Praying Your Family Through the Battles of Life
by Bo Stern
In my 26 years as a parent, I have spent the lion’s share of my prayer energy asking God to keep my kids out of harm’s way. If I were to be completely honest, I would have to admit to moments when my asking has bordered on begging, as I beseeched the Almighty to keep them safe, keep them healthy, keep them warm, keep them well.
I suspect parents are hardwired with this instinct to throw our prayers in the line of fire, desperate to shield our little ones from the stuff that looms, lurks and hurts in this fallen, foggy world. So we plead for traveling mercies, good grades, happy days and handsome dates, hoping for a little divine bubble wrap around these tender hearts so filled with yet-to-be-discovered treasure. I don’t regret the prayers I’ve prayed for my four children’s health and safety and success, but I’ve changed my strategy in the last three years. That’s when I added a new prayer to the lineup and it is what I call the Prevailing Prayer, because it’s the Big Daddy of all the other prayers. It’s the prayer that doesn’t change with circumstances and is unaffected by my motives in praying it. It’s also easy to remember and quick to pray.
The prayer is this: Father, no matter what my child faces today, may she know You better because of it.
I know it seems too simple to work, but believe me when I say: this prayer is being answered over and over in my family right now and it is producing more beauty than I could have imagined. You see, my family is not living in a peaceful land at present. Since 2011, my husband has been fighting ALS, a disease for which there is no known cause or cure and a 2-5 year life expectancy. So for three years, my kids have been watching their strong, amazing father become slowly-but-surely paralyzed inside his own body. They have learned to help him with his coat and to cut his food and to understand his speech as weak breathing and deteriorating muscles make clear communication impossible. It’s been a long, difficult battle thus far, but God has shown up in every moment, reminding me that He can do beautiful things in my kids as they walk the broken ground of this battlefield.
A few short weeks after Steve’s diagnosis, my son who was eleven at the time, discovered a stashed-away coupon book we had given him the previous Christmas. Because we weren’t smart enough to include expiration dates, he was very excited as he read the offers out loud to his sisters and me. “Have a friend spend the night!” “Go to a movie with mom!” His excitement grew as he read through them and then he got to the last one and everything changed, “Play basketball with Dad….” His face fell and I watched as he worked to deal with the emotions taking shape in his heart, while also trying to make it better for me, “Oh, okay,” he said, trying valiantly to sound cheerful as he yanked the little ticket out of the book, “I’ll just throw that one away. It’s totally fine, mom. I’ll just throw it away.” I looked around the room at the faces of my family of soldiers. Tears. Everywhere, tears. I breathed some prayers up to Jesus, wondering what I should do. Should I offer to play basketball with him myself? That’s a shabby substitute. Should I offer his grandpa’s basketball skills? Still not the right solution. I knew I was beaten. I was helpless to keep my boy safe from this sorrow. Later, alone in my room, I prayed the Prevailing Prayer for the first of a million times and in that moment it went like this: “God of Abraham, Isaac and Josiah Stern, You see that I am helpless against the enemy of ALS. I cannot protect Josiah from this pain—or from the pain that is to come. I cannot keep him safe, and so I pray that instead, You would let this battle push him to Your heart. Use what could otherwise destroy him to make him dangerously in love with You and Your ways. Teach the heart of my little boy to run to the heart of his real, true Father and use every sorrow and every success as a tool for helping him to know You more.”
It was a desperate prayer from a desperate heart, but it worked. Three years later, my boy is more convinced of God’s character than he has ever been. In fact, we are all more certain of the integrity and ability of our Great Commander than we have ever been. I see the results in my children. They are more compassionate, more confident, and more resilient. They give more selflessly, love more extravagantly and live more intentionally, even when it hurts. Most importantly, the heat of this fight has refined their faith and made it intensely personal. They own it. They live it. They share it.
So, while my Prevailing Prayer for them is not always easy to pray, I believe it’s working. Because sometimes safety is overrated and sometimes the battlefield—if it leads to a greater understanding of our glorious God—is the safest place our kids could be.