I’m at a writer’s conference in Homer, Alaska this week. I came here with no intention of going to all of the sessions. I’m getting enough conference to fuel my own writing time. The rest of the time I’m sitting in this very homey yurt writing, eating oatmeal and yogurt, and poking my head out every so often to enjoy the view from the oceanside bluff 15 feet away. This morning I skipped a breakfast cruise on a sunny day in one of the most beautiful bays on the planet to write. That’s how well writing is going. I don’t regret it.
This morning I looked at the day’s schedule and saw a panel discussion on how to get a literary agent. My first thought was, “I suspect that, when I’m ready, I’ll just ask for one.” I needed time off work to write, I asked for it, and I got it. I needed a reader, I asked for one, and I met a former Hollywood story analyst on Match. (Who even knew “story analysis” was even a thing? I didn’t.) The day I started writing, I wrote about humpback whales in nearby Turnagain Arm. When I’d finished writing about them, I went for a hike on a ridge overlooking Turnagain Arm and—guess what?—there were humpback whales. Humpbacks in Turnagain are an infrequent enough occurrence that there were news crews lining the side of the road to catch them on camera. The universe seems to care about my writing.
Now, it’s easy to point this things out flippantly, and I’m a bit ashamed to say that I’ve done that. Maybe even more than once… Need something? Just ask God. He cares about your desires and your needs more than you do, especially if you’re on His path. JUST ASK. Your words have power! I mean… whales, amiright? But as I thought through what it has taken for me to be prepared for those requests to be filled (or to be worthy of them when they are filled), I realize just how much work and change on my part these prayers have required. Before I ever asked my boss for time off work, I’d had a strange inkling two years earlier that I should learn to live on less. I worked toward that. For two years. Before I ever understood why I’d want to do it or even had a desire to ask for it. That’s a case of God preparing me to ask.
Then there’s the Reader… I asked for one, thinking I needed someone to help tell me if my writing was accomplishing what I wanted it to. Of course, he can do that well, but what he’s REALLY done for me is help me uncover my real purpose in writing. I thought I was going to get advice on craft, he’s helped me uncover the meaning I was going for. When you’re writing a memoir, that is a difficult and often painful process. It’s not just about figuring out the real subject of my book, it’s figuring out the meaning of events in my life. I didn’t know it when I asked for a Reader, but I needed someone to ask me pesky questions so I could understand myself. As he says sometimes, “You needed someone to read YOU.” It’s been nine months working with him of really brutal soul-searching (which includes a lot of writing things out that will never see the light of day) to get to where I can finally write the thing that was in my heart, I can finally SEE it for myself. After a year and a half total of writing, I’m finally writing things that may actually make it into a book. Maybe.
I’ve found that when God reveals or provides something, it is not usually a resolution to a problem. Or, it may resolve the obvious problem, but it is a gateway to uncovering the much more complex underlying problem that I didn’t even know was there. It’s not the end of the story, it’s the beginning. My pastor likes to say that God never does anything that will make us less dependent on Him. If I asked for a candy bar and He gave me one and I skipped off to do my own thing… It doesn’t accomplish anything besides me having a candy bar, and that’s just not usually the way He works. He’s never done that in my experience. Even my infamous red boots—the ones plastered all over this blog, the ones He turned red just for me—I had to PAY FOR THOSE with a couple hundred bucks I probably would have used for other things if He hadn’t done that. I literally bought into—invested in—His response to my prayer. And they weren’t the end of the story. They were the beginning of me asking more and more boldly, of learning to push toward the answer when it doesn’t come right away. They opened a whole vista of possibilities in prayer that I had no clue about.
Jesus said, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9) I think we read those words expecting God’s solutions to be simpler than our own. We figure out what we want or need and how to get there, and then we ask. We expect the heavy lifting to be in the completion rather than in the execution of the solution. We ask Him to do the task we think will put the last nail in what we want, assuming our job is to figure out everything else (Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said we “ask amiss”?) I have found that His answers are much more complex and nuanced than I could imagine on my own, and they usually require a lot of learning and growing on my part. He doesn’t just put the roof on my need, he works with me to build the house from the foundation up.
It’s funny how that verse is followed by one that sounds repetitive if you’re not reading carefully: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10) The first verse is about the actions of asking, seeking, and finding. The second is about BEING someone who asks, who seeks, and who finds. Actions vs character traits. If I let Him, God uses my request to turn me into something new.
Those verses are preceded by a story about getting what you ask for if you are persistent (Luke 11:5-8). I’m starting to think that persistence pays off because it gives me opportunity to grow my heart and enlarge my mind to prepare me for God’s solution. Every time I repeat my request, I am a different person from the one who asked last time. They are milestones on my path to becoming an Asker, a Seeker, an Opener. Whenever I ask, I’ve rounded a bend in the path and I can see more. I’ve heard the C.S. Lewis quote all my life, “It [prayer] doesn’t change God. It changes me.” I think I am finally starting to understand that.
So, I will ask for a literary agent. I will ask now, and I will keep asking. I will acknowledge that in asking for a “literary agent,” I may get more than I bargained for. My path to being ready for one might include panel discussions on literary agents, but it might not. I know that, when I ask God, the path is a whole lot less about strategy and a whole lot more about asking and letting His guidance change me. I expect that I will get an agent, and I also expect to be a different person by the time I do.