Recently, I have prayed this exact prayer for several people in my life:
The situations have varied. Some were hopeful, some hurting, some just in my thoughts for one reason or none at all, and since I still have no idea how the Holy Spirit operates in my life I prayed just in case.
This isn’t a generic prayer. I just pray these words over again for lack of better ones. I pray these words because I know God is good, but I don’t know him well enough yet to know how that goodness will look around these parts. Sometimes I pray for specific outcomes, tagged with the clumsy disclaimer Thy will be done. More often I don’t know how to pray at all; I only know I must.
But most often of all I pray these words over my children. Every day or night, while half awake or otherwise preoccupied, I whisper these words like a mantra, a superstition.
God, protect the heart.
I pray it selfishly and mindlessly and so often, it is a second nature, a second skin. I want God to hear me: make their way easy.
I don’t mean for them to not know hard work or the reward of such. I don’t mean for their lives to be shallow, lacking depth or meaning. But I want to shield them from things that wrench the gut and bleed life from the heart. I never want to see them break, or even buckle.
I work — and that’s exactly what it is: work — to protect them. To safeguard them. I keep vigilance for monsters and villains, hoping God is up to the same, not really knowing how my perception of the monsters and villains might differ from his.
I want to keep them from heartache.
God, protect the heart.
I am (hesitantly) learning what a selfish and shortsighted prayer this is, whether I am praying it over a friend or a stranger or a story or my own children.
I think what God wants me to realize is this: yes, the world is broken and painful and frightened. But the only way to heal it is to sink into the cracks. I cannot do it whole; I simply won’t fit within the brokenness. I have to shatter; I must grow smaller and lighter and more easily scattered to fit between those cracks, within the broken places.
Those are the places that matter; those are the places we all find ourselves. Those are the places God is most present, working tirelessly to move the world back to him, back to wholeness. To those places God calls his rescued; he invites us to dive in, to get dirty, to let this broken world touch us and seep beneath our skin and destroy our hearts. It is an invitation to work beside him, shoulder-to-shoulder, broken heart-to-broken heart.
I think God wants me to realize the pain and the work and the heartache, the broken spirits and bones and hearts, are where he is most. And if I want to find him, to see him the clearest, I will need to fit inside those cracks.
And if I want the world to know God, to know his handiwork, to fall in love with him the way I so want to, the way he so divinely deserves, I will need to fit inside those cracks.
And if I want my friends and my family and my precious, diligently protected children to encounter the living, working, healing God, then they will need to fit inside those cracks.
So maybe I should choose my words more carefully and pray more recklessly.
Maybe not that God would protect the heart.
Maybe that God would shatter the heart into one that beats more like his.