Owens recounts how she decided that after she had laid out her requests before God in her evening prayers, she would then listen for God to say something back to her. She waited in the darkness for something to come, but heard nothing. Finally, tired and dissatisfied, she went to sleep. The night passed, but in the early morning hours, just before dawn, she found herself awake and weeping. There was in her mind the memory of a spinster aunt who had come to live with her family when Owens was a young adolescent. Her family had just moved, and she had been promised a room of her own in the move. But with her aunt’s arrival, it was her brother who got the new room and Owens who got a roommate, a semi-invalid aunt who had been forced to live with relatives her whole life. Over the weeks and months that followed, Owens barely concealed her bitterness at this injustice, showing it in a thousand subtle and caustic ways. She had carried the grudge her whole life:
But now, in this early morning light, I was feeling for the first time the scalding shame this elderly woman must have felt. Moving from house to house, never having one of her own. Totally dependent on the good graces of nieces and nephews for the very necessities of life. Never in all my years at home, or indeed until now, had I given a single thought to how she felt in the situation. But now I was getting a full dose of it—the pride that had to be swallowed daily in a galling gulp. It was more bitter than I could bear.
The next evening she repeated the same exercise, offering her petitions to God and then listening awhile before drifting off to sleep. The same kind of thing happened the next morning over another incident from her past, again with the same shattering results. She wasn’t quite so sure she wanted to hear from God anymore!
Such has been the experience of the Jeremiahs and Pauls and other great men and women of prayer down through the centuries. They pray for God to change things in their world, and he begins by changing them. They tell God what is on their minds and he tells them what is on his mind: them!
“Awful things happen to people who pray,” says Owens. “Their plans are frequently disrupted. They end up in strange places.… The well-worn phrase, ’Prayer changes things,’ often meant to comfort, is as tricky as any Greek oracle.”
It takes humility to listen to God, because it may be humbling to hear from him.