Every Woman a Theologian
— When You Don't Know What to Pray —
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Dear friend,
There was so much to pray for I honestly felt overwhelmed.
Do I pray for the anxiety of one child or the willfulness of the other? Do I pray for wisdom for the work thing or the friendship thing? I can of course pray for both, but I could be more in-depth if I prayed for one… and I could pray for each over the course of the day (and do) but in my dedicated prayer time, which to choose?
And what of the friends I said I'd pray for? I want to be specific and intentional. How to choose?!
The longer I walk with God and in godly community the more there is to pray for - and the more excited I am to pray! It is through prayer that eyes are opened; through prayer we learn God's heart. Through prayer we see God's hand move and His heart answer, even when the answer isn't what we planned. In all this goodness of prayer, however, I often find myself drowning in prayer topics. You, too?
One friend of mine suggested a jar of prayer topics. “Draw out one a day and just focus on that,” she said. “Even if it's the same one for a few days!” It's a good idea and I tried it. But at the same time, there are days when I need to pray for more than one thing. And again: how to choose?
Here's my trick for when I don't know what to pray or where to start.
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Let God tell me what to pray.
When I don't know what to pray or where my energies should be focused, I ask the Father Himself. I know; it sounds obvious. But I figure, if I'm about to bring the adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication to the throne of grace, I can ask the King what topics are best brought. He sees further than me; He sees to the heart. And in my experience, this is a prayer that never goes unanswered!
One morning I did my chronological reading in Scripture and started writing out my prayer (I journal my prayers to stay focused, then pray in shorter spontaneous “spurts” throughout the day). I knew what I wanted to pray about but didn't know what to say in the moment; how to specifically pray for my marriage, my kids, my hurting friend without generic words? Could I pray deeper than this?
I couldn't come up with it on my own. Then I remembered Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
We do not know what we ought to pray for. That's me!
I asked the Spirit to tell me what I ought to pray for. Then I simply prayed. I began writing, lifting the people and issues to God without waiting for the perfect phrasing; without figuring out exactly what they needed. And the longer I prayed the more specific it became. By the end of my half hour prayer time, I had clarity about issues I'd been wrestling with for months. I realized I could ask for specific things in my relationships - I just didn't have the words until the Spirit gave them to me.
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There is beauty in praying pre-written prayers on occasion (they can inspire us) and Scripture is a wonderful basis for prayer (I use it all the time to pray for my kids). But in moments when we don't know what or how to pray, the best first “stop” is the Spirit. He is our Advocate and Comforter. And according to Romans, He intercedes for us when we are wordless. During times of grief this verse was a great comfort to me. I couldn't describe what I felt or what I wanted, but God knew.
In times of joy and intercession, God still knows. He still wants to advocate for us and those we love. And He would rather we pray, even before we have the words, than not pray at all. So He gives all of Himself for the process.
What I'm Reading

  • Pastors and Their Critics by Joel R. Beeke: I've had this for over a year waiting to be read. I wish I'd picked it up sooner. I'm not a pastor, but many of the struggles of parachurch ministry are similar - at least in regard to criticism. This book has been the encouragement I needed. 
  • The Spiritual Man by Watchman Nee: Nee is an older author (this book was written in 1927) and I've had some questions about his theology so I decided to read him for myself. His treatment of the soul/spirit (he supports trichotomy, not dichotomy) is interesting, though I don't see much scriptural support for it. He was very influential so I'm following along to find out more!
  • Daisy Jones and the Six: This secular novel came highly recommended - it is a very intriguing writing style (like a magazine interview) which makes it a quick and easy read. Content warning - I skip parts.
Ask Anything Q/A

How do I talk about evil with my kids? Does God cause it?
I am passionate about equipping people to navigate the problem of pain/evil. This issue underlies almost every theology. When teaching very small kids, we don't want to scare them but we also want to equip them to answer their own doubts and the questions of their peers. There are a variety of views on causation/evil - none of which I can sum up in a paragraph. The way I teach this is written in our Kids Theology Handbook. Here's what it says:  
“Why did God create people if they could make bad choices?”
"God is a relational God. This means he wants to know people and be known by them. He wants to have a loving relationship with them. In order for that to happen, He had to offer them the ability to choose to be with Him. Just as when [mommy and daddy, or another couple] got married, we/they chose one another freely, God wanted people to choose to be with Him. He did not force them, because loving relationships are not based on force. By giving humans the ability to choose what is good, He also gave them the ability to choose what is evil. The first humans chose what was evil because they did not trust God’s heart. We get to reverse what Adam and Eve did by partnering with Jesus, letting Him love us, and making choices aligned with that love."
Does God cause everything?”
“God is the king of the world. He created everything and holds it all together! He is perfectly kind and holy and desires for our world to be that way, too. God also created people with the ability to make decisions, and because people are not perfect, they choose to make decisions that are evil. God permits people to do this but He does not cause them to do it. It breaks God’s heart to see people hurt others and cause suffering. He allows it because He wants people to be free to choose good or evil and is always working to redeem their sin and offer a way out.”
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My Five Faves

  • Appalachia Waltz: This is a song on my instrumental bluegrass playlist that will never cease to get me up in the feels. I made this whole playlist to collect the exact type of folk/bluegrass I like to hear: slow paced, lots of guitar and fiddle, and calm enough to play in the morning during quiet time and chores.
  • Rat a Tat Cat: This is a classic card game our kids adore! Josh and I will even play it on date nights - it's so easy and relaxing.
  • Summer charcuterie: It's charcuterie season - cheese and meat and nuts oh my! We love to put together a board for guests or just for us (tips for making a board here). This is our favorite charcuterie board.
  • This is my summer of dresses: I wear a lot of dresses anyway (I can't stand jeans) but this summer I've tried to be more conscious of defaulting to athleisure and instead choosing what's just as easy: a dress. I save my leggings for my morning run or Lindywell Pilates. I find that I feel prettier, happier, and more in charge of my day by dressing up a little (and the laundry is the same!).
  • The Daily Office: After reading Monk Habits for Ordinary People I took my prayer-alarm system a step further. To date, I've had three alarms set on my phone to pray: 9 am, 12 pm and 5 pm. Each had a different theme. Based on the Daily Office's canonical hours I actually increased my reminders to follow the Benedictine method (just to see how I like it): 5 am (lauds), 6 am (prime), 9 am (terce), noon (sext), 3 pm (nones), 6 pm (vespers). I simply use these times as a reminder to pray or say a Psalm.
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At Home with Phylicia

A little glimpse of what's bringing us joy at home: routines, homeschool, kitchen and home life.
  • My best trick for resetting any day (and doing summer homeschool): Do it outside. Snack time. School time. Read alouds. Game time. Whatever it is, get a blanket and go outside - or lay in the hammock to read! I do this almost every day.
  • Magnolia Cookbook #1 “after-school banana bread”: I make this almost once a week and it works just as well with Pamela's gluten free flour (we are not rigidly GF like we used to be but have one child who is better gluten free, so we try).
  • Update on Gather Round Bird Curriculum: We are about 5-6 weeks into this (going slower than I typically would) and the girls have learned a lot for a “light” unit study. Definitely suited to something like summer - it's not enough for standard school (to me) but will teach about birds and make birding way more fun.
for the awakening,