Dr. Karen Jones made her way to my ground-floor office. As she blinked back tears in her hazel eyes, she broke the news that funding from the State Department of Education hadn’t arrived.
What she didn’t say was, without those funds, my job would go away. But both of us knew that was true.
I was stunned. Neither of us could believe it. For seven years, Karen and I had worked hand in glove providing summer workshops for special education teachers. Now it seemed our partnership was coming to an end.
Not only that, but at 60 years old, I would be back on the streets of Athens, Georgia, looking for a job.
My position had been perfect—20 hours a week with full benefits. With a husband in full-time ministry, my benefits package was more important than the income. In addition, I didn’t work on Fridays, which left time for Christian Campus Fellowship at the University of Georgia, which my husband and I have served since 1982. Part-time employment also allowed me to accept speaking engagements and writing workshops, plus spend time with my seven grandsons.
Shaken but Positive
We were shaken, but we resolved to stay positive. It was January, and we knew governmental bureaucracy moved slowly. There was a chance funding would come through by spring. My position was secure until the end of June.
Perhaps the agency was unusually slow in approving the grant requests this year. Karen and I prayed for the grant to be renewed. Days passed. Nothing changed.
By early February it became apparent there would be no state funding for the teacher workshops. I began to look at the university’s job postings. There wasn’t much to pick from, and every position was full time. I didn’t want to work full time again, but told God I would do whatever was necessary to continue our insurance and health benefits.
I prayed. I asked others to pray. It was imperative I find another job so our benefits would not lapse. I applied for a university museum position, but the person I needed to speak with was out of town. No other job leads seemed promising. I pondered what else to do. Going somewhere else meant starting over. What now, God?
Testing the Waters of Prayer
I learned to pray at an early age, just like most youngsters in the Bible Belt. I began with simple prayers at bedtime, before meals, and when someone was sick. I progressed to eventually wording my own requests. Until I was a teen, I don’t think I really expected answers to all of my prayers. As my faith matured, however, I tested the waters of prayer many times.
When our family endured hardship in ministry, when a thief stole our possessions, when our daughter experienced a divorce, and when loved ones endured debilitating illness, I turned to my heavenly Father. He never failed to answer all of my requests. Sometimes, in his infinite love and grace, the answer was a blessed “yes.” Sometimes God closed the doors with “no.”
But often my heavenly Father, not unlike my earthly one, would say “not now.” That answer gave me the most trouble. A friend pointed out that “not now” doesn’t mean “never,” but as with most humans, I want what I want when I want it.
Scripture shows us many types of prayers: thanksgiving, intercession, healing, petition, and the list goes on. I knew about these plus a wide assortment of prayer techniques: subject by subject, sentence prayer, silent periods of directed prayer, meditation, and small group prayer.
I led workshops on prayer and encouraged people to keep a prayer journal, taught hedgerow praying from Hosea, spiritual warfare prayer as found in the Epistles and Gospels, conversational prayer, and concerts of prayer.
With all of my knowledge about prayer, I failed to grasp the value of the simple request from a child to her heavenly Father.
As June 30 neared, I became frustrated and more than a little concerned. The faith of my husband, Tim, was my rock. He knew my heart and insisted, “It will all work out.” But I wasn’t so sure.
Perhaps I wasn’t praying in God’s will. Maybe in my heart I harbored doubt. Perhaps I was overlooking some secret sin I hadn’t confessed. I tried to reason my way into an answer. But Tim’s knee surgery required that I step away and take sick leave in order to care for him.
Just Three Words
I had been back to work a couple of days when I decided to phone the human resources office. The director listened to my story, asked a few questions, and opened my computer file.
Then he said the most beautiful words: “Sheila, you can retire.” But I didn’t accept his verdict. I reminded him that I had enough years in the retirement system, but I fell three years short of being vested in my present job. I only had seven years but needed 10 years.
“Not at all,” he explained. “You are 60. You can retire.” With just three words he had showed me God’s answer to my prayer,
I immediately filled out the appropriate paperwork and made plans to retire on July 1. I knew God was at work. If the grant money had come in as usual, I would not have checked on my retirement status for three more years.
Praying expectantly and waiting for those prayers to be answered taught me patience. When I asked God for grant funds, he said “no.” Then I asked God for another job so I could continue our health benefits, and God said “no” again. I didn’t know the outcome. I only knew he had given this position to me and he would provide, but how?
Instead of what I asked for, God gave me something better—retirement with full benefits. This new freedom affords me time to write, travel, volunteer, and spend time with my family. What a wonderful gift!
Just like he promised, God gave me more than I dreamed of and more than I asked for, but he chose to do it on his timetable, not mine. In his own time and in his own way, God’s words to the weeping prophet became mine, “I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home” (Jeremiah 29:10, 11, The Message).
Another prophet gave me a glimpse of God’s love and concern for me. “‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10).
My faith has become more vibrant and my walk more confident since I learned to pray expectantly. Praying expectantly moves belief from the possible to the practical. Praying expectantly ignites exuberance in everyday life.
Sheila Hudson is a freelance writer living in Athens, Georgia.