The Big River in Mendocino flowed like silk in the early morning as we eased into our rented three person canoe. We were told we might see river otters.
A light fog felt like a veil of blessing over us. We entered a cathedral carved with tall trees on each side as our oars silently cut through the glassy water. The fresh scent of a new day filled our lungs.
Photo via CC/Flickr User: Chris Paul
Soon we saw a few brown female Mallard ducks and the males with their bright green heads.
Only the occasional sound of our oars pushing in and out of the dark green river or birds chit chatting broke the holy silence.
"Oh, look, a sea otter," I exclaimed. From a distance, I saw its round head and long trailing brown body swimming toward us.
"Yeah, right," our daughter replied as she recounted how I had -- mind you, only once -- mistaken a rock for an otter in the foamy waves and rocks near Carmel Beach.
As the otter drifted closer until it was beside us, we saw its head was a large bulb of khaki seaweed and its body, long brown seaweed streamers.
We chuckled. (At least it wasn't a rock.)
After about a half hour, we still hadn't seen a river otter. I prayed and asked God if we could please see a river otter long enough to get a photograph, but I would be okay if we didn't see one.
In the past, I wouldn't have prayed as I thought God couldn't be bothered with my tiny request. Instead false guilt and an inaccurate picture of God kept me silent.
(Of course, I also pray for more important things, such as the welfare of others etc.)
But then I remembered being God's child and trusting His heart means I present my request - without analyzing it to death - and then I leave it with Him.
I trust* whether He answers, "yes," "no," or "wait," it will be okay because He loves me - unconditionally.
The issue is whether I trust God with my desires. And whether I trust God or not depends on my image of God.
Is He a loving Father or a capricious cruel one?
As a parent, I prefer our girl ask me for something so we can dialogue than for her to not ask out of fear or mistrust.
Her request reveals to her and to me what is in her heart and helps build intimacy in our relationship.
Whether I pray or not reveals if I believe God cares about all of me, even my seemingly small desires.
Do I believe He is a big enough God? My request will not burden Him.
For some mysterious reason, God cares about my heart and my desires. And it is not about manipulating God to give me what I want.
It is about the discovery that results from dialogue.
I've learned over the years it is more about the discussion and the relinquishing of my desires into His loving hands.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?- Romans 8:32 ESV
For some of us, it takes more faith to believe God cares about our delight and not only about our holiness.
God cares about both: our growth in holiness and our delight.
For me, to pray about seeing a river otter was about trusting God's heart of love toward me regardless of the result.
We didn't see a single river otter, though we did see a hawk or two soaring overhead. We also saw several seaweed "otters," which my family highlighted.
Photo via CC/Flickr User: USFWS- Pacific Region
After about an hour, I saw a small dark brown head duck under the water ahead of me, to my left. Then a ripple of water moved in front of me and our canoe.
"I think I saw a river otter."
"Oh, yeah, " my family crowed.
"It moved in front of our canoe...it didn't look like seaweed, really..."
More skepticism from my family.
Finally, a dark brown head popped up several feet ahead and to our canoe's right. My family saw it.
Then another brown head appeared from the left to join the first river otter. Then another.
The three river otters swam toward a small inlet, then climbed ashore. One disappeared into a opening between a tree trunk and a rock. Two of the river otters groomed themselves like cats.
As we slowly paddled closer, another otter disappeared.
Finally, I was about five feet away from the preening river otter where I snapped a photo of it and the other otter who exited the tree trunk from another opening.
(Sorry: the photos from my phone came out too fuzzy to share.)
We sat enraptured for several minutes watching them peek out, take a quick dip then slide back into their burrow.
We thanked God for this undeserved gift.
* To be honest, trust is still a growth area for me.
This post acknowledges but doesn't address the issue of when God says "no," to our good desires, such as for a child, for a prodigal to return home, for justice or for emotional and/or physical healing.
Instead this post addresses the very narrow issue of being honest with God about all of our desires, even the small ones.
Soul Stops Moment:
Do you pray to God about everything or do you find yourself holding back?
What helps you to pray to God about everything with a thankful heart (Phil. 4:6)?
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I'm linking with these encouraging friends:Kelli of Unforced Rhythms. Holley Gerth, Jennifer Dukes Lee,and Lyli Dunbar of Thought-Provoking Thursdays.