I was struggling for months with disabling anxiety when I felt another panic attack approaching. As the fear coiled up my gut, I suddenly experienced the sensation of rain hitting me – my mind converted the emotion to sensation.
I saw a wave building in front of me and I was hurriedly reaching for something to grab onto as the flooded boat rocked. Other men were likewise desperately scrabbling for handholds as the wave swept closer. My stomach dropped as I realized where I was.
The men around me were Jesus’ disciples. I knew what comes next, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40 NIV). That retort had stung every time I’d read it, and I had never wanted to hear those words from Jesus.
With waves crashing overboard, I relinquished my death grip upon the sodden wood. Amid the storm, my trembling legs took me to the back of the boat where I found what I’d expected. Jesus was napping, his arm resting over his face to block out the rain. It felt odd, freeing and dangerous as I gingerly sat beside him. As I did, he peeked from beneath his arm and grinned. He did not calm the storm. He taught me to embrace it.
I prayed that prayer four more times, and the anxiety that had crippled me was finally tamed.
The Price of Prayer
Another period of life involved a lot of prayer for a family member who had made a permanent life altering choice that I knew she’d deeply regret. Let’s call her Franky. I had been praying for God’s mercy upon her every night, until after a few months I fell asleep in prayer.
I found myself in the mud at the feet of a merciless debt collector. I could not afford to pay, and his clenched fists, dead eyes and lazy smile spoke of brutality. Knowing there was no way out, an anguish had settled into my bones. Then I saw another pair of feet walk between me and the debt collector.
I recognized them as belonging to the Lord of a nearby manor. He said, “I’ll pay her price.”
I cried out, “No! You don’t understand, no matter how rich you are you can’t afford this. He’s demanding my life!” I blacked out.
When I opened my eyes again, I was in a bed with streams of golden light and white curtains fluttering in the breeze. Slipping out of bed I wondered the halls until I found the Lord of the manor in the kitchen, spitting watermelon seeds out of the window. Overwhelmed with what he’d done, I said, “I can’t afford to pay you back, but I will work in your house for the rest of my life.”
The sensation of time passing brought an increasing sense of love and admiration for my Lord as I discovered his goodness every day.
One day as we were walking through his gardens he asked about Franky. I saw her running down a dark path, the trees closing in over her, and with every step she took, this dark cloud of debt and anguish grew larger. My Lord asked, “Would you have me pay her price?”
I remembered how much I already owed him and replied, “No, Lord, I could not ask for more.”
He asked again, “Would you have me pay her price?”
I thought of his goodness and said, “No, I cannot bear the thought of you going through that.”
He asked a third time, “Would you have me pay her price?”
I realised I could not ask on the basis of what I deserved, nor could I ask on the basis of what he deserved, for he deserved infinitely more. I could only ask him to pay that terrible price because he wanted to.
I woke from my dream and said, “Yes, Lord.”
When God Speaks Back
When conversing with others, we talk in many ways. Without mixing it up every now and then, we get bored. Our conversations with God should not be boring. Yet I understand the fear of getting it wrong. A fear that if we pray a different way we’ll call the wrong number and accidently get a demon on the line. It feels safer to pray in words or thoughts.
Yet there’s room for your creativity in your relationship with God. There’s room for engaging with him in many ways. I don’t want to say that you should be praying in images and stories, if it feels wrong to you, don’t do it. Be cautious, consider what it is you believe and why. Why do you pray the way you do? Are there other ways that you can be connecting with God?
In the meantime, I pray that we all grow a rich and deep prayer life.
Frances Ducommun is from Brisbane Australia, a student of philosophy and artistic endeavors. She thinks she's funny, is constantly covered in cat hair and will substitute sleep with reading if no one keeps an eye on her.