Praying Bold Prayers

It was August. Hot, sticky, thick and humid—words to describe normal weather for that of Georgia, but completely abnormal for someone whose state had been in a severe drought for the last few years. See, I’m originally from California. It was 2017 when I officially made the plunge into the new and daunting journey of graduate school. When I pictured myself moving across the country to a drastically different state and culture than that of my own, I don’t think I thought it would look quite like this.

For the last two years, I’d been sure that this was the next step on my journey. I told God—as is now customary for our conversations these days—that I had plans to do x, y and z. But if He wanted to change anything at all, I asked Him to shut the doors not meant for me or to change anything that He didn’t see fit according to His will. The prayer was a lot more mature than I actually was at the time, but for the most part my desires for His will to be done were real.

As always, God responded. He opened the doors that were meant for me, and shut doors that weren’t. After applying to three social work programs— two in-state (one of which denied me admission) and only one out-of-state —I was granted the chance to move across the country for my master’s program. God had provided me with an offer, to which I enthusiastically accepted. My parents traveled along with me to help get me settled on campus at my university, my new home. But what my parents and I walked into on that hot, summery Georgia day was not what was pictured on the perfectly creased brochures.

Cinderblock walls, painted a sickly, white-gray. Puke brown covered “carpet” (honestly, that floor was as hard as a rock). I felt my eyes begin to water as I stared hopelessly into the solitary confinement-esque space. This had to be a joke. I was supposed to live here for how many months? My dad placed a reassuring hand on my drooping shoulder, “It’s gonna be alright, Leigh—just wait until we get all of your stuff together and unpacked.” My mom flit around the small space, opening and closing the door to what was probably the tiniest closet in the world. In her ever cheery tone she echoed my dad’s sentiments, “You’ll see—we’ll have this place looking and feeling like home in no time.”

Their optimism did little to lift my spirits, but in true mom-and-dad fashion, they were right. They helped me unpack, piece together and place a bed and bed frame, a dresser, a side table and a few other essentials that we’d gathered from our recent Ikea haul. The place did feel a lot better once everything had in its own place, I had to admit, but it never truly felt like home.

To say that I hated my on-campus apartment is a bit harsh, but it wouldn’t be far from the truth. If you ask any my friends, they’ll tell you that it was not a secret that I really dreaded going back to my apartment most days. Did I mention that roaches aren’t really a thing where I’m from? Yeah, in California, we don’t see roaches unless a place is extremely dirty or in the middle of nowhere. So when I reached for my cereal bowl one rainy, autumn day the last thing I expected to see was a tiny multi-legged insect scrambling away from me in the dimly lit kitchen. From unwelcome pests, to a housemate who was both unfamiliar and shed her hair frighteningly too often—I was disheartened. I can’t tell you how many prayers I prayed last year through tears and anger at God who brought me to that place—and for what? Why was I even here in the first place? What good could this situation possibly bring? God, if this is where I’m meant to be, why is this situation so…awful?

I think sometimes I’m afraid to pray big prayers because I’m afraid of being let down. Whether it’s the first time, or the 15th time, I’m afraid of this gnawing thought in the back of my mind—that maybe God doesn’t really hear me. I know that’s why I’m afraid of going boldly to God and asking Him truthfully about things that weigh heavily on my heart. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to sound like a whiny three-year-old who didn’t get her way. But am I any better off if I end up acting like a moody teenager, hiding my real feelings from God and playing it off as if it’s no big deal?

When I look to the Bible for answers around longing, disappointment, and unmet desires I find myself constantly drawn to the Psalms. David gives us beautiful reminders throughout the Psalms that God is a God who can handle even our most raw and uncut prayers.

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”

and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.”

Psalm 13

David’s heart shines through in his prayer walk with God throughout the Psalms. From his anointing, to running for his life in the wilderness, to his sorrowful prayers of repentance for his sins.

In the midst of my serious doubt and longing—to be free from the solitary confinement chamber that was my home—I wondered to myself: what would happen if I gave all of this to God? What would that even look like?

One chilly winter evening in October, I was praying in my room, rehashing the week’s events with God, when I was struck with the idea to create a ‘vision board’. Not just a vision board for my year or for goals I had to achieve, but simply a vision board for my ideal apartment. I sketched out a single bedroom apartment, with a laundry unit, a wide window to let bright sunlight in and a kitchen that was clean and big (and free of pests). I remember specifically saying to God, “Alright God—here it is. I am thankful that you have seen me through this hard transition, and that you hear me even when I am cranky and weary. I am praying that You would provide me with a living space that will bring me peace and joy. But I also recognize your sovereignty, so here is my idea and my plan, but I am open to whatever else You might have for me in this. Amen.”

That was the one of the boldest prayers I had ever prayed in my life. I didn’t know what God would do with it, but I had faith that He would turn it into something beautiful. That January I signed a lease to a single bedroom apartment—with an in-unit laundry room, wide windows that let in the sun as it rose and dawned, and a kitchen that I could use exactly to my liking—in a quiet complex near my school.

Praying bold prayers is scary—especially when it feels like you have a lot to lose or that what you’re praying for feels too...precious. Too precious to hand it over to God who has the authority and power to do with it what He wills. But friends, I promise you it is worth it. Not only did this experience remind me that I can - and should - trust God to make beauty from ashes, but it reminded me that He cares deeply enough to hear me. He recognizes my voice and welcomes me into His presence. He already knew what was ahead for me—He just wanted me to know it too.

Let’s all take a cue from David and lay everything out before God—no hiding, no fear of being ignored or forgotten. Let’s be vulnerable before Him and recognize that He cares deeply for us—enough to see us fully, hear us intently and know us completely. Give Him the broken pieces of yourself and let Him reshape and refine them into a masterpiece. Because when we get real with God, we see how He hears our hearts and creates something wonderful with our hopes and tightly held dreams.