Fathom Mag
Article

What Prayer Looks Like Now

I’ve had enough experience to know that things don’t always turn out as planned.

Published on:
March 11, 2019
Read time:
3 min.
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When I was in college I had this dream of who I would be as a thirty-five-year-old: She would be a few years into teaching at a small university, walking the halls in corduroy skirts and clogs. She would have finally accepted that wearing glasses made her professorial and distinguished. And in her intro to personal narrative class, she would assign readings from David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell, Annie Dillard, and David Foster Wallace. She’d walk to the school from her cozy four-square home up the road, and in this dream, she would be happy and respected. She would have made the life she wanted.  

Needless to say, that didn’t happen. I work, yes, but at a church of all places. Hardly the bastion of academic fortitude I imagined. I am married to a person I knew when I was dreaming those dreams, but never dreamed it would be him next to me. I’m living in my hometown—a sprawling metropolis—not the bucolic college town. And I’m still putting off wearing glasses. It’s a life that I love, but it is not the life I dreamed.   

Created to Dream

Squarely in my thirties now, I’ve had enough experience to know that things don’t always turn out as planned. I’ve lost a lot of faith in my own planning either because I haven’t followed through, or God and I didn’t agree on the definition of my prospering. A crystallized version of my future—replete with the salary I make, number of kids I have, and the neighborhood I live in—seems today like the privilege of youth—dreaming and planning without fear of consequence or knowledge of limits. I’m too sober-minded now. Too hemmed in. 

I’ve lost a lot of faith in my own planning either because I haven’t followed through, or God and I didn’t agree on the definition of my prospering.

But the thing is, those dreams from college weren’t meaningless or silly. They were real desires, sparked in me, fanned in me, smoldering in me. But they didn’t materialize.

The mainstream Christian narrative would say to me, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” But even as I look at the field of my unmet dreams behind me, I also know I am not a passionless and passive fern, growing only where I was planted, moving only for someone else’s breezes or brushes. God created us to create. He created the world for us to tend to and to enjoy. And with his ceaseless well of creativity and majesty he knit in us the very same desire—to create, yes, but also to dream, to imagine what’s possible, to craft and shape many good things, and to care about this work that we are doing. 

With his ceaseless well of creativity and majesty he knit in us the very same desire—to create, yes, but also to dream, to imagine what’s possible, to craft and shape many good things, and to care about this work that we are doing.

I hold these things together—the awareness of the fleeting youthful dreams of old, and my resolute confidence that I was given the capacity to dream and shape my future in the first place—and I don’t know how to reconcile them. And in the already-not-yet of my thirties, I feel a sort of desperation to know where this life and work is leading. 

Today I’m writing from a lush hotel bed, a rarity for me. I’m up early because I haven’t acclimated to the time difference between the east coast and Colorado. Out of my window, a looming cascade of mountains greets the day. The emerging sun casts a gentle pink light on the treeless ridges. The rock catches the light and holds it on its bald faces—sparkling, dancing. For a second, I believe there’s gold in the hills, spilling from the sediment. But it’s just the elusive mingling of light and rock, divine and material, and for that second, I was awake to witness it. 

And here in this place, far from my home, far from where I thought I’d be and who I thought I’d be, I remember—if only for a fleeting moment—that naiveté be damned. I am a participant in the divine dance of creation with the triune God. The creator God who spun this majesty beyond my window out of strings thrown from his fingers wants to partner with me, use me. The way forward looks more and more like it’s found in the meeting and in the posture and in the space we make together. 

Rebecca Payne
Rebecca Parker Payne is a writer, church worker, and friend of corgis. She lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter, and a dog named Wendell Berry. She occasionally writes on her blog, and regularly tweets and posts pictures of cute things on instagram.

Cover photo by Nathan Dumlao.

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