When I was a girl of 7 or 8 years, I laid awake most nights praying to have a friend. There in the darkness, I'd repeat the lament of a lonely child—a small, particular, not especially poetic petition, yet a somewhat common prayer for we, the playground loners. Invariably, my prayers ended with a song learned at Vacation Bible School that I'd sing until the respite of sleep finally came: "When I need a friend to get me through the night, God is there....God is there, always there, with a helping hand to lift my load of care. He'll be faithful to the end, on his promise I'll depend, when I really need a friend, God is there."
This is my earliest memory of prayer. And, though I have since prayed in the face of greater personal and corporate evil and suffering, my prayers rarely possess the desperation and hope I bore to God those sleepless nights. Now when I can't sleep, I do a crossword puzzle, put on Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, or sit on my front porch singing hymns.
We are approaching Advent, the season in which we act out anticipating God incarnate. Though we know the outcome of that story, we are mindful not to jump too quickly ahead to the manger, bypassing the complexity of living in light and darkness. In the hurry to get to Bethlehem, don't ignore the long donkey ride or forget about wandering in the wilderness. Don't lose sight of the trepidation and wondering that comes with not knowing what comes next.