Pouring Your Heart Out in Prayer
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As a lover of the Psalms, Barbara Rainey began to realize the importance of pouring her heart out to the Lord through written prayers. The more vulnerable she allowed herself to be with the Lord, the more she enjoyed it, and the more comfort she received from His presence. Rainey hopes that by sharing these heartfelt prayers with other women, they will be as encouraged and comforted as she has been.
Pouring Your Heart Out in Prayer
Bob: Do you ever go through a season of struggle/a season of hard times, and find yourself thinking: “This isn’t fair. I try to play by the rules. This should not be happening to me”? Barbara Rainey’s thought that.
Barbara: There’s a part of us that, I think, we still think God plays on the reward system: “If I do this, He’s going to do that.” Even though we know better in our heads, we get sucked into that way of thinking about God; and then something/the rug kind of comes out from underneath us, and we’re going: “Well, wait a minute. Where are You? I thought You were in this! I thought You were leading us to do this thing! But now it’s all falling apart?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What should our prayers look like and sound like when we don’t understand what God is doing? Barbara Rainey has some thoughts for us on that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t think it’s a first, but this is an unusual occurrence; this has not happened often. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Dave: I’m guessing our guest being in here without her husband? [Laughter]
Dave: Did I get that right?
Bob: There have not been many times, in the history of FamilyLife Today, when Barbara Rainey has joined us and Dennis Rainey was not here superintending the whole process. Barbara, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Barbara: Thanks, Bob. It did feel kind of funny to walk in and think, “I’m here by myself.” [Laughter]
Bob: Do you remember—I was thinking, “Do you remember being on FamilyLife Today without Dennis?”
Barbara: I don’t remember. I don’t know that I have; was I?
Bob: We did a series, back—this was 20-plus years ago, I think—
Barbara: That’s why I don’t remember. [Laughter]
Bob: —on creating a more romantic marriage. You remember?—there was a day when you and I sat down, without Dennis, and I asked you to explain how women view romance; but we didn’t want Dennis in the room interrupting the whole thing. [Laughter] Do you remember that?
Barbara: No, I don’t.
Bob: That was where you made the famous statement—
Barbara: —“’A’ plus ‘B’ equals ‘C’”?—yes.
Bob: That’s right. [Laughter]
Dave: What’d she say?
Bob: So Barbara’s explaining for us, men, that guys like to think that romance works this way: that if you do “A” plus “B”, you get “C”; right? You know, if say—
Barbara: —you get “C.”
Dave: —and that is how it works.
Barbara: —after dinner.
Bob: —talk sweet, go out to dinner—
Barbara: You need to listen to our broadcast. [Laughter]
Dave: Am I going to learn something?
Barbara: Yes, I think so!
Bob: She said, “So there’ll be an evening and you have a great date, and you do this; and then he goes—two weeks later—he goes, ‘You want to go out to dinner?’ The wife’s going: ‘I know what this all about. [Laughter] This is not about dinner; I know what you’re aiming for.’”
Barbara said women don’t want to be figured out. They don’t want a formula; they don’t want a—
Ann: —because we’re different every night. [Laughter]
Bob: And we said, “That drives us crazy!”
Dave: Exactly. [Laughter]
Bob: You just said, “Well, get used to it; because that’s how we are.”
Barbara: That’s how we are. [Laughter]
Bob: We are glad to have you back.
Barbara: Well thank you; I’m glad to be back.
Bob: Barbara is back today. You know why she’s back?—because you [Ann] helped endorse what we’re going to be talking about today.
Ann: I did; I am so excited. I think our listeners are going to be excited, too, because she wrote a new book. It’s called My Heart, Ever His. It’s basically a prayer journal that—really, Barbara—I feel like it’s so personal/it’s so beautiful, because it’s prayers for women.
Dave: You know, when you sent the manuscript to Ann to have her endorse it, it was lying in our kitchen. I didn’t know what it was; and I just saw your name, and I started reading it. Even though I saw it’s sort of for women, I have to tell you: I was blown away. It’s so—I mean, I’m talking from a man’s perspective—so beautiful.
Barbara: Well, thanks; yes.
Dave: I’m not kidding; I was really—
Barbara: I should have asked you to endorse it, too, then. [Laughter]
Dave: I said [to Ann], “You read this thing and you endorse this thing; because this is really powerful for anybody, not just women.”
Barbara: Oh, thank you; thank you.
Ann: Tell us about your journey.
Barbara: Yes, well, there’s a back story to this book. I’ve told several people in the last few years: “I don’t know that I ever want to write another book again. It’s a lot of work; you don’t know if anybody ever reads it. Why am I going to put myself through that?”
But the last couple of years, we’ve been through an interesting journey—my husband and I—after we left FamilyLife®. Everything went smoothly; we love our new leaders, David and Meg Robbins; and everything is good.
But Dennis and I would wake up every morning in that first year, and we just felt this sense of loss. We were adrift, sort of, in an ocean that we had never been in before. You know, after you do something for 40 years in a row, and then all of a sudden you don’t do that anymore, there’s a big adjustment period. We knew there would be an adjustment time; but I, in my impatience, expected it to be three months. I kind of did that with the empty nest; did you too, Ann?
Ann: Yes, I did: “Oh, I’ll get used to it in a few months.”
Barbara: Yes; “It won’t take long; I’ll be just fine.”
But it is a lot like the empty nest; it’s just a whole new season. So during these last two years, I found myself reading through the Psalms over and over and over. Actually, Dennis was doing the same thing; we were both reading the Psalms every morning.
Ann: Why the Psalms?
Barbara: Well, it started because Dennis gave me this new Psalm book called The Psalter. I think you have one too; don’t you?
Ann: It’s so good.
Barbara: I started reading it just because it was a different version. The Psalms are still the Psalms, but each one has a short little devotion at the end of it.
I think, during that two-year period, both of us were just needing something that was calling out what was really in our hearts; we didn’t have words for it all the time. I remember, as I was reading the Psalms, I was thinking: “Oh, this makes sense now. I understand why David is feeling this way/why the psalmist used those words, because I feel those words.”
Then, about six months or so into it, I just/one day I thought, “I should maybe write some prayers; I wonder if I could do that.” I mean, it wasn’t even a complete thought; this idea just popped into my head, and I thought, “Yes, I’ll try that.”
Bob: Have you written out prayers before in your Christian life?
Barbara: Not really that much. I mean, I’ve done it occasionally; but not that much, really. I decided I would try it; and I just started writing what I was feeling, sort of in a pattern like the Psalms.
One of the things I learned about the Psalms is that all 150 minus one—so 149 of them—end in some kind of praise—some kind of adoration/some kind of positive, “But God is in control; I trust Him,”—some kind of summary like that. Even though David and the other psalmists write with great passion and they say: “God, where are You?” “Why aren’t You listening to me?” “My enemies are after me! I wish You would dash them on the rocks,”—I mean, they use really harsh language; but they come around, at the end, and say, “But I will trust You; I will wait for You.”
I started writing these really just for myself, because I felt like I needed to put words to what I was feeling; but I used that model. I wrote how I was feeling/what I was thinking, and then at the end, I would put, “But I trust You.” I would have psalms that would pop into my head—phrases/biblical phrases—and I know it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me and reminding me of different verses or phrases. I would tuck them in.
I just began to enjoy it. It was easy; it was easier than I thought, and it was really fun to express myself in that way. Instead of writing a chapter, or a three-page article, or something like that—to put it in more verse form was tapping a different kind of creativity in me—and I really enjoyed it. It was kind of fun to find these words that were unique or different—I don’t know; I liked it.
Bob: Were you sharing these prayers with anybody?
Barbara: Well, after I wrote a few of them, I thought, “This might make good fodder for my blog.” As I continued to write, I thought, “I’ll just put some of these in the blog, and that’ll give readers something different to hear and something different to try.” That was my original thought was: I was going to crank out some of these as I thought of them, and I would put them on the blog. I did put some of them on the blog.
Bob: And the response to them?
Barbara: It was actually really good; I had a couple of people write. I remember posting—one of the first ones I posted—is in the book; and it’s called “I’m Disappointed.” I wrote it one day because we had this huge, unexpected disappointment happen. We were counting on something happening at a certain time frame, and everything fell apart; and nothing happened as we had planned. I was so disappointed. I realized that I had been putting my hope in this circumstance that we were counting on, so as I wrote this psalm; I was thinking through: “How does God want me to respond? What does He want me to think?”
That was one of the first ones that I posted; and a lot of women said, “Oh, I get disappointed with God, too, when I think He’s not coming through like I thought He would come through.” We all think those things, but we don’t know what to do with them.
Dave: I’m guessing this is still how it came out—I’m looking at the manuscript—“I’m disappointed with God.” Here’s how you start: “I feel as if You don’t see what’s happening.” I remember reading this in my kitchen, thinking, “I’ve been there.” You know, I’m sure that’s why so many people responded.
Dave: Let me read it and just comment on it: “I feel as if You don’t see what’s happening, that perhaps You don’t care that we are experiencing this. I know differently—know the truth, still believe the truth—but I can’t feel any assurance of Your presence at this moment.”
Barbara: Yes, and I remember sitting on the couch when I wrote that, because that was—I mean, I just was saying exactly how I felt in the moment.
Because we’re trying to live our lives for Christ—we’ve been trying to do that since we were college students—there’s a part of us that, I think, we still think God plays on the reward system: “If I do this, He’s going to do that.” Even though we know better, in our heads, we get sucked into that way of thinking about God; and then the rug kind of comes out from underneath us and we’re going: “Well, wait a minute; where are You? I thought You were in this. I thought You were leading us to do this thing, but now it’s all falling apart?”
That was the back story of that particular one, because it was very real for us. Both of us were so disappointed and could not figure out why God let that fall apart.
Bob: Was there a part of you in writing that that felt like, “I shouldn’t write this”?
Barbara: Oh, yes; absolutely.
Bob: How did you deal with that tension between, “I should only write what I know is true and not what I’m feeling, because it’s wrong to admit this”?
Barbara: Yes; well, in the introduction, I wrote about why I was hesitant to be really truthful. I know—and most everybody knows—that God knows everything anyway, right? He knows what we’re getting ready to say before we say it, so why do I even need to tell Him?
After reading through the Psalms so much, I just began to see that there was some level of therapy—I think—some kind of soul care that coming to God with that kind of raw honesty gave us in return. There was something maybe—I don’t know—unseen about the way the Spirit works or something about His presence that, being really honest with Him, there was a connection that I didn’t see or necessarily feel; but He was there, and He was listening, and He liked hearing it.
I wrote about that in the intro—that I, for years, have been reluctant to pray that kind of gut-level prayers to God; because I knew of a couple of key stories in the Bible. One is the story of Job. Job complained a lot/a lot; and at the end of the Book of Job, God rebuked him for complaining. There’s the story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, and they complained and griped and complained and griped; and God was sick of it; He was really tired of it.
I didn’t want to make God frustrated with me or angry at me; I didn’t want God to rebuke me, so I think—and I even used this phrase in the book—my prayers tended toward “nice” for so long; because I thought: “I don’t want to be like the Israelites. I don’t want to be like Job.” But it was really a mental shift for me; because reading through the Psalms taught me—over and over again—taught me that God was okay with the way they worded everything.
I thought, “If God’s okay with David’s choice of words, and the way he’s expressing himself, then maybe there’s something there for me.” I would have to say that doing this: writing these prayers/putting my heart on paper in words really was therapy for my soul. It really was healing.
The thing that I was surprised to discover is that I really got to know God in a way that I’d never gotten to know Him before.
Ann: Why is that, Barbara?
Barbara: I just think that we were communicating on a level that we’d never communicated. I think there’s something invisible that happened in my heart and in my soul as I was praying/writing out these prayers, really thinking through, “What is it that I’m feeling?” and I would find the right word. Then I would think, “Okay, what else am I feeling?” and I’d think that through. I was really evaluating what was going on inside of me as I put it down on paper.
I think it pleased God; I really think it pleased Him, and I think I got to know Him better. Quite honestly, I really fell in love with God more through the process of doing this in these last two years than years before. I really understand what it means to adore Him. I really, genuinely feel adoration for God; and I know it’s because I was real with Him and I came to Him. He heard the worst that I had to offer, and He loved me anyway. It was a wonderful experience.
Ann: I know I felt so honored to endorse the book. As I read it, what struck me was the intimacy. It’s inspiring—the rawness, the realness, the intimacy—of that’s how we want to talk to God. That’s the kind of relationship that I want with God. That’s what has always drawn me to the Psalms, was David’s heart-wrenching honesty.
How did you come up with the topics? Because you have so many different things that you talk about. Some of your chapter titles are “Daughter of the King,”—which/that’s one of my favorites—when I read that first one, I loved it.
Dave: By the way, I’ll just say, when I picked it up, you know, I didn’t start on page one; I just have to be honest. [Laughter]
Barbara: Of course not!
Dave: Maybe nobody does; I never do.
Barbara: That doesn’t surprise me.
Bob: Do you look through the “Table of Contents”?
Dave: I do; and I saw, “Husbands.”
Ann: Wait; you didn’t read “Daughters of the King”? [Laughter]
Dave: No, I didn’t read that one—not first—but I saw “Husbands.” I felt like I knew you and Dennis as I read through what you said about husbands. I was like—that’s what I was struck—it was like, “Wow, this is so intimate.” It isn’t all, “I just love this guy”; it was like, “No, we have differences; and it’s really hard.”
Dave: Like Ann said, how did you decide what these topics would be? Was it just from the heart?
Barbara: Well, let me say this real quick, Dave—it was so funny—last night, I don’t even remember what I was doing; but I was doing something in another room. I came into the living room. I thought Dennis had been on his computer, kind of catching up on some things, sitting in a chair. I came in and said, “What are you doing?”
He said, “I’m reading your book.” I said, “You are?!” I had no idea; I’d just left it in there. He said, “Yes, I’m reading your book.” He said, “I really like it.” I said, “Well, what are you reading?” He said, “I’m reading the one on husbands.” [Laughter] He proceeded to read it out loud; and he said, “We really are different.” I said, “Yes.” The longer we’ve been married, I think the more different I realize we are. [Laughter]
But anyway, yes, that’s what I wanted to say on that one real quick—is that he was reading that last night—and we had a good chuckle.
Bob: So did you write that on a day when the differences were just right there in your face?
Barbara: I probably started it on a day like that; I may not have finished it on a day like that. That one—I don’t remember exactly—but there are other ones, like the “Disappointed with God”—
Ann: How about “In Need of Sleep”?
Barbara: “In Need of Sleep”; yes, that was one of the first ones. [Laughter] I got up in the morning, and I just was writing how I felt; because I struggle with sleeping. A lot of women do, and it’s just this perennial, ongoing dilemma that a lot of people live with; and I knew God knew.
Ann: I love that after you prayer, you write, “Interrupted sleep has been a companion of mine for most of my married years; and it is true for most women, of all ages and stages of life. I’ve been angry that my husband can sleep through anything, but I learned anger only made falling asleep even more difficult. I’ve memorized verses to repeat when I’m awake at night.” I love that you’re so honest in this.
And you start this one out: “Finally, I slide into the embrace of sheets, sigh, exhale deeply. Eyelids close; day is done. Almost asleep, consciousness floating, dreams alighting, breathing deeply. A cry; sudden alert; eyes wide; thoughts flitting: “I know baby ate enough. Is that just a dream?” “Will she go back to sleep?” “Will I?” That, right there, is motherhood. [Laughter]
Barbara: It is.
Ann: It’s not even just being a mom; it’s even after our kids are gone, we continue to struggle with that.
Barbara: Oh, all the time.
One of the ones that I’m thinking of, really quickly, you were talking about: “Where did these come from?” and “What inspired me?” Once I got started writing these prayers, just different circumstances, from day to day, would inspire me.
One day in May, I was in the airport. I was getting ready to jump on a flight and fly to Colorado, where two of our kids live, to stay with one of them and help them out. I was sitting in the gate area; and all of a sudden, I got a text on my phone. It was from my daughter, our youngest; and she was pregnant. It was about ten o’ clock in the morning, so it was a fairly early flight.
She said, “Mom, I’ve just started spotting.” I think she was three or four months pregnant, early on; this was her first baby. My heart just—both sank to my stomach and started pounding out of my body—both at the same time. It was just a text! I mean, I’m not even talking to her! I text her back, and I’m saying, “Well, have you called the doctor?” You know, as we moms do, start giving her all this list of things to do.
She didn’t answer me right away. By the time I got on the plane, she had said, “I’m calling the doctor.” Then I got on the plane; they shut the door, and communication’s over. I’m sitting in this plane, and my heart is breaking. I’m dying; I’m thinking, “I’m flying farther away from her,” I don’t want to; I don’t know what’s happening.
I started writing; and I wrote, “A Text from My Child.” That, in and of itself, right there, is enough for every mother to identify with; because you never know what it’s going to bring. “‘Something is wrong, Mom,’ she wrote. Breath catches; heart stops. I’m terrified,”—and I was; I was scared to death for her—“Thumbs text questions; mind races: imagining, conjuring, fearing the worst and the unknown. My life/her life; will we be okay? Will what we know today be no more? Will another loss be mine or ours to bear?”
Then I go on to talk about other fears that we’ve had: “When my child is late coming home, I fear. Has he been in a wreck? It was true of my friend, and her daughter died.” “My daughter’s fear is for her unborn babe. She knows too many friends who have suffered miscarriages, trisomy, and death just days after birth. I fear with her. Dark thoughts stalk; hands shake; faith stutters. My security in today is stolen.”
Then I remembered and wrote, “Take every thought captive.” I know that verse! I know we’re supposed to do that. But how in the world do you take thoughts captive when you’re overwhelmed with the situation?
Ann: I like how you described it; you said, “Taking every thought captive is like herding flocks of birds, wildly fluttering, in my mind.” That was so descriptive.
Barbara: Yes, because that’s what I felt like. I just felt like everything was swirling; it was all out of control; and “How could I possibly corral that and bring it in?”
Then I wrote: “Yet He who created the birds of the air could, with a word, tame them. Why not my fears?” I was feeling, in that moment, “I know God loves me, but I’m terrified; I’m scared to death. I’m crying out to You in my heart: ‘Why aren’t You giving me peace that You have this?’”
God allows us, I think, to be in those places—not because He doesn’t want to act—I think because He knows we need to be there and wait for Him. He’s not this instant magic-wand, fairy-godmother kind of God; and I think we go there too often. He knows what He’s doing as a good father.
Bob: I think moms and dads, listening to you describe this, are thinking: “Yes, I’ve felt that; I’ve been there,” “I’ve had those thoughts; I’ve had those fears.” To have someone articulate them—help me articulate what I’m feeling, give me language that maybe I couldn’t give myself, and then point me in the right direction—that’s a gift. You’ve given us 40 gifts in this book/40 prayers.
We need to come back—we need to find out what happened with your daughter—but let me let our listeners know: we want to make Barbara’s new book, My Heart, Ever His, available to those of you who can support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. I think most of you know FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. If God is using this program in your life—if it’s an encouragement, if it’s helping you in your walk with Christ, if it’s helping you in your marriage as you raise your kids—we want to ask you to continue making this program possible for you and for your neighbors by making a donation today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
When you do, you can request Barbara Rainey’s book, My Heart, Ever His. It’s our thank-you gift to you when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Again, donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of Barbara Rainey’s book, My Heart, Ever His.
Finish the story for us, Barbara. Tell us what happened with your daughter.
Barbara: Well, when we landed in Denver, I had a text waiting for me; she said, “All is well.” It was, and she gave birth—I don’t know, five months later/something like that—to their firstborn. He’s adorable, and we love him dearly.
But it was such a good experience for me to live with that fear for the two-hour plane flight to Denver: to sit in that and to know that God knew what He was doing and He was in control; and even though I didn’t feel like it, it was okay for me to sit with my fear/to sit with my anxiety and continue to remind myself what I knew was true. Even if it hadn’t turned out to be good, I have to cling to what I know is true about God; because that doesn’t ever change, even though my circumstances do.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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