Praying Pains

Back-in-the-day: Dad & Nicole
Back-in-the-day: Dad & Nicole

It was my dad who taught me to pray. When I was little, Dad and I would kneel beside my bed and pray together, Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. God bless, Mommie, Daddy, Phillip, (the twins, when they came along), Grandma, Auntie, Benji (my pet rabbit), Spot (my dog), and a host of other animals and things on my child’s mind. I remember feeling like such a big girl when Dad taught me the Lord’s Prayer.

When I became a teenager, prayer became something I did at church or with my family. Occasionally, I would pray on my own—when I needed something from God. I did not find much meaning in prayer, although my parents modeled a lifestyle of prayer for me.

As a young adult, prayer confused me: How to pray? Does God really hear me? Why should I pray if God knows what is on my mind anyway? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? At times, prayer made me angry. Why pray, when God doesn’t listen—or even worse, doesn’t care?

In my early 30’s, I went through some bad relationships and some awful break-ups. I was angry. Was I doomed to have a broken-heart? Why didn’t God do something? Didn’t he care? I was annoyed with well-meaning people who tried to make me feel better with comments, such as: God knows what is best for you. Don’t worry, God has the perfect man for you at the perfect time. Maybe God wants you to focus on him right now. Make God the center of your life.

Those comments seem to discount my pain. I was hurting. Where was God in the midst of my pain? Then over the years, three people said some simple things that caught my attention:

Robin, my friend and former boss, assured me that God feels my pain and cries with me. God, my Creator and God, feels my pain and cries with me too? He is present in my pain? Wow. Now this is something to which I can relate, something onto which I can latch.

Fr. Leigh, my rector, said in one of his sermons that God was not despondent to our pain. Seriously, I thought—is that true? God truly cares about my pain? He emphasizes with me?

My friend Agatha once said in a passing conversation (I think with someone else, not me) that she prays to God and expects him to respond—why not? It was like I heard her comment in my mind, saying, Duh. If I pray, why wouldn’t I expect God to answer? She wasn’t saying that God would answer our prayers always with an affirmative but that God would answer our prayers, that we would always get a response. (My mom used to tell me this, but I never listened her. It took a person from outside the family to get this truth across to me.)

Now I am on the other side of young adulthood. Prayer is still a mystery to me. I still don’t get it or fully understand it, but it has become an integral part of who I am. I thank my dad for teaching me how to pray, my parents for modeling prayer for me, and my friends and priest for revealing some important elements of prayer to me.

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Mom and Dad in Cape Town!

with my GtC (work) family
with my GtC (work) family

Nearly two weeks ago, my parents touched down in Cape Town, and we have been having the best time together. It’s a delight to show them my city and to give them a taste of my new home. They have seen things ranging from the iconic and historic sites of Table Mountain and Robben Island to the local Pick n’ Pay and Food Lovers Market, two grocery stores where I shop. I treated them to fish and chips at Kalky’s, a colourful eatery in Kalk Bay; and Mom has fallen in love with our local South African “regular” tea, Five Roses.

Yet what is most special about my parents’ visit, besides our just being together, is that they are meeting and spending time with my South African family. It has been a blessing and a joy to introduce them to my new friends and to introduce my friends to my parents. My friends have rolled out the red carpet for my parents, and I am truly grateful.

The Parents with my "Strand Family"
The Parents with my “Strand Family”

Mom and Dad are amazed at the South African hospitality, and it makes them feel so much better knowing the lovely people with whom I work and hang out. I am amazed at the wonderful community in which God has placed me, all within less than six months.

Mom and Dad Relaxing at Estelle's and my Birthday Party
Mom and Dad Relaxing at Estelle’s and my Birthday Party

It is truly special for me to see family from both of my homes come together.

A Most Special Gift

Birthday Pudding that Dad made. Yum!

Monday was my birthday, and I had a wonderful time celebrating with family and friends. I think it was the best birthday I have had as an adult. I got to spend my special day with my parents, my siblings, and some of my closest friends. Everyone wanted to make this day special for me, since it would be the last birthday I would spend with my loved-ones for a while. And it was indeed special.

The best gift I received came from my dad; it was a little autobiography of his life. On Father’s Day, I gave Dad the book My Dad: His Stories. His Words. It was a journal book in which Dad would answer questions about his life, from his childhood through adulthood. As I told dad, it was a “selfish gift” because it was really a gift for me, my siblings, and our future children. Dad was supposed to work on the book while I was away in South Africa, but he finished it up early and gave the completed work to me as a birthday present. The story of Dad’s life in his own words is a priceless gift that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Reading Dad’s story was a reminder to me that my parents are human beings. Beginning in our teenage years, the image of our parents begins to transform into something of the “other.” For some, the image is negative; parents seem like a foreign species. For others, the image is positive; parents seem like perfect beings, like angels. The latter is how I viewed my parents for many years.

Celebrating my b-day with the two who gave me life

In my 30s I began to realize that my parents were not perfect; they have made mistakes like the rest of us. But Dad’s book also reminded me that my parents have experienced many ups and downs in their lives, that they have feelings, that they have joys, disappointments, frustrations, and dreams. Unfortunately for me, I often allow the label of “parent” to overshadow the humanness of my parents.

I don’t have children, but I think being a parent is the hardest “job” in the world; and I think it gets even harder as your children grow up. Eventually, you have to let them go. I don’t know my parents’ inner thoughts, but they are dealing with my upcoming move to South Africa with amazing faith, grace, and dignity. Without their support, love, and encouragement, I would never have the strength to follow God’s call to South Africa.