[All photos from Unsplash]
“Do you need prayer?” she asks, once I’m a few feet from her.
“Yes,” I say, “I really do.” I smile.
“Anything in particular?” she asks.
“Uh, just anything that comes to your mind,” I say.
“Okay,” she says and shuts her eyes. She lays her hand on my shoulder. “God, thank you for…” She looks up. “What’s your name?” she asks.
“Liz,” I say. “What’s yours?”
“Oh, I’m Emily,” she says.
“Nice to meet you,” I say and smile.
She smiles and then shuts her eyes and bow her head again: “God, thank you for Liz…,” she says. Then she’s quiet. I wait. And wait. I look up. Emily’s lips are moving, and I can hear small breaths of airs, whispers of speech. Then she says slowly, “Liz, I have a picture in my mind of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.”
My breath catches. Two hours earlier, I had sat in my grandmother’s bathtub reading a book – Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling – and I read about Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, a son given to Abraham by God after his one-hundredth birthday by a wife deemed barren, the “son of his old age, against every expectation.”
I read, “Abraham knew that it was God the Almighty that tried him, he knew it was the hardest sacrifice that could be demanded of him; but he also knew that no sacrifice was too hard when God demanded it – and he drew the knife. Abraham had faith and did not doubt. He believed the ridiculous.”
At the time, I thought of what the book of Hebrews in the Bible also says about Abraham – that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise Isaac from the dead.”
“Ridiculous,” I now think, “This is at least as ridiculous as Jesus’s own resurrection.”
I say aloud, “I’m familiar with the story.”
“So, do you think that story applies to you at all? Like, maybe you are holding back something God is asking you to sacrifice because you love it more than you love God. Can you think of anything like that?
“Yes,” I say.
“What is it?” she asks.
“I don’t want to live here,” I say.
“Wait, in Colorado?” she says.
“Have you ever been to Colorado before?”
“Not to live,” I say.
“And God wants you to live here?”
“I’m not sure. But I’m here now because He brought me here,” I say.
“How did you end up here?” she asks.
“Well…” I pause. “How much time do you have?” She smiles. I look around – nobody else seems to be waiting in line to pray with her. “Okay, I’ll try to give you the short version: I just graduated from college in Chicago and my plans to stay in the area fell through at the last minute, so I ended up here because I have extended family in town who offered me free rent and free food and work as an unpaid intern at two nonprofits in town. Also I had an anxiety attack just thinking about living through another midwestern winter. And I didn’t want to move in with my parents because they’re crazy, so I didn’t feel like I had a choice – everything seemed to point here. But I moved around a lot growing up, so I’d rather just stay put for awhile, which is why I wanted to stay in Chicago instead of start all over again…” I pause. “Anyway, that’s the gist of things,” I say. “You know, you’re the first person who’s asked me that question since I got here.”
She nods and smiles. “Sounds like you’re going through a lot of change,” she says. I laugh.
I nod. I look down at the carpet and fold my hands. I breathe in and out. Then I say, “God…” I pause. “I’m sorry for holding back Isaac,” I say. I wipe my face. “I trust you,” I say.
Suddenly I remember a church service a month earlier. I am standing in a high school auditorium in the aisle, and Father Kevin places a hand on my back and I tell confess that I don’t trust my own heart. I have always wanted there to be a husband and kids in my future, I say, and I just know it’s wrong to want something more than I want God.
He nods very seriously. “Well, we have a lot to pray about then,” he says.
We close our eyes and he prays, “God, give back this offering to Liz like you gave back Isaac to Abraham.” I look up in surprise.
He smiles and says, “You are young, Liz, and God has many good gifts to give you yet.”
Eventually I will learn this truth, that my desires come from God, my good Father; but for now, Father Kevin’s prayer remains a mystery, and I come back to this moment, with Emily’s hand resting on my shoulder.
I say again to God, “I trust you,” and I try to mean it (but don’t).
This is the beginning of the serial publications of scenes from my in-progress falling-in-love memoir, about the anguished, beautiful, and spiritual way that my husband and I met, fell in love, and married.
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