There we were, expecting our second child. So joyful about the addition to our family, and so great was our love for our little son Finn, our expectations soared over the promise of another baby boy.
I prayed desperately. I thought it was a sure thing. Looking back, I felt as though God had given His assent somewhere along the line, winking at me in some cosmic, cigar-smoke-filled back room. “You got it, kid,” was how Fake God had said it.
As if vigorous planning can somehow transform future reality, we designed in our minds yet another blue, nautical nursery. We chose a great name for our would-be (certain-to-be) son – Keaton Eamon, to be nicknamed Keats. A nod to the brilliant poets and writers in the Grennan lineage. We had all of Finn’s tiny clothes all washed and folded up for him. We were already addressing the sibling rivalry, most likely on its way. The two Grennan boys, aren’t they so strong and handsome?
“Check again,” I told the ultrasound tech. “You must be wrong.”
“Nope, I’m pretty sure…yes, there, I’m definitely sure. You’re going to have a little girl. Congratulations!”
My eyes welled up with tears as I looked up at Conor. What is wrong with me?? I thought to myself. Don’t all women long and pray for a little girl? I mean, we’re oceans apart from the demographic desperate for a boy to bring honor and economic support to the family. This is America! I should be dreaming of trips to American Girl, shopping for prom dresses, and planning a big white wedding.
For some reason or another, I guess I was just afraid of what a little girl might be. I don’t know, all I know is this.
The heart is deceitful.
Can I tell you…having a daughter has been my life’s most unexpectedly beautiful treasure. Our little girl is astounding.
A few hours after the ultrasound, we settled on a name for our baby girl. Lucienne, meaning “light.” Seconds later, we nicknamed her “Lucy” (from the Narnia books). We have called her that ever since. Her name fits her so perfectly. Tall and lithe, with blond curls and big blue eyes, and the quickest smile you’ve ever seen – Lucy lights up any room. She has already established her “warrior cry,” and it’s filled with laughter and teasing.
She is an absolute light of my life, brighter than any I could have imagined.
One of the big mysteries (in a galaxy of mysteries) about God, is how He answers our prayers. Is there unimpeded free will? So how does that interact with sovereignty? What does “double signing a check,” as one pastor put it, even mean?
Can you imagine if someone had recorded every prayer you’ve ever uttered and displayed the entirety in one giant collage? Mine would be the mishmash of a schizophrenic.
Just before meeting Conor, I dated this really nice guy for almost a year. Tall, handsome, sweet, smart, stable and even a Southern drawl thrown in! I prayed such earnest prayers for him to be “The One.” He seemed to be on the same page. He even slipped up and called me his wife once. My heart flipped over.
Here’s how my conversations went with God about that relationship.
“God? He’s great, right? Like…so great! And you know I’ve always loved the South…and ok, well so he’s not a Christian per se, but he did go to YoungLife camp, right? That must mean something, right? Can he please, please, please, please, pleeeeeease be the one? Ok, here’s what. I’m not getting any younger, you know that. And I can be more effective in ministry if I’m married, right? To him, right? Please? There must be a reason I am in his life, and he in mine. This relationship is going to be just the thing that will lead him back to faith in you God. He loves dogs, he loves country music…we are destined, right? It’s so perfect!”
Here’s what I heard back.
So quiet was the response that I felt like I had to change my prayer. I needed something. I couldn’t deal with the silence. Here was Round Two.
“God? I’m back. Ok, just so we’re clear, I’d REALLY like for this guy to be The One. It’s so perfect, don’t you see?? But…(big sigh)…but…I trust you, and no matter what, please don’t let me marry the wrong man.” I remember exactly where I was when I said that prayer. Walking a few blocks from Georgetown’s waterfront, in DC, one early evening in Spring. The warm breeze held such promise.
About a week after that reluctant prayer, the “perfect” relationship dissolved.
About six months later, I met the man who would put all other men to shame in my eyes. The amazing, brave, bold, compassionate, hysterical, larger-than-life Conor Grennan. The man who told me he wanted to marry me even before asking me to be his girlfriend. The man about whom there was just never any doubt. The man with floppy red hair and scruff, when I swore I’d marry a tall, clean-shaven banker type.
So…here’s what I’m learning.
The heart lies to you. Your own heart can lie to you. Straight to your face. Bald face lies.
Even before I came to this realization, a line that has always moved me to nausea is, “the heart wants what it wants.” That is so bogus! That is like saying “the stomach wants what it wants.” Do you know you can use that excuse to Wendy’s-double-bacon-cheeseburger yourself to death, literally?
I am a lawyer, I know you can parse this apart and contradict me point by point. You can say that the heart really does lead you down the right paths, and that you should follow your heart above all else. I do understand that there is a complicated dance of the will, the emotions, the heart, the gut, and so on, and there is great value to your own intuition.
But I know this. You can be Absolutely Sure you want a certain thing. And then realize that you were just totally wrong. You can pray your heart out for a certain thing. And later thank God, sobbing, on your knees for not answering that prayer, and for giving you something else instead.
Exhibit A. Conor Grennan
Exhibit B. Lucy Grennan
I’m not sure what you are praying for right now. I sure as heck know what I have prayed for these last six months, and there have been loads of conflicting prayers. Staying out West! Moving back East! This job opportunity for our family, no, wait…that one! No…this one instead!
As to how prayer works, the closest thing I have for an answer is this wisdom from Tim Keller.
“God will answer your prayers as though you had asked for WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE ASKED FOR, had you known what He knows.”
Brilliant. Simple. And it really feels so logical to me.
If I answered my kids every request with “yes,” just this week alone, Lucy would have tried to drink Windex and eat an entire scented candle, Finn would have eaten two bags of honey menthol cough drops and used our sharpest butcher’s knife to carve his own jack-o-lantern. And they both would have tried to see if they could ride our dog Emma off the roof (in case she could fly).
I know, for the most part, what my kids need. And I am learning more about what I need.
I need for the benchmarks for “good for me” or “living well” to not shift with the culture (or the city in which I live). I need to avoid living emotion by emotion. I need someone who knows the full picture to see through my prayers and give me what is ultimately good for me. And maybe more importantly, to protect me by saying “no, my beloved, not for you.” And “not yet, my delight, the time’s not right.” And “this instead, dearest, trust me.”
I believe that’s what God does for us. Which makes my prayers these days a bit more simple.
“God, you know what I need here. I think I really want this, but you know better. Can you give me what’s best for me and my family, and can you help me to accept with contentment whatever that might be.”
Honestly…try it out. (Or, if you want, try to make that collage…it’s so telling…)