I said I’d never do it again. After my last garage sale a couple of years ago, I decided that it was too much work and not worth the reward. But apparently garage sales are similar to childbirth, because over time I changed my mind. We had a kitchen table and chairs, a twin bed, and a million smaller items that I was convinced wound be sure treasure for some lucky bargain hunters. Our friends dropped off a piece of furniture and a framed map of the world which sold in the first half hour, and by mid-morning, my garage sale fail began to really do a number on me. I mean, what kind of world are we living in when you put all your tasteful junk in your driveway and people won’t even pay good money for it?
And it wasn’t just rejection that I felt. I felt a sense of failure because I had made this garage sale into something much bigger than an outdoor purging event. You see, during the summer, I work fewer hours. Extra time at home with my kids is perfect for the summer, but my pay checks are smaller. And our bills are bigger. School registrations. Property taxes due the 1st of August. Drivers education and summer camps. A family reunion in northern Michigan. And did I mention my sixth-grader got braces? Thousands of dollars of crisscrossed wire, pressure on teeth and pressure on our bank account. So I decided I’d do something smart and productive, and show my kids that hard work and determination pay off. I’d clean out our house and make a few bucks in the process.
The first part of the morning was fun. My husband, Bernie, my eleven-year-old daughter, Brenna, and I sat at our kitchen table at the end of our driveway and played Uno. Then we had breakfast. We were just getting started, and as I said a quick prayer of thanks for my toast and coffee, I slipped in a request for God to bless our garage sale and that we would sell lots of our stuff. After “Amen,” I looked around and muttered, “I sure hope I sell most of it.”
That’s when Brenna casually challenged me. “Mom, maybe you should try praying backwards.”
I was intrigued. “Praying backwards? What is that? And where did you hear about it?”
“I read about it in the book I got at youth camp. Praying backwards is when instead of asking God for what you want, you stop first and think about what Jesus wants. And you pray for that first.”
I stared at my daughter in stunned silence. What would Jesus want? It occurred to me that He might not care all that much if I sold my bed or table, my lamps or tea kettle. He would be much more interested in the people coming to my house. He’d be looking for opportunities to interact with them, to hear their stories, and to share God's message of hope and love. And, because Jesus had a history of engaging with all sorts of people and a gift for seeing past the exterior and into the heart, I think Jesus would be interested in what was going on in my heart. He’d want to talk about my anxieties and my tendency to try to control outcomes.
My garage sale was a ridiculous flop, and I was super frustrated and exhausted after hauling stuff back down to our basement and to the trunk of our minivan. When I finally collapsed into bed that night, I could not stop thinking about the backwards prayers.
I’ve been a Christian for a really long time. But Brenna’s words about how we approach prayer challenged me. The next day, I went into her room before bed and asked her to tell me more about what she was reading. The book she got at youth camp is called The Essential Guide to My New Life with Jesus, and it’s written by Scott Rubin, a long-time friend of ours and the junior high youth pastor at our church. She could hardly put it down. Scott has written several fantastic books for junior highers, and his style is easy and fun to read; if you have a middle school aged child, I highly recommend you get it. (Here is the link)
And then, do what I did, and read it yourself. Talk to your kid about it. It just might change your prayer life.
Praying backwards takes some getting used to. I’m becoming more aware of the fact that often times, my first instinctual prayer is about my own comfort or the comfort of those I love. It’s not that it’s bad to pray for these things—it’s certainly not wrong to ask God to bless my efforts and hard work at my garage sale, or in any other area of my life. But praying backwards invites us into something more. It asks us to look at what might be even more important than the immediate need we’re feeling.
As my daughter and I have talked about and practiced praying this way, we’ve seen some pretty cool things happen. I had been praying for a close friend of mine who had been treated unfairly and deeply wounded by a friend. I prayed for healing for her, and I imagined myself secretly confronting this person who caused such deep feelings of rejection and emotional pain. But when I asked myself, “What would Jesus want?” I wondered if my friend had forgiven this person. I was pretty sure Jesus would want my friend’s heart to be free from bitterness and unforgiveness, so I prayed along those lines. A few days later I was stunned when my friend told me that not only had she reached out to this person who had treated her so badly and offered to help her with a huge project, but she actually felt OK about it. While the relationship was not completely restored and the friendship didn’t return to the way it used to be, I saw tremendous growth in my friend. I watched as her heart was set free from resentment. I watched her forgive.
When praying for a family friend (and family members) who is battling cancer, Brenna prayed, “God, I pray that you would help them and that their hearts would be open to you.”
As a mom, my prayers for my daughters are changing as I think first about what Jesus wants. I still pray for protection and help and for things to go well for them, because I am a mom and that is what I desire. But I’m also praying for God to help them grow deep roots in His love when I see them hurting, for them to become more secure in Him when I see them battle insecurities, and for growth and maturity as I see them navigate their way through all sorts of changes, hurts, and struggles. I’m asking that in their anxieties they learn to trust God more. I’m praying that they shine bright like stars in the universe and hold out hope in a dark world, and that they love others well. I’m praying they grow closer to Jesus each day.
Jesus loves us. He wants us to be well. But that doesn’t mean that our constant, immediate comfort and happiness is at the top of His list of what He wants most for us. He wants us to be rooted and grounded in His truth and love. He wants us to follow Him and walk closely with Him each day. He wants us to learn how to trust Him, how to have true joy that doesn’t depend on what is happening around us, and He wants us to know Him better. And in our trials, He wants us to experience His strength in our weakness.
Our family friend, the one battling cancer, says that these days she is feeling grateful more than anything else. Because God is using her current trials to open her eyes to see all the good in her life, and she appreciates her time with her loved ones more than ever before. She is doing her best to let God lead her life every day.
I’m also grateful. I am thankful for what I’m learning from my daughters, from my friends and from our junior high youth pastor. I’m thankful because God is always working in ways that go beyond what I could even ask for or imagine.
"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more
than all we ask or imagine,
according to His power that is at work within us,
to Him be glory...Amen."
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)