I like to think that because I know my three boys so well, I can decipher their non-verbal communication: I know what Everett’s different cries mean; I know the difference between Sawyer’s happy dance and his I’ve-gotta-go-potty-right-now-dance; I know when Liam is embarrassed or anxious about an unexpected change without him having to say anything. Life with a 1-month old, 2½-year old and a five-year old means that I’m surrounded by three little guys who are at various stages of being able to communicate their needs, wants and emotions. And part of my job and my desire as their mama is to figure them out no matter how efficient they are at expressing themselves.
I will never forget when we told the two older boys that we were having another baby. Saywer smiled his almost-two year old smile and ran away to play with a toy, but Liam started to cry. I asked him if he was ok and he said, “I’m so happy and a little bit sad, so all I can do is cry about it.” I loved that he didn’t try to make sense of his emotions like I often do to myself. He just let the overwhelming and conflicting feelings cascade down his cheeks.
I have been pondering the inability to communicate clearly a lot lately, as I am experiencing a new phenomenon in my dialogue with Jesus. As my mom is now in her seventh year of fighting cancer, I have come to a point where I simply don’t know what words to say when I pray. Of course I still desperately want the things I started praying for seven years ago—a complete healing, peace for my mom and dad and brothers, strength to fight the chemo, and rest for her weary body and spirit. I’m still thankful for her inspirational attitude and the love she pours into my life. I can still see the ways that God has actively intervened during this journey, and I am unbelievably grateful to him for that. All of these things are still very true, and I haven’t lost faith that God can and will say "yes" to these prayers.
And yet, when I try to pray them out loud or in my head, I just can’t. I think part of it is a bit like when you say any word too many times in a row; it starts to sound ridiculous and more like gibberish than a real word. I’ve asked and thanked God for the same things for so long, that the prayers aren’t coherent in my head anymore. So what do I do?
I’m starting to think that my solution will come from letting go of my reliance on verbal communication. As a writer and English teacher, I am in love with words. But I know that words can fail us at times. That’s when I need to rely on God’s infinite understanding and not my finite one. When Jesus was talking to his disciples, he said, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Just like I know that Liam and Sawyer will want sippy cups full of chocolate milk when they wake up in the morning, God knows what I’m going to pray before I even open my mouth. The actual words do not matter.
This does not mean, however, that he wants us to stop praying. His omniscience doesn’t negate his desire to hear our voices. Jesus also told the disciples a parable about praying in which a widow asked an unjust judge for justice. He initially ignored her, but she brought her request to him day and night until he finally gave in just to get rid of her. Jesus concludes with a question: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?" (Luke 18:1-8). I never get tired of hearing my boys tell me they love me, and it is only during my weaker moments that I get tired of their requests. So if I, who am sinful, want to hear everything my boys have to say, then how much more does the perfect Father in Heaven want to hear from me?
Therefore I am trying to just stand before the Lord and let him “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23a). He can hear the moaning and rejoicing of my heart even without my ability to articulate it. And often he communicates back in that same way. A few weeks ago, I was holding baby Everett on my chest. His breath was tickling my neck, and his heartbeat was beating against my own. I had just gotten off the phone with Dad who had told me that my mom’s chemo regimen was not working like they wanted; her numbers were increasing when they should be going down. I felt a wave of familiar despairing emotions and tried to put my thoughts into a prayer but couldn’t. Suddenly Everett’s weight on my heart increased, his heartbeat felt stronger and his breath on my neck spread warmth through my entire body. Even though I cannot adequately describe the experience in words, I felt loved so completely that I know the ultimate decipherer of human emotions and lover of my soul had heard the incoherent cries of my heart—and he holds me even when I don’t know how to ask.