Some people pray like a troubadour. Beaming about all the great things the Lover of their Soul has done. Their love is mutual and glorious. It’s dramatic and flowery, stomach flips and sighs. I’ve prayed like that, when my chubby baby smiled up me, and when I caught my husband looking at me from across the room.
Some people pray like a tenant, leaving post-its on the landlord’s door. They roll their eyes whenever something breaks, knowing that whenever the scruffy, absent ex-con gets to it, it’ll be too late. They wait for him to come over smelling like cigarettes with a roll of duct tape, but normally end up fixing it themselves. Which is what the landlord was hoping for anyway. I’ve prayed like that, when my friend’s cancer didn’t get healed, and when my friend’s divorce was finalized.
Some people pray like a child, asking for big things with big innocent eyes. They ask from the safe place on their daddy’s shoulders. Daddy is always patient and trustworthy. He can fix anything, and he does it while smiling, whistling, and pulling out his big fat wallet. I’ve prayed like that, when dream jobs were offered and dream homes were purchased.
Most of the time I pray like a lawyer, now that I have children. I gather the research and precedents and spin my story tight. I gauge the mood of the judge and try to get it all in the language the court likes to hear. Exhaustive arguments: “We understand that you may be allowing this child to have a Car Accident. We are ready to accept this deal if you can guarantee Full Recovery and it makes them a Better Person.” And “We’re willing to bend on the Premarital Sex if you can assure Sexual Abuse and Rape are off the table.”
I’ve won a lot of cases. But I’m also so very tired.
I’ve had a lot of lunches and bourbons with the judge in his chambers. He’s friendly. He’s friendly with all the lawyers. He invited me to go fishing and to come have dinner with his wife. I would show up with a huge pile of files under my arm. He would say, “Darlin’ I already heard your case. Let’s just enjoy this sunset.” I would sit restless in my rocking chair looking at my watch, eager to get back to work.
When my child stopped eating at 18 months I showed up at the courthouse with the tallest stack of files. I reminded the judge of all the years I petitioned to have a child, the terrifying pregnancy, the life-threatening delivery, the 12 days in the NICU, and all the times he rolled off my bed and vaulted out of his crib. I told him that he must override this Refusal to Eat and instead demand Respect for his Elders, Healthy Growth, and Pleasant Meals. When I wasn’t in court I was with doctors, therapists, and specialists. But mostly I was at Costco, several times a week, because he would only eat if it was a free sample and he was in the two-seater cart next to his twin sister.
Another time my baby fell out a two-story window onto our brick patio. 911 sent the fire truck, paramedics, and police. I rushed to the courthouse to get a warrant to arrest whomever the hell let my baby girl fall out the window. I pictured the kind, smiling judge and wanted to punch him in the face. My adrenaline was at an all time high in the back of that speeding ambulance. I sent word to the courthouse that we were open to plea-bargaining. We would allow Broken Bones or a Concussion, but we refused to accept Punctured Organs, Brain Damage, or Death. Greta was giggling and dancing at her 2nd birthday party the next day. I sent the judge a thank you card and some steaks.
My husband was offered a job in Georgia a year ago. I tasked a team of volunteers to petition the judge that Moving to Georgia was criminal. I had hundreds of people pleading my case. The judge didn’t block The Move. When the movers packed all of our possessions in a very long truck, I didn’t let them touch the shipping container full of files I was working on in preparation for Settling Anxious Children in a New School and Town. I kept those files close. I went to the judge every day with specific requests about the friends, teachers, neighbors, and youth groups he must order to be provided for us. He listened to my impassioned, breathless, teary arguments. He never told me I was in contempt.
It’s been a terrible year. It’s like the judge didn’t listen to a thing I said. Or he’s working against us with a totally different agenda. I kept approaching the bench with new documents, stained with berry smoothie, red wine, and my kids’ tears. He accepted and read them with serious, gentle patience.
In January I had had enough. Things had never been darker. All the kids were in crisis and the judge didn’t care. So I went to his house, uninvited. I was in stained sweats and crooked glasses. Maybe I had been drinking. I had no files, motions, or documents of any kind. His wife answered the door in her robe and hugged me. She led me to her husband’s private office. I thought he would be asleep because it was so late. The judge’s wife said, “No dear, he never sleeps.”
I walked in the office and saw him reading files at his desk, his glasses low on his nose. He didn’t look up. I scanned the high, long shelves full of books. I noticed there was a picture that looked familiar. I walked toward it and saw it was a picture of me in ponytails and freckles. There were pictures of my parents and my sister, and my wedding day. On his desk, next to the picture of his wife, was a picture of my 3 kids. I picked it up and quietly asked, “why do you have this?” He turned in his chair, folded his glasses, and looked straight into my eyes.
“I love your children.”
I knew he was kind and did so much to help children everywhere with his wealth. He loved all children. But he was a professional. Surely he didn’t get personally tangled up in the all the cases presented to him.
In the corner were piles of boxes labeled “Fritz.” I was a thorough, meticulous, unrelenting advocate for my children. I defended them with everything I had. I hired experts to teach me how to fight better and fill in the gaps when the judge let us down. I lost sleep so many nights trying to figure out how to convince him to protect my kids.
I crumbled into a chair in front of his desk. He looked at me expectantly. I asked, “you know my kids?” He opened a drawer and showed me crayon drawings my kids had made him. I was confused.
For more than 12 years I’d been petitioning the judge, laying out all the details and special circumstances, asking for favors, protection, and assurances, closing loopholes, and bargaining every day. No one could ask for a better lawyer.
That night I found out that the judge had arranged to get my kids the doctors they needed, that he had picked their teachers, and he got Chris the job in Georgia. All those times I sat in his chambers at the courthouse, I had just missed him talking about Pokémon cards and Polly Pockets with my kids. When he invited me to dinner at his house my kids were already playing in the lake on his property. I didn’t notice that he named his fishing boat after them.
He didn’t need exhibits and arguments. He didn’t need evidence presented just right with exact language. He didn’t need to be convinced. He already knew them and loved them. He was intimately involved. I missed it.
All these years the judge allowed me to present this unnecessary information so we could spend time together. I wasn’t comfortable with a familiar relationship, definitely not when I was on the job as Defender and Advocate for my kids. He always invited me to spend time with him away from the courthouse, but I usually declined because it was too distracting. My job was the most important thing.
The judge cleared his throat and said, “Aimee. If you have any concerns about your children’s welfare, you need not come into my courtroom. You may come here. To my house. To my private office. You don’t need to call ahead. Please just come over. You’re always welcome here.”
I looked at the pictures on the shelves and his desk, the boxes in the corner, and the crayon drawings under his glasses. I can’t believe I didn’t figure it out before.
I quit my job the next morning. I didn’t take anything from my office. I left it all there, with the key on the desk.
My family is now in the middle of moving into the judge’s house. My kids still have so many hard problems, but I know the judge sees them. He’ll pull strings if it’s best for the kids. I’m learning how to hang out with him on the porch without an agenda. He likes my jokes.
Sometimes when we’re all around the table together, laughing and eating and remembering the best parts of our day, I fall into that old Defender mode and start listing all the things the judge needs to do. He smiles at me and I remember I’m not at work. I’m home.
- “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” Luke 18:1-5 – What kind of judge are you praying to? I knew mine was kind and fair, but I didn’t think he cared about my details or my heart. Because he was so silent. Spend a moment with your eyes closed picturing the God/judge who hears your prayers. What does his face look like? What does his voice sound like?
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:6-7 – Many of my prayers for my children were formed and fueled by anxiety, not faith. The prayers became a bad habit, a compulsion. They didn’t bring peace or clarity. They drove me away from God. I think this gap came when I forgot that God is good and relentlessly loving. What do you think God’s character is like?
- “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:23-24 – This passage seems to say that unanswered prayer is my fault, because of a lack of faith. Like faith is the quarter I put in the machine to make the answered prayer fall out. My prayers were more about transactions than relationship. What about yours?
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5 – A lot of Christians talk about “abiding in Christ.” I’m still trying to figure out what this means. I’m moving in to the judge’s house instead of presenting my case in court. I’m surrendering all my arguments and suggestions for God, and learning how to trust that he already knows everything and wants to love and save us. For me it looks like a shorter quiet time and less lists in my prayer journal and mirror. Instead I’m doing breath prayers like “I trust you, God” or “God will fix it” as problems come up all day. What does abiding look like for you?
You are loved.
This piece originally appeared on Family Compassion Focus.