Right now, christians all over the city of Austin and in the surrounding communities are participating in a multi-church effort at reaching un-churched people. We’re calling it ExploreGod and encouraging people to bring their questions about God to God.
In preparation for it, thousands of people took to the streets last week to cover hundreds of miles in prayer.
I have never, not once, ever participated in a prayer walk. Here’s what I imagined in my head:
The sun is setting. Twenty people walk down the very middle of a neighborhood street, like Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis in Armageddon, golden light washing over their glowing, smiling, eye-closed faces. They stride like warriors and friends…
Oh, and they’re praying. It’s all very peaceful and beautiful and kingdom-y.
It’s possible this is exactly what prayer walks look like for other people, but that’s not how ours went down. Not exactly.
First, we met up with some of the christians who live in our part of Round Rock and discovered what we already knew but maybe had forgotten: there are not many christians in our part of Round Rock. To cover as much ground as possible, we split up into small groups. My group consisted of me, my husband, and my two kids.
We started on our street. We explained what we were doing to the kids and encouraged them to pray for each house as they walked by, to ask God to work in the lives of the people inside, to bring light and love into their home.
London seemed interested. Eve picked her nose.
I walked slowly to our next door neighbor’s house and began praying. Eve took off on her bike, and, after a one sentence prayer-let, I chased her down.
We stopped in front of the nursing home on our street and I asked each girl to pray out loud for the people inside. London muttered a prayer and jumped on her bike, ringing her bell fifteen times as Justin continued the prayer. When it came Eve’s turn, she decided to sing “God is Bigger than the Boogeyman” instead.
We moved on.
London cried—I don’t know why—and decided she couldn’t ride her bike anymore. Eve rode on ahead at top speed. Again. I chased her—again—tossing prayers at the houses I passed like a boy tossing newspapers.
By the end of the night, our kids had both cried buckets, Justin and I were exhausted, and we’d prayed for exactly six blocks of houses.
Sometimes when I picture myself living out the calling of Christ on earth, I picture myself in a movie trailer. I have these grand visions of greatness and perfection. And sometimes that’s exactly how it feels. But other times, not at all.
I picture myself reading the Bible to my perfect children each night before they go to bed, their precious heads in my lap, their eyes eager and focused.
But in reality, bedtime looks more like calf-roping. And bedtime stories end up interrupted by fussy kids who want “one more story, pleeeaaassee” so much they refuse to actually listen to the one you’re telling.
I picture myself throwing these perfect dinners where friends come to talk around a well-appointed table about overthrowing the forces of evil and soaking the world in light.
But in reality, most of the time, when I can cram in a dinner with friends, one of my kids cries the whole time about the food she doesn’t want to eat and the other climbs into someone’s lap only to erupt in chronic flatulence. (Yes, that actually happened two weeks ago).
I picture myself writing anthems, treatises, declarations of dependent independence.
And then I find myself writing about, well, flatulence.
Here’s the thing, life is less like a trailer and more like a movie (the extended director’s cut with bonus, unedited footage). If I made a trailer of my life, cutting out all the regular, lagging, boring, messy parts, I’m confident it would look great.
But you can’t have a trailer without a movie. It’s the regular, lagging, boring, messy parts that prepare the characters for their trailer-worthy moments.
It sometimes takes twenty nights of calf-roping before you stumble into that Norman Rockwell, Bible-reading bliss.
It takes forcing yourself into hospitality, even when it goes poorly, even when it’s uncomfortable, to make space for those precious meaningful conversations.
It takes a thousand words on baking muffins and watching tv and tooting before an anthem rises from those roots.
We prayed over about twenty houses last Sunday night. London, alone, stopped in front of three to pray. Not three in a row. Just three random houses. She pulled her bike up to the driveway, put her head down and prayed. I don’t know what she said. But seeing her say it was beautiful.
And Eve—singing “God is Bigger than the Boogeyman” in front of the nursing home—she sang as if she were doing something profound. And she was.
Despite the crying and protesting and general moodiness, our family petitioned the God of the universe on behalf of twenty families in our neighborhood. Like warriors, we fought the forces of evil with words of light. We did good work—messy but good.
Here’s a picture of the four of us after the walk:
This is a movie trailer picture. It’s not untrue. Everyone was smiling at that very moment. No photo-shopping took place. But what you see isn’t the whole story. It’s the result of a night of exhausting family bonding, a night of determined, intentional, frustrating parenting, a night of normal, boring living.
The picture is great. And, in a different way, so was the walk.