Prayer is hard, Chili is easier.

When I was in Elementary School I attended an assembly led by none other than Ronald McDonald. It was a pretty big deal, and at the time I was sure he was THE Ronald McDonald from TV and not some lame replica from our local chain store.

In that seminar he drove home one point. Don’t smoke.

Done! I had no interest in becoming a third grade smoker so this was an easy lesson to keep.

Yet my little heart was troubled because …my Dad smoked. Surely, I thought, he must not know the things that Ronald McDonald had just to me, so I rushed home from school, hauled out my markers and wrote him a letter. With pictures, asking him to stop smoking.

Turns out he did know that smoking was bad for him and he kept at it anyway, much to my dismay. I wrote him countless letters.

It became my most fervent prayer request: “Dear God, please help my Dad stop smoking so he won’t die. Amen.” (And probably other things about Care Bears and Disney World and mean kids on the playground…)

But God didn’t come through like I hoped he would. Eventually my Dad died of heart disease, which the smoking surely had a role in.

For years I prayed that my Mom would rebound from devastating depression. But still she took her life.

I prayed we wouldn’t have to move, and many of you joined in with me. Yet off we go again.

Here’s my question: It seems that God will  and won’t do, what God will and won’t do so what’s the point of asking for otherwise?

I can deal with his will, but why teach us to ask him to intervene? 

You may not know this, but in the theology world there are different sorts of prayer, all of the prayers I’ve written about so far in the post fall under the category “supplication prayer.”

This is the prayer request prayer, the Please God prayer, in short it’s the sort of prayer where we ask for things. Supplication, supply, give, please…

For the past few months some friends and I, along with a facebook community of over 14,000 people have been praying for a little baby named Elease.

Elease developed a severe infection in her body just a few weeks after birth that shut down her kidneys and liver. She’s been hospitalized for months and her condition has improved and then worsened, burdening and warming the hearts of all who join together to pray for her and her family.

This little baby has landed herself firmly in the middle of my heart, the very battlegrounds in which I am going round and round with God trying to figure out this prayer thing.

I would love to tell you that I’m not still asking “why” when faced with unspeakably painful stories…

But I am.

I’ve somehow laid my cards down on the table with God over baby Elease and said, look God, you haven’t come through for me, but show up for Baby Elease? Heal her, or I’m done.

I doubt I would be done, but what I’m saying is that I need God to show up for this little girl, for this family. I need her to live a long and full life. I need to know that prayer works, that it matters, that it does something… That God hears and intervenes.

Because so often we are powerless, we say “all we can do is pray.”

And when we’re involving in the creator of every cell and baby girl in the universe, surely this is no small thing.

But lately I wonder if what prayer does is involve us in the things that God cares about, just not like we think.

What if we’re not putting enough hands and feet on our prayers?

Maybe instead of just saying “I’ll pray for you” which, let’s face it we often forget to follow through on, we prayed in other ways?

So, instead of staying home and stalking baby Elease on Facebook, I contacted Elease’s family, got out my dutch oven, picked up a wooden spoon and made a batch of white chicken chili. I paired it with some blue corn tortilla chips, loaded them into the car and dropped them off at the children’s hospital for Elease’s Mom and Dad to have for lunch.

What I’m saying is this: I don’t know how prayer works, but I know how to make chili.

I don’t know how to heal a baby but I know how to make lunch for a family who’s new home address is the Children’s hospital.

It feels like a small thing, a drop in the bucket of pain, but it’s a way that I’ve found to pray.

And, the more I think about it, the more right it feels. Like something Jesus called us to.

Then they will say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’ He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.” ~Matthew 25.

I don’t understand prayer and it is really tripping me up in my spiritual walk.

But I do understand lunch and comfort food. I do know how to put myself in someone else’s shoes and show up with a love that only exists because I’ve been loved by Christ.

Don’t worry, I’ve ordered a few books on prayer and I’m going ’round and ’round trying to come to a place of understanding and peace. I realize some may view this struggle as spiritually immature, maybe it is, but I’m not giving up.

Nope, I’m making chili and praying with my time, my wallet and my kitchen. Sometimes I pray with my cell phone and connect with friends using encouraging words and silly pictures.

Guys, prayer is confusing. Yet, Jesus did it so it’s clearly a powerful connection to God.

I want to understand the heart of God or at least come to a place of greater peace with my confusion.

And when I do, I don’t think I’ll stop making Chili. No, I suspect that the closer I grow the the heart of God, the more my prayers will come from my hands. Not folded, but full of provision in love in all it’s many, personalized forms.


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  • Tanya Marlow

    I love everything about this post. I love the questions (because – hello! Yes – my questions, too), but what I really love is your answers. I love that chili is your answer, because most people, even when they’re asking those questions, don’t come up with chili as an answer. And I think it is a GREAT answer.

  • Debi Whelan

    One of the things I loathe most is a group prayer meeting. I am not sure if is because much of the time people are not praying at all, but indulging in the opportunity to make their personal theology heard, or that, if I am honest with myself, experience am sense of desperate futility in the exercise. My grandma died, my aunt and uncles died, things I want don’t magically happen just because I repeat the right verse enough times or join hands and confess that they will. I have turned instead, at this stage of my life, to what I call ‘listening’ prayer. I take a long walk, or paint, play the piano or listen to music (basically anything that will help me focus on something besides my problems) and then I just intentionally listen. Sometimes I get nothing, but there are moments when I hear the most amazing things. I wish I could say that all of my issues are resolved and my life becomes one big bed of cheery roses, but what I find instead is the knowing that I am connected to so much bigger than myself, a kingdom so absolutely beautiful and so different than the everydayness of our small thinking that my problems feel insignificant. This feels like a simple explanation for something that has been to me so revolutionary insignificant my walk with God. It has changed how I see everything.

  • Natalie Hart

    Such great questions. I think we can take Jesus as our prayer guide for the tough prayers — take this cup from me, but if you can’t, then your will be done. That is, please please please do this thing for me, but if not, help me deal with it. I do think it’s interesting that Jesus says “can’t” and not “won’t,” because “won’t” is sure how it feels to us. As far as my own prayers, I do pray for God to intervene, and sometimes specifically, but I find that I pray less specifically than I used to. I lift people up without qualifications. I will pray for God to make a miracle happen in a situation, whatever kind of miracle he thinks is needed — I do this both because I don’t really know what’s needed, but also it might be a bit because there can be tons of little miracles I can see: improvements in health, or at least in emotional wellbeing, people helping, people surviving longer than they “should have,” people who have a hard time accepting love actually feeling and accepting love. One of my most common prayers these days is for the people I love who are in a troubled place to feel the love of God, actually feel it like a warm blanket on their shoulders. I don’t know whether this is a cop-out, or a step in spiritual maturity, but it’s where I’m at, and it does help me to see God at work in a situation without it being an all-or-nothing kind of deal. And I say chili is a great prayer.

  • Lisa Adams

    A praying life. Paul e miller. Best book on prayer I have ever read and re read. Addresses what you mention.

  • Addie Zierman

    Beautiful. And I’m with Lisa — A Praying Life helped me so much with my prayer issues. And believe me, I have them too!

  • Gayl Wright

    This is perfect, Leanne! And I don’t think this is an immature struggle at all. We don’t understand all that prayer is, but it seems like you are on the right path. I know sometimes it seems God is in the dark and we don’t see answers or we get answers we don’t understand. I still believe God is good and is worthy of my trust. And I will keep searching when I don’t have the answers. In the end, I think it is the doubting and searching that bring us closer to him.

  • Rea

    I think that chili is a great answer, and that often wrestling with questions is a deeper spiritual maturity than thinking that we’ve got it all figured out.

  • Simon Monk

    Seems to me you understand prayer after all

  • Patricia

    Yes. So. much. yes. And if your questions make you spiritually immature, then we can be spiritually immature together, because I am wrestling with the same questions. I think God sometimes works through us to help answers to one another’s prayers…with chili, and in a multitude of other ways.

  • Amanda

    This is beautiful. I think you understand more than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes when we don’t understand God, all we can do is keep moving one step closer to the light… and eventually we will see him.

  • Teresa Dahmus

    I have been reading, rereading, thinking about, and meaning to comment on this post for a few days now. Like you, I have been struggling with prayer for awhile now, and little by little, people in my life (including you – who I only know through your posts!) have been teaching me. I believe that Jesus has been teaching me through these people (including through you). Something that struck me from a homily several months ago was this: “Prayer may not change the reality, but it changes our hearts.” For me, this means that, by praying, we invite Jesus into our hearts and listen to him. My understanding is that, just as God acted through Jesus when Jesus was human, he now acts through his people. By inviting Jesus into our hearts through prayer, we take a part of God/Jesus to others. To me, this absolutely means bringing chili to a hurting family. It means that we pray to learn how we can be Jesus for others in this life on earth. I still have a lot to learn, but your posts bring me a little closer to understanding. Thank you!