The goal of prayer is to draw us into relationship with Christ. The core of prayer is a growing intimacy with our God. We all pray differently, each of us reflecting the image of God differently in our spirits and connecting with him in our unique way.
And yet if we dig to the heart of it, there is one question that lies at the heart of every prayer, yet it seems to me it is the one question we are most afraid to ask. Or perhaps what we fear most is not the question itself, but the answer we’ll hear if we listen.
What we are all really longing to know as we draw near to Christ is this: “What do you think of me, Lord?” What does God have to say about us? Or as I phrased it in my book, “Who does he say you are?”
We are desperate to know who we are in Christ, how our identity is transformed by our relationship with him, who he makes us when he redeems us and restores us to life and offers us resurrection joy. And yet, so often, we shy away from boldly asking that question and sitting still to listen for the answer.
Or at least I know I do. There are many reasons why we might be afraid to ask that question. Sin can certainly make us sheepish to sit before God and let him tell us what he thinks of us. But in my life, while sin alienates from God in an expected way, it is the unexpected timidity that loss, suffering and pain have brought to my heart that have been the biggest obstacle to seeking true intimacy with Christ in prayer—an intimacy that sits open and vulnerable before him and lets him tell me what he thinks of me.
That is the place I came from when I penned the words to Who Does He Say You Are: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels. In a few short years’ time, I had buried by sixth son at just three months old, a healthy baby boy who died suddenly in his sleep, and experienced two of what would eventually be four subsequent miscarriages. My husband lost his business and, later, a dream job opportunity. And then we suddenly found ourselves embracing a new calling as foreign missionaries in a faraway corner of Costa Rica.
I knew the early quiet days of life in this tucked away place had to be dedicated to prayer if I was going to make it in this new life. And I knew how badly my heart needed healing. But I found myself halting and uncertain when I came to prayer; my pain making a God I thought I knew suddenly unfamiliar to me.
But as I drew deeper into the heart of prayer in the quiet early days of our life on the mission field, I learned my fear and timidity were unfounded. The women of the Gospels drew me out of my fear and back to the heart of our Savior by showing me in their encounters with him the way he consistently answers when we allow him to tell us who we are.
The answer, while individual and unique for each of us, always echoes with the same reverberations of the heart of our God, “You are deeply loved, fully known, delighted in, held, lifted up, and free. There is space for you in my heart, and I long desperately for you to take it all it up.”
As God invited me into the stories of the women Christ encounters in the Gospels, he not only invited me into the hearts of my sisters, but into his own heart for me. He offered me healing, restored purpose, and renewed joy as my very real pain collided with the possibility and joy of a new life serving him. And he offered it to me through these women and the ways his great love for them transformed their identities. He reminded that my loss, my pain, or even my new life, were not who I was. That the heart of who I am lies in who he made me to be and my relationship with him.
If I am willing to risk drawing near to him and sitting still while I ask the one question that pounds deepest in every human heart, if I am willing to let him tell me who he says I am, I will never, ever be ashamed, afraid, or isolated by the answer. He always waits patiently, longs desperately, and reaches out invitingly, desiring for me to know his love and mercy and be made new by it.
This is the message at the heart of my book. I wrote it because I realized in re-learning this great spiritual lesson myself, that it was my heart beat for every other woman in the world. I want us to know that we can come scandalously close to Jesus the way the women of the Gospels did without fear of being turned away, shunned, or humiliated. Jesus is the lifter of our heads, and he draws us out of the dust and the parched wilderness of our sin and suffering into fruitful, passionate relationship with him. And he does it not grudgingly, but enthusiastically. His heart bled and broke wide open for the opportunity to draw us into his space love.
Has God been undoing you in your life in some way? Has it left you a little afraid to come close and ask him the deepest question of who you really are? Can I encourage you to know that you do not have to be afraid, shy, or embarrassed to be fully vulnerable to your God? That his answer will always free you, heal you, and transform you.
Join me in asking the God who put on human skin for you who it is he says that you are, and be made new by his response.
Colleen C. Mitchell is a wife, mother and missionary in Costa Rica. She is the author of Who Does He Say You Are?: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels.