“Somebody stole my purse! It has all my medicine, my driver’s license and my money, everything!” The woman wailed, drawing the attention of every other customer in the store. “I’m from out of town! I won’t even be able to get home!”
Our store’s security officer stationed himself at the front door to make sure nobody could leave with the missing purse. I rushed to the distraught customer, a white-haired woman in her eighties. Her pale, anguished face reflected the terror she felt at losing the security of these personal possessions.
Unfortunately, as manager of a nonprofit thrift store in a high-crime area, I had seen too many items stolen to hold out much hope of recovering her purse.
“Where do you think you left it?” I asked, dreading her answer.
“In my shopping cart.”
I knew recovery of a purse left in a neglected shopping cart was probably hopeless. “Where’s your cart?” I asked, trying not to let her see my dismay.
The woman glanced wildly around, lost and bewildered. I helped her search until we located the cart, then pawed through her items until I reached the bottom. The woman panicked all over again when she saw that her purse wasn’t there.
“Lord, please grant us favor in this instance and help us find this poor woman’s purse,” I prayed a quick, silent prayer before suggesting we retrace her steps.
“I think I went over this way,” the woman said, hobbling vaguely toward men’s clothing.
When I asked her to describe the purse, she said it was brown with a little leopard patch on the handle. She continued to moan, so I draped an arm around her shoulder and whispered, “Calm down. We’re going to find your purse. We’re going to find it because I’ve prayed about this.” As I said this, I glanced to my right and the tip of a leopard handle caught my eye. Her purse was half-submerged in a crate of neckties that had been shoved under the men’s shirt rack.
“There it is,” I exclaimed, pointing triumphantly to the leopard purse handle.
The woman pulled her purse from the crate and with me steadying her arm, moved toward the front of the store. Several people at the cash register clapped and cheered. “We were praying about this!” a couple of them chimed in.
The security officer checked the purse to see if everything was there, and not one item was missing.
I don’t mean to imply in relating this incident that prayer is some kind of magic wand we can wave over a situation. I do believe we can and should pray in every situation. But those who incorporate prayer into their lives as a steady, ongoing conversation with God know that although sometimes our prayers are answered with miracles, on other occasions they are met with discouraging, agonizing silence. People who pray have most likely encountered the sick person who wasn’t healed, the addict who succumbed to his addictions, or the marriage that ended in divorce.
But apparent silence doesn’t deter the person whose prayer is an expression of a relationship with God rather than a laundry list of requests. Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, writes: “To pray is to change. prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.”
My own spiritual journey was transformed when I agreed to pray with a prayer partner who asked to meet with me every two weeks. Our first meeting was at Starbucks where, prayer journals in hand, we discussed the issues that were near and dear to our hearts. At first, we focused on family concerns and health issues, but as our prayer partnership evolved, we began to focus more and more on prayers for other people.
In those bi-monthly visits we recorded our prayer requests in our journal, then prayed together in my friend’s car. No issue was off limits, with our prayers ranging from serious, life-changing things like terminal illness and addiction to things as trivial as success of our weight loss programs.
We can look back on our prayer journals now, decades later, and see how God answered prayers in astounding ways. Many times we experienced a waiting period, when God’s silence was deafening. Where is God, we wondered during those times. But the record in our journals revealed that He was there. During the course of our prayer partnership, relationships were restored, marriages mended, job opportunities provided and people healed. Sometimes it happened right away and sometimes after many years, but our journals were a tangible reminder of God’s work in our lives.
People can choose to believe these outcomes would have occurred anyway, or they can see the recordings in our prayer journals as evidence of answered prayer.
I’ve described the incident of the missing purse to several people, and the story has met with mixed reactions. My prayer partner said, “That really is an astonishing answer to prayer!”
The pastor of my church said, “It’s a good thing she found it, so she won’t have a bad impression of Atlanta.”
My mother, always pragmatic, said, “Did she thank you for finding it?”
My own reaction is that we should pray about everything, the big and the small, without worrying about how other people might respond. We just might experience a miracle.
I like these words of Albert Einstein: “There are two ways to live; you can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.
I choose to believe in miracles.