The mental replay of a conversation with a struggling friend pulled me out of my bed tonight and settled me beneath the stars. I found myself with no choice but to count them, along with my greatest blessings.
I shifted my weight awkwardly; a person was only meant to kneel for so long, especially on cheap, rough carpeting. As if to compensate for the rug burn on my knees and legs, I buried my head in the worn velvet of my favorite chair and pictured its elegant curves in my mind as I spit my most precious desires into the accomodating embrace of the aging cushion.
“Father,” I pleaded, “tell me what to do. I feel as though I have tried it all, and everything I do is wrong. He won’t budge. I see the love he once had for me draining from his eyes as he wipes out the sleep before trudging to work. I feel the weight he carries on his shoulders as they cover my own, the desperation of his body pressed against mine. I know that he is trying to feel something, anything, to replace the numbness that has invaded our life together…”
Here I paused to blow my sorrows into a tissue and wipe the hope draining from my eyes. I had been praying for hours, ever since he left for work, pouring out my angst and wishes, alternately railing and begging. “Please, Father. Soften his heart towards me. Help him to see that I’m trying my very best. I know that it’s not good enough, but it’s all I can do. Please lend me peace and help me to save my marriage.”
I could no longer continue. The sobs stormed my vocal chords: speech wouldn’t come; only keening sounds escaped my beseiged throat. My shoulders heaved under the force of this release, my heart straining to push the heartache through my bloodstream until it engulfed my entire body in anxious heaviness.
I fell asleep that night on my knees, my head buried in the forgiving cushion, my hands embracing the cool wooden curves carved so long ago. When I called my feet to action the next morning, I found them dead. My legs were as weak as my battered soul. I was emotionally and physically drained, but I had faith that my prayers would be answered.
Instead, years passed and life got worse, and I felt powerless– stuck in my own stubborn web. My parents, you see, had divorced when I was young, and my eight year-old self had firmly promised never to follow that path, come what may. My terrible marriage was nonetheless mine, and I gripped it as fiercely as a football: cradled tight against my ribcage, one arm ready to strike at anyone who tried to force it away.
That someone, it turned out, was my teammate– the very subject of my pleas. To this day, I’m not sure he realizes that he was the answer to what had become my nightly ritual of desperate chair prayers. He left me when I was broken, at the lowest point in my life, and then he filed for divorce… and it was the kindest thing he could have done.
Once we had separated, when I realized that I had indeed done my best and had therefore completed my prerequisites, the peace I’d begged for finally arrived. I saw, for what felt like the first time, a life that was mine to shape. I could go anywhere, do anything, sculpt myself into anyone.
Most importantly, I could breathe by myself again. I’ve lived since that moment, instead of merely existing. I’ve made my own mistakes, instead of paying for his. I’ve fully celebrated my own triumphs, no matter how insignificant, knowing that no one would roll eyes and diminish my worth. I’ve stretched out in bed each night, grateful that I can finally take up as much space as I need: I can finally expand to my potential, even alone.
Tonight, I tried to sleep, but instead, after a trip outside to visit my starry friends, I found myself in an oddly familiar place. My faithful chair and I have trekked wearily across the country, but the aged cushion still cradles my head just right as I spill my soul into its stuffing.
“Thank you, Father, for giving me back my life. Thank you for knowing me and loving me well enough to provide just what I never knew I always needed. Thank you for not answering that prayer. Or maybe, thank you for answering instead the prayer I hadn’t yet thought to pray.”