What are your own private times with God like?
If I'm totally honest about my quiet time, they can be very erratic when I'm under pressure. In an ideal world I would follow the contemplative tradition where I read, allow time to sit and listen to what I sense God might be saying, write it down in a journal and then pray about it. But, if I follow that pattern there's the temptation to think that if I haven't got, say half an hour, then there's no point in starting. That's wrong of course. I don't refuse to speak to my husband or children if I haven't got the time for a heart-to-heart. So I try to put an hour aside once a week and ideally, half a day, once a month for a longer time of contemplation. On other days I may use a devotional guide that might give me a short passage or even just a verse to think about. Writing the key point on a card and keeping it in my pocket means that I can remind myself and talk to God about it during moments. Catherine Marshall spoke of nuggets like this as being like vitamin pills that we should take daily with or after meals and that's a goal for me this year! I also try to walk for 30 minutes first thing in the morning on weekdays--the theory being that I get my exercise before my body is awake enough to object! I have five post cards in my pocket on which I've written various topics and people to pray for. Most days I will pray for these things as I walk--but I try to bring praise and thanksgiving to God first.
Women go through so many experiences during the different seasons of life. How can a transparent prayer life with God help them to cope?
I remember when my father was dying with cancer. I had five children at home at the time, ranging in ages from 18 to 8. My two older children were doing public exams, which would decide their future academic path. I felt as if I was being torn into a dozen different pieces! I wanted to help my mom, be at home for my husband and children and support my father. A friend pointed out that I didn't need to try and be God's little helper. I couldn't protect the rest of my family, or control the pressures they were facing. What I could do, however, was to take all these pressures and heartaches to the Lord, tell Him how frazzled and unhappy I was feeling (He knew anyway), and leave Him to deal with my needs and feelings and those of the rest of the family. It was like taking a really heavy bag to the foot of the cross and then just leaving it there. It was the "leaving it there" that was the key.
The prayers in Dear God It's Me, and It's Urgent! are very real-to-life. It's almost like you can read the minds of other women who run to God with their own urgent life situations (big and small). Why do you think God is pleased to hear these very raw prayers?
Jesus was always very honest when He spoke to people. Jesus knew what was in their hearts and He didn't mince His words. God knows exactly what is going on in our lives and just as we can only really help a loved one if they are honest, so it is with God. He truly knows the best and the worst about us and loves us just the same. God already knows the underlying truth to our raw prayers and it is only when we acknowledge that truth to Him that we are open to hear His response!
How do women's prayers change as the seasons of their lives change?
Older people sometimes find it hard to remember things and my husband reckons that this is because the "bank vault" of our memories is much fuller! It's a bit the same with prayer. When I was young I knew what it was like to have the concerns and joys of being a "'young mum" and sleepless nights and toddler tantrums loomed large in my prayers, while prodigal teenagers only happened to other people! As I've got older I can remember both the tantrums and the teenage stage but am also grappling with caring for the elderly and praying for those with serious illness. So the scope of my prayers widens. I have children and grandchildren, for whom the tantrums and teenage years are still very much "today," but, I have the concerns of my "today" to pray for as well. I can quite see why older people need more time to pray as they have so many things to pray about! You can feel incredibly weighed down by all this need. Sometimes I just have to remember to follow the suggestion of a friend of mine. She focuses on just one or two of the most urgent things and then pictures herself putting the rest of her concerns into a basket. She may picture the basket as one of those gondolas attached to a hot air balloon, and as she releases it, it floats away and she has no further responsibility for it--the wind of God's Spirit has taken over. At other times she pictures it as the basket in which Moses was cradled as an infant, hidden in the reeds. She leaves it there, knowing that God might prompt her to do something to provide an answer to her prayer but in the meantime, He has it all in hand.
How can reading prayers be a comfort to women as they deal with their own life issues?
I see these written prayers as providing words where there are no words. When crisis times arise, you may feel that you just can't voice your own feelings. Knowing that someone else has traveled on the same journey and survived, is an inexpressible comfort. It may also give you insights into what friends might be feeling and facing, when you haven't had personal experience of that particular situation, so that you can be more supportive of their needs.
Discuss an example of an urgent time from your own life that became the inspiration for one of these prayers. How did God respond?
There have been an awful lot of urgent prayers in my life. But the one I remember most vividly, perhaps, is when our youngest son ran away from home. His three older siblings, who, the previous year had all been home-based the year before, were now at college university or traveling, and we had gone from a family of seven to a family of three in a few short months. I lay in the bath, with tears pouring down my cheeks, asking the Lord where we'd gone wrong. And God reminded me of the feeding of the 5,000 and the fact that the disciples were told to pick up the fragments of food that remained because nothing is wasted in His economy. Our older children had been relatively easy as teenagers, and without this experience, and the issues and events that surrounded it, I would have had a very different view of raising children. But now I was faced with a challenge. I could allow this experience to crush me, or, I could learn from it and share what I've learned with others. I chose to do the latter. It wasn't easy but it has been a very valuable lesson for the many other crises that have beset my path since.
You've written quite a few books that have been read by women both in Great Britain and America. How do you find writing for American women different from British women? What are some similarities and universal truths that bond women from these two different continents together?
My American friends tell me that we Brits are more polite; I think that we're more cynical! But when all is said and done, we're all sisters under the skin! Britain is a much more secular society than America, and so what I write for a British audience would assume less faith or even familiarity with God and what He offers. But we share a common need for food, shelter, belonging and living a life that has meaning and purpose. We all love our families and struggle to be the best person we can be. We all realize that this is a tough call because we're so aware of our weaknesses and failures.
Obviously there are a number of cultural differences. Even the words we use can mean different things on either side of the ocean. This is why a wise editor included a glossary in Dear God It's Me. One of the words in the glossary refers to "Marmite." Perhaps this is just as well. I shall always remember when a visiting American friend picked up a pot of Marmite. Marmite; a dark savory spread, and spread it thickly on her toast, thinking that it was chocolate spread. Her horrified expression as the yeast extract hit her taste buds will remain with me forever!
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