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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Whispers in an Oak Tree



Humor In Chaos

Searching for Joy Series


Whispers in an Oak Tree

 

When I was a kid, I grew up on the edge of a very small town in outstate Minnesota. I had a choice when I walked out the door to play. I could turn right and go into town to find friends, or I could turn left and go out into the fields and spend time alone.

 

There was a huge oak tree not too far away. Unless there was some obstacle such as corn stalks or the snow was way too high, when I felt I needed connection to either God or myself, I would trudge through the farmer’s field to reach that tree.

 

It was tall and strong with lots of thick, dark, crooked branches evenly dispersed. I would climb up a few feet and lie on one of the branches and look up at the sky. My favorite color is still sky blue. The clouds passed by like cotton candy. The leaves whispered in the breeze as if angels were telling me everything was going to be okay. I was only a kid. I didn’t realize I was listening to God when I was there. Although, there were times I prayed out loud, aiming past the clouds. No one else was around to interrupt my conversations with God.

 

It wasn’t until years later after a major betrayal against my entire family that I discovered what is now my favorite Bible passage. 1 Kings 19:11-13 where Elijah is running away from Jezebel. He finds solace in a cave in the mountains and waits on God. And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord,” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

 

Oh! How I love that passage! I keep that one near my heart to remind me how to hear God’s voice.

 

Elijah went off by himself to seek God’s voice. Where did he hear Him? In the quiet.

 

As a society, we don’t value alone time as we should. Time to our own thoughts is a time for God to show us His Grace directly. But, we can’t receive it if we don’t know it’s there. And, we can neither hear nor see it if our senses are all cluttered with the noise and static from the rest of the world.

 

Even Jesus went off to pray alone and sit with His Father, listening for Him, multiple times. If He did that, shouldn’t I?

 

Can I hear Him if I don’t know what to listen for? What does His voice sound like? When He comes to me, what does He look like? How will I know it is Him? Practice. Everyday practice just like playing sports.

 

I was blessed to be raised in an environment where teaching children how to pray was a priority. My parents diligently took us all to church every Sunday. In Mass, my mother first taught me to pray off the back of the hymnal or kneeling before Mass to recite the Rosary. My catechism classes were traditional in scope. But my grandmother on my mother’s side, the most devout Catholic woman ever outside of a convent, she taught me the real importance of prayer and the many aspects of it.

 

For example, she prayed multiple times a day in multiple ways. Traditional prayers, off-the-cuff remarks to Him when she was upset, daily Rosary, daily Mass, and daily Bible study. My mother used to send me to my grandmother for roughly two weeks out of the summer for years. It was so boring. I loved my grandmother, but those were always the most boring two weeks. However, the lessons on prayer I learned from that woman were deeply profound, and she did not teach them to me directly. They were all from example.

 

The only time that woman would get upset with me was when I interrupted her conversation with God. Just like I was scolded for interrupting her conversations with others because I needed to wait my turn, I needed to wait my turn in her conversations with God as well. She showed me how to make prayer a priority in my life. Even though she taught that to me, I didn’t get it until years later as disasters hit me. Maybe, I would have had fewer disasters if I had been more diligent in my prayer life.

 

She also had this ability to challenge me. One summer I came to her bragging about how I had read Beowulf, the Old English epic poem written sometime around 975 to 1025 A.D. that previous school year in Literature class. She retorted with, “You read the entire Old Testament, and then I’ll be impressed.” I did it. I went back home after those two weeks, picked up a Bible, and read the entire Old Testament. I can tell you I slept really good that summer. I still utilize Chronicles for insomnia. The next summer I read the New Testament.

 

That was my first time reading the entire bible when I was a teen. It was fascinating. I thought the Bible was a boring relic before then. I had no idea the amount of violence and sex and scandal in it. I didn’t read the entire thing again until I was in my 30s when I had bad insomnia for years. Awake at 2am, 3am, that was the book I picked up to go back to sleep. Memories came flooding back of my grandmother reading the Bible at specific times of the day, and I remembered her using it as one of her many forms of prayer.

 

That prompted me to go back and look at the Rosary, get more involved with church and Mass, and start educating my children. I started my children off well but got a little lost along the way when life got complicated – the very times I needed God and church all the more.

 

For me, prayer was the key component to healing.

 

Like most everyone else in any Christian faith, I started off looking at prayer as a way to get what I wanted or get out of trouble. I only turned to God in times of need, as we all should. However, when that was all the praying I was doing, I wasn’t in practice enough to hear His answers to me. I took God for granted.

 

After each disaster – betrayals, illness, divorce – I would get back into the practice. I would get answers. Rarely the answers I wanted, but answers came. I needed to be open to hearing what God had to say about my life at all times, good and bad. I needed prayer to get in alignment with His will for me, not my will for me.

 

Complacency prayer doesn’t work as well as diligent prayer. Somehow, even though I thought those lessons were well instilled in me, I would get complacent yet again and pray only sporadically. I lacked prayer discipline and an open ear to hear Him. He was always calling out to me. Always in all ways.

 

When I was a kid, I was taught very young that it was rude to enter another person’s house and ask for something like a drink or a snack without first expressing kindness and gratitude and respect. Prayer is the same way.

 

There was an older man, a Godly Protestant, did not matter he wasn’t Catholic, who lived across the street from me during my childhood. He was a wonderful example of the goodness of God. Occasionally, instead of turning right to play with friends or turning left to walk out to the oak tree, I would walk straight across and go visit him. He was a widower who loved to garden. I would approach him in the yard and talk about how beautiful the flowers were. He would give me a lesson on trimming or weeding or protecting the bulbs in the winter which was a skill I never mastered. I would sort of butter him up with praise and gratitude for the beauty he created in the neighborhood. It made him feel appreciated and seen. And then, he would offer me some clippings to take home to my mother as a gift to her. I loved doing that! He was a good caretaker of God’s gifts.

 

Just like my childhood neighbor, God is a loving, benevolent Being who wants us to choose to love Him and give Him praise and thanksgiving as He clips and trims us and weeds around us. That should be what our prayers are about. Love and praise and worship and thanksgiving. And then we should ask God what we want.

 

I used to knock on that man’s door just to say hello. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:7-8, Ask and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. I don’t think he intended to be that example for me, but he was.

 

As I stated earlier, at times, I got complacent. Complacency always brings disaster. I didn’t necessarily need the discipline of a drill sergeant. I needed to be intentional about my prayers each and every day.

 

All Christians have the Lord’s prayer Jesus gave us directly. The most perfect prayer.

 

Catholics have Mary, our Holy Mother, ready to intercede for us when we ask, especially with the Rosary, and intercessions from other Saints. Approve of it or not, these prayer practices do provide a prayer discipline in a world where discipline has become a bad word. So does reading the Bible for all Christians.

 

We all have the Bible especially the Psalms, we have other traditional prayers, we have simple outward conversations with God expressing our feelings and thoughts, we have praise and worship music, and we have opportunities for simple and short words and phrases to help us get through our days.

 

For a time, I allowed my illness to get the better of me by letting my prayer existence become lax yet again. That complacency found its way into my other relationships. Yes, I was terribly ill. That didn’t excuse me setting my conversations with God aside. That was wrong.

 

The Book of Job became intensely real for me the day my husband left. I wanted to do as Job did and sit in sackcloth and cover myself in ashes. In a way, I did. All the other things I had survived did not compare in the scope of my pain. I can still feel the crushing of my soul.

 

Like Job, I sat and begged God why. I begged God for restoration. I begged God to change the circumstances so I could be happy with my husband again. I had forgotten to listen to God’s whisper as he walked past me in the silence as the earthquakes shook and the fires burned and the wind destroyed. I was out of practice for listening to God speak to me.

 

Even today, I can close my eyes and feel the cold, hard tile floor beneath my knees as I dropped down in prayer in the middle of my living room screaming for God to help me. Those were the only were I could utter. My heart was torn from my chest and was swallowed up by the darkness around me. My adult children fled. They had seen me battle severe trials in my life before. They had never seen me so crushed, and they were crushed too. I could not help them in that moment.

 

I didn’t feel God, but a memory came to me. That tree from my childhood. I went back to that tree in the field in my mind. I climbed the branches, lied down, and looked up through the leaves into the blue sky, waiting for word to come. It did not. I remembered the source I needed for help – God. But I wasn’t where I needed to find him. I needed to go to Elijah’s cave and wait in eager anticipation – Church.

 

For months, I sat there in the parking lot at outdoor Masses during the pandemic and then in the pews in tears begging God in prayer to fix my life. He heard me. He answered me. Not in the way I wanted. He answered me in His way, the right way. I started my prayer life all over again, and I found joy again in Christ, my Lord!

 

I thought I was done with this chapter, but conversations have happened in the past few days that prompted me to reopen it.

 

A dear friend asked to talk to me. She is not all that happy with God lately. She is in need of answered prayers. She is a praying person who doesn’t feel her prayers are being heard at all much less answered. Essentially, she asked me how I am happy and deep in my faith while my own prayers have not been answered. She knows many details about my life including the details of my prayers for my health, my marriage, my family, etc.

 

I didn’t know how to answer her adequately. Here I am, in the middle of writing this book, and I didn’t have the right words to help still her anxious heart.

 

I attempted to go into Job and recount all Job suffered without understanding. She countered with the fact that Job got all he lost in the end and found joy again. She is not seeing that on her horizon. I was there. I remember that despair and the loved ones, including her, who attempted to comfort me until I could see the horizon for myself. All of their deeply loving, intentional explanations, were not enough on their own. I also needed time, healing, and my own experiences with the pain. I had no adequate answer for her question of why – the question so many of us on our journeys feeling all alone.

 

This morning, I was in Bible study. My friend is not in this study group. This season, we are studying the Book of Hebrews for eight weeks. Today, was the introduction, and one of our intense discussions was on the theories about who wrote Hebrews, to whom, and why. In discussing the turmoil the followers of Jesus coming from the Jewish belief system must have experienced, one of the ladies at the table made a comment that had me practically shouting, “THAT’S IT!” like Lucy from Peanuts sending Charlie Brown reeling. She said, “The Messiah didn’t come the way they expected, but He did come.”

 

EXACTLY!!

 

I wanted to jump up and hug her for giving me the words, and then run to my friend and tell her. She was not receptive.

 

The Jewish people had an expectation of how the Messiah would come ready for battle to save them from the tyranny they were living through. (One of many tyrannical rulers they have bravely endured.)

 

He didn’t come ready for battle in the physical world. He came as an infant, in a stable built in a cave, with hay for a bed, to a poor young woman and her carpenter betrothed/husband, to do battle in the spiritual. Of course, the Jewish people had challenges accepting Him. He didn’t come as they anticipated or even wanted. Instead of coming as a warrior in arms, He came as a babe in arms. If I was living in that time with a deep Jewish faith, I would have struggled with belief in Jesus as the Christ, too.

 

The way Jesus came is the perfect example of how God answers prayer. He doesn’t answer when we expect it, how we want it, or brazenly in our faces. He does it in His way, His time, and in our best interests. Most of the time, we don’t see it at all. Very few people encounter Jesus directly; and yet, He reaches the whole world. That’s prayer.

 

John 1:1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

 

Jesus IS our answer. Do we need another reason for joy even in the midst of turmoil? He is reason enough.


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!

 

Sarah

Humor In Chaos


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