Puzzled About Prayer
Heaven asks no surplice round the heart that feels,
And all is holy where devotion kneels.
Edwin’s distress of mind and his confusion of thought were greatly increased when, a few days after the vision in the field, there was another strange occurrence. The stones had not all been gathered into piles, but the work was progressing well, and when Edwin occasionally stopped in his work to note the appearance of the large field, he was pleased with what he had accomplished. The burden of his thought, however, was not the work nor the neatness of the place. Neither was it the beautiful scenery of slightly rolling country, the Christmas stories and legends connected with Blue Mountain, nor the ghost-stories and horrors in the home of the witch. Even the vision of eternity was a thing of the past.
“If only I knew! If only I could tell, before I die, on which of the roads I am traveling to eternity!” was the constant cry of his troubled soul. Once when these words had just escaped his lips, he suddenly heard a strange and rumbling sound that seemed to come from the very heart of the earth, and he felt the ground beneath his feet begin to shake. Unable to understand what had happened, Edwin hastened to the house, but the people there were as mystified as he himself, except that they said, “Surely it must have been an earthquake!” and some suggested that the end of the world might be near. With this bit of knowledge, Edwin returned to his work, but oh, how heavy was his heart!
“Why is it so hard,” he cried, “to discover the secret that is causing me all this worry and trouble?” But the words had no sooner escaped his lips than he added, “There is and there must be some way to find out, and I’ll keep on trying until I know that it is of no use to try.”
Across the fields on a pretty knoll stood the humble little dwelling of Frank Kauffman and his wife, and as Edwin glanced occasionally in that direction, he wondered if his friend would be able to enlighten him about the earthquake, and he planned to visit him that very evening after supper.
Frank’s home, although small, was always cozy and inviting; for Amanda, long before Frank married her, had been taught by her energetic, systematic mother, Mrs. Miller, the principles of good housekeeping. And Frank, although not a Christian, had been reared by a pious and devoted mother, who in all her ways endeavored to set before her children an example that she would not be ashamed to have them follow, and she was a woman who knew the value of prayer. For this reason Frank could easily talk on a few of the principles of religion; but when it came to the actual experiences, he was at a loss to know what to say.
But although Frank’s mother was so noble and true, his father’s goodness was only from a moral standpoint, and regardless of the evil effect that his smoking might have upon his three growing boys, he very much enjoyed his pipe. As a result of the father’s indulgence, Frank and his two brothers, when scattered out in homes of their own, said, “Father smoked and seems none the worse for it, and I guess a little tobacco will not hurt us.”
But the fact that some of her family smoked at all never ceased to be a great worry to Mrs. Kauffman, and whenever there was an opportunity she reminded them of their fault. And as Frank’s home was but a short distance from his mother’s, Edwin’s visits were noticed by the anxious woman, and when she found that he too was a tobacco-user, she was much worried about the influence he might have over her son.
After she had expressed her fears concerning Edwin, one day to Frank, her son answered, “Mother, you are doing Edwin a great injustice; for instead of his being an evil associate, he is not only noble and good, but a pattern of good works, for even in the use of tobacco he is moderate and neat. More than this,” Frank continued, “Edwin is very much interested in religion, and many times I am unable to answer his questions because they are so deep.”
Could Mrs. Kauffman have known Edwin at this time, she would certainly have been of a different opinion, and she might have helped him through some of his difficulties; but she knew nothing of the perplexities of his mind, and Edwin did not know of her anxieties concerning his influence over her son.
When Edwin saw the evening shades beginning to gather, he was glad, and as soon as his supper and evening duties were over, he made his way across meadow and fields to the home of his friend, and he did not forget to carry with him a generous supply of dried tobacco-leaves, which he had tied up in a large red handkerchief. The leaves were for his friend and him to smoke while they talked.
As he passed the place in the field where he had felt the shock of the earthquake, he remembered, that he had not told Frank about the vision of eternity and hell that was still fresh in his memory, and then so rapidly were the things suggested to his mind that he would like to say, that he began to wonder if he would be able to unburden his heart in so short a time.
When he approached the house, he saw his friend Frank seated upon the porch. Frank was resting after a hard day’s work in the field, but he gave Edwin a hearty welcome and bade him be seated beside him. Edwin took the chair, and the two were soon loading their pipes from the dried tobacco-leaves contained in the red handkerchief. Then as the circles of blue smoke began to arise in the air, Frank asked:
“Did you feel or hear over at your place anything of the earthquake?”
“Yes, and I should like to know more about it,” Edwin answered.
“It shook the windows and doors in our house so hard that my wife couldn’t imagine for a time what was happening,” Frank continued, “and my horse in the field came very near getting away from me.”
“It seemed to me,” Edwin remarked, “that the whole field where I was working was going to pieces and that I was going right down into eternity.”
Then, as they smoked, Edwin told his friend all about his vision and explained how dreadful he felt it would be to land in such an awful place when he came to leave this world.
“I guess you felt like saying a prayer about the time you found yourself in hell, didn’t you?” Frank asked as Edwin finished relating the incident.
The awful picture of the future world that had been painted in words had caused Frank to shudder, for he was not prepared to die. It might have been Frank’s manner and it might have been the tone in which the word “prayer” was spoken that caused Edwin to exclaim:
“Prayer! what is prayer?”
“Prayer,” Frank replied, “is man’s way of talking with God. When anybody tells God what he wants, he prays; and God has promised to hear his words and to help him out of his troubles. But the person who prays must speak from his heart and not try to say a lot of words that he has learned from someone else or from a book. A prayer from the heart is the only kind that God will hear.”
“What do you mean by talking with God?” Edwin asked in a still more mystified tone, for he had never thought of man while still on the earth or in fact anywhere else, as speaking with God in heaven.
After Frank had explained that such a thing was possible, Edwin exclaimed:
“Who can make such a prayer? Do you know of any one who can?”
The twilight shades had all disappeared from the sky above, and it was already dark where Frank and Edwin were sitting, but inside the cozy living-room Amanda, seated beside a table, upon which a kerosene-lamp was burning, was quietly knitting. Pointing in her direction, Frank said, confidently:
“There’s one who can pray. And she prays from the heart.”
Although Edwin had been in the home a number of times and had noticed Frank’s wife, he had never talked with her, and as he gazed through the open window, he wondered what kind of person she could be. Turning suddenly to his friend, he said:
“By what means does a person become able to pray such a prayer?”
“By being converted,” Frank answered.
“Converted!” Edwin exclaimed with even more wonder shining in his large brown eyes, for he seemed to realize instantly that another great and important subject had been introduced.
In answer to Edwin’s question as to how it was possible to be converted, Frank explained that one was converted through prayer or by praying; but this answer was more confusing than any other had been, and Edwin exclaimed:
“Why, Frank, how is this? You say that the only kind of prayer that will amount to anything is that prayer that comes right out of the heart, and that to pray such a prayer one must be converted. And now you say that one is converted through prayer. Now tell me, if this is true, how and where does a person get his start?”
Not being a Christian himself, or ever having had the experience of salvation, Frank did not know how to unravel the tangle of thought that he had woven within Edwin’s mind, and he was at a loss to know what to say.
How easy it would have been for Mrs. Kauffman to help Edwin out of his difficulty had she known, but she was in her own home a short distance away burdened and sad. She had watched Edwin as he crossed the fields on his way to the home of her son and knew that they were smoking upon the porch.
When the subject of prayer was dropped, Edwin told his friend that the farmer for whom he was working would soon be caught up with his work and that it would be necessary for him to look for a new place to work, and he asked Frank if he knew of any farmers who were needing help. As Edwin had expressed a desire to get into another neighborhood, if possible, for the experience, Frank said that his father-in-law, Mr. Miller, would be in need of hired men during harvest, and added, “If you wish, I will speak a good word in your behalf.”
Edwin expressed his gratitude for his friend’s interest, and then after a few other remarks he arose to go. Before leaving, however, he emptied the contents of the red handkerchief out upon a piece of paper. Then, putting the handkerchief in his pocket, he bade his friend goodnight.
It was a beautiful evening, but Edwin paid no attention to the stars as they gazed down upon him from above. He was thinking of his friend’s words, and he said aloud: “To be converted must be the very thing for me and just what I need. But how am I to get converted, since I must pray and since I can not pray until I get converted?” The words taught him at the poorhouse came quickly to his mind, but he said sadly: “No, they won’t do! Frank said that a prayer is words, but that the words must not be any that have been learned from any person or book. They must come right out of one’s heart. What can it all mean?” And that night, for the first time in many years, the little prayer failed to bring him comfort before he closed his eyes in sleep.
“O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.” (Psalm 65:2)