How Long, Lord? 2 Prayers in Uncertainty
Tanya Marlow offers a biblical reflection on waiting...
For the past ten years I have lived the life you are now living. Housebound with severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, my life has been one fourteen-day quarantine after another. For years I have waited for my health to improve, a cure to be found and for provision for adequate medical and social care. I am still waiting.
We are all now waiting, unsure of the outcome for us personally and for the world. The waiting is fine at first, irritating after a few weeks. After months or years it can feel unbearable. We want to know our future. We want to control our future, and for that future to be good.
When I was writing my book, Those Who Wait, I studied the lives of Bible characters who had experienced uncertain times, and one of those was Isaiah. In a time, of uncertainty, Isaiah ran to the temple of the Lord and prayed. Here are two prayers from Isaiah 6 that we can also use.
1. "How Long, O Lord?"
It is tempting to think we need to show up in prayer only after overcoming our despair and anxiety, but Isaiah shows us that we can bring those emotions directly to God. Lament is the kind of prayer where you climb onto the lap of the Almighty and like a child, shout, “How long, O Lord?”
will we be in this state of chaos?
until we find a vaccine?
until people stop dying?
until key workers get a break and the supplies they need?
They can include our personal lament, too, however big or small, often all mixed up together.
until I can buy my favourite chocolate desserts?
until I can buy food at all?
will I be dependent on others to shop for me?
until people don’t want to shop for me any more and I am abandoned?
will my noisy children be keep me from work?
will my business be able to survive?
until I can sleep well again?
until I can hug my relatives again?
until I can have a proper funeral for my mother and say goodbye in the way she deserves?
will this virus be killing people I love?
These questions are too weighty to bear alone or keep in our hearts. We take them, just as Isaiah did, to the God who loves us.
There, in the temple, he met with God, and God answered his cry of desperation not by telling him how long it would be, but by giving Isaiah a job to do. So often that is the way God works: we ask a question, and get one in return.
So Isaiah changed his prayer.
2. “Here I am. Send me.”
In these troubling times, it can feel like we are powerless, but God has a habit of giving his people special tasks to do to help. First we lament and come, honest, before God. Then we listen. Once you have prayed your lament, pause a while and pray, ‘Lord, what do you need me to do in this time? And what are you asking of me today?’
What God is asking of us is not necessarily what we expect of ourselves. It’s easy to overburden ourselves with expectations without taking into account the toll that anxiety and grief take.
Maybe it’s simply to breathe and care for our own mental health. Maybe God’s asking us to use our skills to help to the wider society. Maybe it’s just to do the next thing on the list as we scramble to work out a new normal. Whatever that calling is for today, take a breath, remember how loved you are by God, and pray, ‘Here I am. Send Me.”
May we be those who honestly lament, ‘How long, O Lord?’ and find comfort in the compassion of our creator, and may we be those who pray, ‘Here I am. Send Me.’ in response to his answer.