How being an Army wife changed the things I pray for

How I learned to see the Army’s “no” as God’s “something better.”

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Imagine a force that controls every detail in your life. It rules your schedule at all hours. It designates where you live and when you move. It determines when you will be able to see your spouse and family. It dictates even the little things: when you can travel out of town, when you get to see a doctor, what you look like down to your weight, hairstyles, and tattoos.

No, this all-powerful entity isn’t God—it’s another “almighty” altogether: the U.S. military. I’ll admit, as an Army wife, I’ve gotten them confused.

When we hitch our lives to someone under oath to “support and defend” our country, their orders become our orders too. Civilians may quip to frustrated spouses and service members, “You signed up for it!” But it’s hard to truly anticipate the extent that this lifestyle will weigh on us.

Over the past several years, my personal, professional, and spiritual anxieties have intertwined with the decisions and dictates of the military. As I’ve pleaded for guidance, direction, and safety, I’ve had to ask myself the question, am I praying to God or to the Army?

Being in the military means not having full control over your life

Most in the military community will tell you: we are forced to give up control, to be resigned to a life where we cannot fully expect what comes next. This theme pulses through every element of military life, from trainings and deployments to promotions and new duty stations. A fellow Army wife and the editor of the site, Amy Bushatz describes the unpredictability of military moving season as “to live in the state of knowing, but not knowing.”

The same could be said about our lives as Christians. When we believe that God is sovereign, we accept that He’s the one in control, that His ways are better than ours.

Being an army wife is like ‘livin’ on a prayer,’ figuratively and literally.”

The demands of military life have shaped my experience of prayer. Being an Army wife and a follower of Christ, uncertainty collapses atop uncertainty. It’s all “livin’ on a prayer,” figuratively and literally.

Our neighbors and fellow churchgoers, like us, always have something to ask for. The requests scrawled in journals and shared at church group at times felt more like pleas that the Army would make decisions in our favor. These were our “laundry-list” prayers, an endless stream of big and small things that we couldn’t control but wanted to. I wished for my husband to be given a chance to call home from the field; to pass physical fitness tests and promotion boards; for day shifts that allowed him to be home by dinner. If I could have Jedi mind-tricked the right people into making it happen, I would have.

We attend to our self-preservation, even in prayer.”

Pastor and Christianity Today columnist Andrew Wilson observes that many of us pray like this instinctively, dedicating the bulk of our prayer time to asking Good to provide. He writes:

“It’s like a prayer form of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for what humans need to thrive (first physiological needs must be met, then safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization). We attend to our self-preservation, even in prayer.”

It is easy to see how the military responds to these petitions: in time, orders are given, awards are issued, and moves are completed. That is that. For every disappointing turn of events, there is the pat answer for why things went a certain way: “the needs of the Army.”

God’s answers are more complex. I kept struggling to see the will of God in each uncontrollable detail. I questioned whether they were one and the same, if we should consider the Army’s answer as God’s answer. After all, just one of those forces is infallible.

I realized I had to shift my approach to prayer

I explained my dilemma to the Army veteran and widow who led our women’s group, and she directed me to stop praying for the Army to do certain things and to start praying for God to move. I heeded her advice. I resisted making specific requests for the things I thought I wanted. Instead, I prayed more broadly for God’s will to be done, whatever that happened to look like, and without my own agenda. As Wilson points out, Christ teaches us to pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” before we ask for anything else.

Alexander Schmemann, the Orthodox priest whose addresses to the Church in Russia were published in a book called Our Father, reflected on this line in the Lord’s Prayer. He said:

“What do we together and individually really desire from Christ? Let’s admit it— the fulfillment of our will. We desire that God will assure our happiness. We want him to defeat our enemies. We want him to realize our dreams and that he would consider us kind and good.

“And when God fails to do our will we are frustrated and upset, and are ready over and over to forsake and deny him. ‘Thy will be done’—but in fact we are thinking, ‘our will be done,’ and thus this third petition of the Lord’s Prayer is … a kind of judgment on us, a judgment of our faith.”

My frustration over a lack of control was only solved through fuller surrender.”

Only looking back do I realize how significant a shift it was for me to trust God’s will rather than struggling for control. I stopped being so disappointed. God grew my faith and prepared my husband and me for an unexpected, unasked-for transition—a sudden move to duty station neither of us were excited about—that has proven to be a huge blessing.

As strange as it sounds—leave it to God to be counter-intuitive!—my frustration over a lack of control was only solved through fuller surrender.

I still pray for God to provide the things I need and desire, and I’ll admit that sometimes “God’s will” seems opaque to me. But even then, I pray for it, knowing the Holy Spirit prays alongside me, with what the Bible calls “groanings too deep for words.”

“It is correct to think of all God’s answers to our prayers as either ‘yes’ or ‘let me give you something better’ because of the intercession of the Spirit, who takes our prayers and molds them to match the will of God,” writes Megan Hill in her book Praying Together.

And I’ve come to see so many of the Army’s no’s as God’s something betters.

Kate Shellnutt
Kate Shellnutt
Kate Shellnutt is the wife of an Army soldier and daughter of a retired Navy SEAL. She is an associate editor for Christianity Today magazine and tweets as @kateshellnutt.

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