybe even monthly payments. Costco’s not going to cut it.

There’s a little voice in the back of my head that keeps saying, Are you kidding me? There are people suffering from terminal illnesses, children dying of hunger, men trying to figure out how not to spill oil in the ocean, orphans in China awaiting adoption, puppies starving in puppy mills… Bedroom furniture?

Uh, yeah.

I also pray about food (what to feed my children three times a day), money (how to have more of it), the broken hose in our backyard (that it won’t ruin my husband’s weekend—because it very well could)… I pray for my friends, my family, my kids, my health, my desires, my life. See the pattern?

Richard Foster gives selfish prayer a nice name: Simple Prayer. “Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. There is no pretense in Simple Prayer. We do not pretend to be more holy, more pure, or more saintly than we actually are…” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home)

I used to think that I should outgrow saying ordinary, self-centered prayers and say more “other-centered” prayers. I used to think that only spiritually immature people pray for themselves and their interests over and over and over. Only spiritually immature people ask God for stuff. Spiritually sophisticated people, on the other hand, have learned to rise above their “felt needs.” They ask God to transform them, challenge them, and use them. Sophisticated Christians pray for the concerns that are on God’s mind and heart, not theirs. They spend lots of time praying for the “lost,” which is commendable. Sophisticated Christians don’t ask God for incidentals, for stuff.

But as I grow older, my felt needs are multiplying. I need money more than ever before; life is turning into a giant pile of bills—mortgage, utilities, cell phone, groceries, gasoline, diapers, wedding gifts, birthday presents, school tuition, Happy Meals, crayons, stickers, etc. I also feel the need for a social life more than ever before, particularly with other working moms. Then there’s “me time,” a need I feel particularly strongly about. And to say I need a professional housecleaner is an understatement. If I must go on, I need a sense of purpose that extends beyond being a parent. Let me top off this list with my need for ten tips to build a healthy marriage, seven ways to raise happy kids, and five secrets for staying slim. I am, in essence, a body of felt needs.   

Thus, my prayers are becoming less sophisticated, more self-centered. It’s as though my sanctification is stuck in reverse and I’m immaturing into a kid who believes that the world revolves around her. I rarely pray for the world. I rarely pray for the missionaries in distant lands. I’ve stopping asking God to end world hunger, to help doctors find a cure for cancer, to clean up after tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes. I can’t seem to make it that far down my list of things to pray for. Which is why I never pray for President Obama. He simply isn’t in the top ten.

I suppose this is why I depend on the pastoral prayer at church to cover all the areas of prayer that I miss at home.

“By praying for the needs of the world, the government’s leaders, the church universal, as well as for the needs of a particular church, we learn in our public prayers what we too often neglect in our private prayers: to look beyond ourselves and the interest of our own family.” (Michael Horton, A Better Way)

As physical, weak, sinful people, we are always needy.  That’s why Jesus taught His disciples to ask for daily bread. I like to think of daily bread as more than a baguette, as a category for felt needs. Daily Bread is the catch-all bucket for stuff.

I don’t think God judges our prayers when we say them. I don’t think the word “trivial” exists in God’s mind. God actually helps us to say even our most disgraceful prayers (if such a thing exists) by having Jesus intercede for us. Jesus is my personal prayer editor. I’m sure some of my prayers are completely rewritten by Jesus before they ever reach the Father. His mediation makes the prayers of sinners acceptable to a holy God.

I don’t know how to judge prayer. I don’t know who is good at praying and who isn’t. I don’t know what a “great prayer” sounds like. But I am sure the people who have mastered prayer don’t know it.

Published by Brenda Jung

This is 40. Yesterday I turned 40. Turning 40 is like having to exit the theater of a live show I didn’t want to end. I step out onto the street humbled with grateful wonder. I know my soul was changed. I want to go back in to re-live the story, ponder the themes, understand the characters in greater depth, and most of all, hear all the music again. But I cannot. It was a live performance. I must exit the theater and move on. What makes aging tough is the inability to hold on to moments. When a significant moment is happening, I want to preserve it. Sometimes I get to snap a picture or record a video. Then, it’s over. I have to let it go. So many beautiful moments go uncaptured, unprocessed, unpublished. Life is a series of these moments, these ever-passing days, these premature goodbyes. And then you turn 40. “When I grow up” is no longer future. This is it. This is 40. 1. 40 feels like a mid-term evaluation. How much have you done? What do you have to show for yourself? I find myself trying to validate myself, which I don’t remember doing at 30. And why do I feel a need to apologize for leading an ordinary, average life? 2. The accusing voice in your head that tells you you should be doing more, you should be doing better, is often your own greed and ego. “More” and “better” are vague and meaningless standards. Just do your best with all your heart. 3. Regarding my body, it’s like I tell kids when passing out lollipops: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” A good diet and regular exercise can help, though maybe not as much after 40. 4. Create something. We are happier when we are creating--a cake, a scarf, a sonata, a sermon, a drawing, a painting, a poem, a presentation, a lesson plan. This is because we are made like God, who is Creator. 5. A lot of prayer requests can be discovered by finishing the sentence, “I am afraid of...” --such as, I am afraid of insignificance. Or, I am afraid that godly contentment will always be only theoretical. Or, I am afraid I will ruin my children. Then, pray hard. 6. Regarding stuff: You almost always get what you pay for. There are some things you shouldn’t skimp on by buying generic, such as potato chips and rice krispies cereal and ice cream. Brand names are better. 7. Regarding money: Tricky. Very tricky. Perhaps Satan’s best disguise, second to serpent. Be careful with this one. 8. Jesus is still very busy dying for me. Until I stop filling my water cup with lemonade and telling people I am fine when I am really crying inside, He will need to keep His blood flowing into little plastic cups for me at least once a month. 9. Everything is interesting. If a thing isn’t interesting, type it into the Google search box and spend one minute reading about it and looking at pictures of it. I promise you, everything--a tool, a disease, a plant, a planet, an insect, a war--is interesting. 10. Guilt is suicide. Clear your conscience, at all costs. Pray. Confess. Admit fault. Say sorry. Forgive and beg forgiveness. Try to take back the words. No amount of money, no good deed, no extravagant vacation can substitute for peace with God. This is the hill to die on. 11. Rebellion against God is the simple explanation for so many of our problems. Sin is the single most helpful concept for understanding our temper tantrums, sagging skin, cellulite, credit card debt, communal loneliness, and dying fruit trees. 12. Idols will age and grow with you, if you don’t kill them while they’re young. After decades of care and coddling, my gods of performance, productivity, and pleasing others are well-fed, healthy, and strong. I have done a fantastic job of raising my idols into adults. Now what? 13. Grown-up sins require grown-up grace. Every birthday, Jesus gives me all the love and blood I need to atone for all the sins I will commit over the next year. Forgiveness for the same sins I’ve been committing for decades is no ordinary birthday present. Brenda Jung

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