That Edith Schaeffer's 1992 book, The Life of Prayer, has long been out of print may be a sad commentary about the state of Christian publishing or, even, the state of evangelical spirituality. I hope it’s the prior, and not the latter, but whatever direction I point to I ultimately must take the blame as well. In a noisy culture where busyness is rewarded, prayer is easily marginalized. I know, because I’ve done it.
The Life of Prayer, written by a woman in her mid-Seventies, after the death of her husband, and after a life of self-sacrifice and service, is rich with wisdom, creativity, and practical advice. In other words, all that the writer says about prayer is rooted in her life experience. This is invaluable. At the moment I’m re-reading Chapter Two, “Affliction and Prayer – Suffering and Prayer,” where Edith says that “[i]t seems to me that there is a need to be aware of our suffering giving us a tiny measure of understanding of Christ’s suffering,” and I know that this is prose backed by the experience of her own sickness, that of her husband (who suffered and died of cancer), and her young son (who contracted polio). In other words, it’s real. She has lived it. I don’t think the truth of her statement (which echoes that of the Apostle Paul, who speaks not of the removal of suffering but of what it produces in us --- a patient endurance and means of sharing in the far greater sufferings of Christ) is learned without experience. That’s wisdom.
But there’s creativity too. Flipping over to Chapter Six, entitled “When Pray? Why Pray?,” she commends us to “examine the possibilities in our own days and nights. There are waiting times --- for buses, trains, trams, planes, red lights. . . times that can be used to pray in the words of a remembered Psalm, or a hymn, or in asking for mercy and forgiveness, or in thanking God for his blessings, or in praying for someone who is on our mind.” She speaks of being “alone” in the middle of a crowded city bus, and I remember reading that section many years ago as if it was a fresh insight. So simple, and yet so easy to forget. It makes me want to reclaim all of life’s margins for prayer.
Finally, there’s practical advice. “Helps in Being Real in Prayer” is especially useful, as when talking with God we can, as silly as it seems, hold back. One reading of the Psalms should illustrate how boldly (and even audaciously) we can approach the Father. “If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?",” leaves us in mystery, and yet with deeply satisfying wonder at that truth which is just beyond our reach. There’s even advice and wisdom about fasting and prayer.
Reading Edith Schaeffer you have the sense that you are sitting across the table from the woman, and though she does ramble on (a fact I can personally testify to), she does so with a generous love and with great wisdom. There’s a lot to learn from someone who has lived a life of prayer. Find the book, if you can. Read it. Then live it. It’s a lost gem.