Prayer: The Secret Place

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I was thinking about the word “prayer” today when I passed by the creek. I paused and felt Jesus smile in an old familiar way.

When I was a child, I had a secret place where no one could find me. I dragged my little sled down the back lane, across the street and down into the gulley where the creek ran. That was in the days when kids could roam more freely. We just had to be home before supper – or before hypothermia set in.

In the summer the soggy earth at the bottom of the valley sucked the shoes right off your feet, but in the winter the mounds of bent grass and hummocks of earth proved solid under my feet. The sled gave me a dry place to sit among the bulrushes. Sometimes the water bubbled under the ice and sometimes it flowed through open channels. No one could see me. I sat quietly for hours, telling Jesus things I couldn’t tell anybody else.

I didn’t know I was praying. I thought prayer involved reciting rhymes at the dinner table, or at bedtime or making speeches to God in a voice loud enough for Him to hear in case he was sitting in the back row like the other people who hoped to make a fast getaway. I thought silent prayer happened at those times when the preacher told everyone to be quiet and think about what horrible sinners they were and how much they had disappointed God. Then he told us to apologize and promise to never do it again –knowing we would, because we were, as was mentioned frequently, horrible sinners with “desperately wicked hearts.”

I was afraid of that god. I assumed he was like my grandfather and always angry with me for making noises and messes. I didn’t talk to that god when I was down in the gully, but I could talk to Jesus, because he was more like a brother.

Most of the time I don’t think I said anything. I sat in my secret place and listened to the crows or the ga-bloop sound of the water trying to break free from the ice. I didn’t know that sitting still, and saying nothing, just being, was prayer.

We learn to know the Saviour in the secret place. But he is not limited to that place. The corporate knowledge of his presence is also important. Prayers in agreement with other believers are powerful. Corporate prayer is different.

As an adult I have difficulty praying extemporaneous prayers in public. I try to become invisible when someone asks “Who wants to open in prayer?” My friends will tell you I have no problem speaking in front of people but praying is different. Jesus showed me what the father was really like, so I’m not afraid of him anymore, and once I recognized Holy Spirit I love his presence. It’s the other people in the room that make me uncomfortable.

Once, a person who I’m sure was trying to be encouraging, told me she thought I had prayed “some good prayers” at our regular prayer meetings, but suggested I pay attention to a couple of star intercessors and study their presentation. I began to wonder if they were going to hold up cards with scores on them. Technique: 4.9 Artistic Impression: 3.2

I didn’t stay.

You see, when I pray I am like that kid in the gully just talking with Jesus – if that kid were naked and without protective walls. I have to be completely transparent in the presence of God because he knows everything anyway, and really, who am I fooling?

I stammer in front of people. I’m not sure they’re as accepting as he is. I can let my guard down for a while, but my hand still holds the rope and pulley that whip it up pretty fast again. I’m working with being okay with what people think and staying focused on God and allowing the Holy Spirit in me to connect with the Holy Spirit in them. Unity in the Spirit doesn’t keep score, see prayer as “work,” or seek its own agenda. Unity in the Spirit means the Spirit leads in adoration and decides the priority of needs to bring to our relentlessly kind Abba — Father.

I’m thankful for trustworthy friends who are teaching me that where two or three are gathered, there is Jesus in the midst. He is the one we are looking to. Our hearts are centered on him.

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But I still meet him in the secret place wherever that might be now. I don’t always remember, but I still need to withdraw from the noise and rapid pace of life to sit still in the quiet with him. Today he again met with me down by the creek, in the snow, just like in the old days.


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Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7 NASB)

The word I’m contemplating today is clean. It’s ironic that quoting this phrase from Psalm 51 brings up memories of condemnation because of guilt by association.

When I was a young teenager I went to my friend’s church. The speaker that morning was a missionary with their denomination who worked in Africa. I remember him railing against the missionaries with my family’s denomination. Their crime? They sang a song including the line, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow.” He interpreted this as insensitive, blatant racism.

I felt defensive and ashamed at the same time – as a child does when confronted by an attack on her own tribe and who realizes the attacker could be partially right. I had never considered that metaphors carry different meanings to different people, or that someone could take this literally. Did they really think the song could mean ‘Come to Jesus and he can make your skin just like my vastly superior white skin?” If so, that would be horribly insensitive.

When she found out which church I usually went to, my friend’s sister spat out, “Literalist!” I looked down at my pink skin with its random brown polka dots and wondered where the term ‘white’ came from. I certainly wasn’t white as snow. I guess I wasn’t a very good literalist either.

In dream interpretation, symbols can be very personal. If dogs are mangy, snarling, scavengers in your neighbourhood, a dog showing up in your dream will carry a different connotation than if you grew up in a place where dogs curl up on laps and eat organic puppy food from their human’s hand.

The symbol of snow can carry different meaning as well. I live in a place where dazzling white snow makes you reach for sunglasses. I also tire of snow. I haven’t seen a blade of green grass in months. The snow shovelled onto piles by the sidewalk in front of my house is not exactly pure white right now. Between the sand flung from passing trucks, evidence of healthy digestive systems left by passing animals, and the absorption of dullness from a dismal grey sky, the view from my window is not particularly inspiring. Snow can be dazzling, as it was when I captured the moment in the photo above, but at the moment, snow carries a different connotation for me.

Snow falls in the Middle East far less often than it does here. Perhaps people who live in warm climates regard snow as a strange white wonder. I don’t know. I don’t live there.

The people behind the development of The Passion Translation phrased this passage differently in their attempt to accurately capture David’s feelings when confronted by his own hidden sin.

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom.
Purify my conscience! Make this leper clean again!
Wash me in your love until I am pure in heart.
Satisfy me in your sweetness, and my song of joy will return.
The places within me you have crushed
will rejoice in your healing touch.
Hide my sins from your face;
erase all my guilt by your saving grace.
Create a new, clean heart within me.
Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you.


Sometimes we miss a writer’s or speaker’s point because our minds snag on the way something is expressed in the process of getting to the main point. If we are expecting to hear something offensive, we will hear insults. If we are looking for negative messages, they will be projected like grey sky on a pile of snow. We tend to see what we are looking for.

Deep places of the heart post guards around pain. Defensiveness seeks to disqualify the light from revealing pain or shame. When we have our guard up we can miss the sweetness and joy that comes from knowing we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. We miss knowing true tender love from Abba Father when we keep him at a distance.

There is more. There is love, joy, peace and deep healing available when we turn to our maker and ask him to create a clean heart in us.

He is willing.

While I reminisced about my youth, a song from the 70s began to play in my head. Apt, considering today’s theme.


*In a case of amusing timing, I just learned from the results of a DNA test one of my adult kids received, that I passed on some Nigerian genes to my progeny. I’m even less white than the missionary assumed.


Like a Baby

Baby Solomon

But in the depths of my heart I truly know
that you, Yahweh, have become my Shield;
You take me and surround me with yourself.
Your glory covers me continually.
You lift high my head when I bow low in shame.

I have cried out to you, Yahweh, from your holy presence.
You send me a Father’s help.

Pause in his presence.

So now I’ll lie down and sleep like a baby—
then I’ll awake in safety, for you surround me with your glory.
Even though dark powers prowl around me,
I won’t be afraid.

(Psalm 3:3-6 The Passion Translation)

She Said Yes

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Only the humble – those who know and are honest about who they are and who they are not – can be trusted in the presence of great power. The temptation to usurp it for self-aggrandisement is too great otherwise.

This quote came to my attention again today: “It is easier to be an excessive fanatic than it is to be consistently faithful, because God causes an amazing humbling of our religious conceit when we are faithful to Him.”
– Oswald Chambers

Of all the millions of women alive at that time, why did God choose Mary from Nazareth to carry and deliver the most important Word ever given to people – the Word Himself?

The angelic messenger greeted a person on the cusp of adult life with the acknowledgment that God saw her as a woman who was full of grace. In spite of the fact that being pregnant outside of marriage was a demotion reputation-wise and would probably set her up for the heart-breaking loneliness of being misunderstood, she recognized purposes of her Lord. She trusted him.

The most profound expression of faith ever spoken may be found in her response to an angelic encounter:

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

There is not a drop of religious conceit in her powerful yes.



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I don’t think I have ever spent as much time in the waiting room of life as I have this past year. I can’t do this until that is done and that can’t be done until this, that, and those show up, but are they dependent on the receipt of a report, which appears to be lost.

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In the old days I used to wail loud and long about circumstances like this. Now I wail soft and short. I’m not good at waiting in total joyful trust yet, but at least it’s an improvement. The only reason transformation, such as it is, has been able to gradually take place in my life is because I am learning to quit appealing for rescue from people who have no better clue about how to fix things than I do, and because I’m finally figuring out there are better questions to ask than “why.”

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I’m learning to ask “what?” and “how?”
What do you want me to see about who you are, Lord?
How will this circumstance allow me to practise a new skill or a character quality that needs strengthening?
What resources have you already provided that I haven’t picked up yet?
And (please) where are they?

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I’m not sure that this season of camping out in waiting rooms is as much about developing patience or endurance as it about addressing my trust issues. Some of these waiting experiences have been preceded by phone calls like, “This is Dr. McUnknown’s office at the Cancer Center in Calgary. He needs to talk to you right away about your test results. We suggest you bring a family member or close friend with you.”

“Cancer Center? Why do I need to see a doctor at the Cancer Center?” I ask. “What was wrong with my test?”needles bw sq IMG_2059

“I can’t tell you, but we received a referral from Dr. Unreachable this morning. Dr. McUnknown needs to see you as soon as possible and his next available appointment is…oh dear… he doesn’t have anything open for four weeks.”

I hate not knowing. Hate it. But that is where the Lord has been sticking his diagnostic finger. He presses on the spot that shrieks when it’s not in control and asks, “Does that hurt?”
“Are you kidding me? You know it hurts!” I gasp.
“Just pointing out the area of your next healing,” he says.

Then the clean-up starts. “You’re hanging on to some ideas that aren’t working for you. Let’s just toss them, shall we?”

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This has also been a year of living in temporary dwellings like hotels, relatives’ homes, and hospitals because I’ve had to travel for tests and treatment. A flood that rose up in our town in February resulted in movers, hired by the insurance company, invading our house to pack and  stash our belongings in boxes. They hauled them away to a storage facility somewhere while we waited – and waited — for contractors and trades people to have time to repair our house. boxes moving IMG_2294We have lived, temporarily, in half our house while we waited for restoration crews to arrive — along with over a thousand neighbours who also waited for repairs. Some still wait as we head into winter again.

The tradesmen finished their work last week. The movers returned our boxes and furniture on Monday. But I am still recovering from surgery and can’t lift anything. Friends volunteer to help, and they are wonderful, but it’s a massive confused muddle in my house right now. So many things are “just placed here for now.”

I look around and see many people in the same waiting room of life. They are in transition watching plans unravel. We need to be reminded that although it may not feel like it, the waiting room is always a temporary experience.

wicker chair unravelled IMG_5254Some of our friends have given up their own places and independent ways of life to live with and care for a needy family member. They know the situation is temporary, and yet they have mixed feelings: fears about it ending soon and fears about it not ending soon. I hear from former students who have finished highly prized university degrees. They have career aspirations but in the meantime, they have needed to take temporary jobs in temporary cities to start paying back student loans. To them it feels as if life is on hold.

Some friends wait for court dates, for vindications to be published, for settlements to be paid, for zoning bylaws to be changed, for permits to be issued, for grants to be granted. Others face the giant upheaval of divorce or death of a spouse, unable to move on emotionally, or even physically, until a barrage of financial and other legal details have been settled.

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Some long for their soulmate to hurry and show up. Some wait eagerly for babies to arrive and some, just as eagerly, wait for grown kids to leave. Many people are waiting for promises to be fulfilled, looking for hope in the midst of reversals, living in the frustrating now-what zone in the middle of the land of not-yet .

Friends who are also in the process of getting a diagnoses and treatment plan or praying in all faith for healing tell me they also know the waiting room and that feeling of staring out the window muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding,” when hours stretch into months or years. I meet many people who, like myself, are in a season of waiting for recovery – from surgery, from trauma, from accidents, from illness, from burnout, from bankruptcy, from bereavement.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Who knew we would spend so many hours in the waiting room of life?

I’m beginning to understand that life doesn’t stop in this place. “Temporary” may actually be where most of life is lived. It’s not a nothing time. This is a refining time. We need more training to cope with good times than we do for difficult times.

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In hard times, when it finally dawns on us that we can’t control everything, we turn to a higher power and learn that when we are weak He is strong. In good times the temptation is to think that our own efforts achieved the goal and we tend to forget to rely on God. The waiting room can purge us from a sense of immature entitlement and replace it with a sense of gratitude that connects us to the heart of our heavenly Father, if we let it. This is where deep relationship is formed.

He’s in the waiting.