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XV: Not praying for the wall to fall

After a little break in December I am returning to the blog series “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple- Growing up Christian in East Germany”. Which is a super-long title and I recently learned that long titles are out. Recent and popular books often feature one or two word titles. I have not been able to come up with a shorter one but hope that as I keep writing, I will be able to erase more words. I also read, recently, that writing is 10% writing and 90% erasing which is quite true. I delete at least half of what I write. And there is always room for more words to be chopped. Sometimes I feel sorry for words that don’t make it into the final draft. I’ll cut and paste them into a special folder where they can commiserate.

Writing helps me see things I may not notice otherwise. In my last post “An unexpected Christmas miracle”the wall fell and it sounded like prayer helped to make that happen. Which is true because right before “The Turn”, which we called the peaceful revolution, people did gather in a downtown church to pray for peace and change. I think this went on for a couple of months at least. We never attended those meetings, not because we didn’t believe in change but for practical reasons. Anyways, we did pray at home every day growing up. The usual stuff – before meals, at bedtime, for family worship, sickness, trips and ‘issues’. I prayed for my parents to buy me a dog. My brother prayed to be able to drive a truck with food to starving children in Africa.

Sometimes I run into Americans who share excitedly how they prayed for the wall to come down. They smile victoriously and feel a connection to me. I am perceived as a collaborator, praying for freedom from behind the iron curtain. I don’t usually tell people we never prayed for the wall to fall. If there was one thing we never prayed for it was this. We never, ever prayed for the wall to come down. I don’t remember saying or hearing a single prayer prior to late fall of 1989 when things were already happening. I wished for it, secretly, but that’s as far as it went. We never prayed about it because we didn’t think it could happen.

My father was born in 1949, the year the GDR was founded and the borders closed. Berlin provided the last way of escape until the wall sealed off that option in 1961. My grandfather, a lutheran minister, died in a West Berlin hospital just a month before the wall.

My parents whole life was shaped by the wall. The wall embodied the unmoving, un-negotiable, unchanging reality of communism. We figured the wall would come down at some point in history, not our lifetime. Opposing the wall was costly, paid in blood by those who tried. Obstacles this deadly feel permanent and fighting against them feels risky, even crazy. I think we surrendered to the reality of oppression as our best, safest and most life preserving option. We accepted the thing, the many things we could not change. Not knowing true freedom made not longing for freedom easier, I think. We embraced our plight. And we did not pray for the wall to fall. It would have been a scary, costly prayer.

Expressing desire for greater freedom or opposing the system in any way was a threat. You could get arrested or in trouble for praying or saying anything negative about the government. The fear was as real as the consequences.

If anyone did pray for the wall to come down, they must have done so in their closet. (as Jesus recommends, actually 🙂 In East Germany someone was always watching, peeking, taking notes. Snoop & Spy Inc. (officially the STASI) had ears and eyes everywhere. People stop believing and asking and hoping when they feel afraid.

I am glad someone in the world stepped into the gap. Because whether you believe prayer helped the fall of the iron curtain or not, a great and unexpected thing happened. Not praying, I received. And this magnificent gift changed my whole life. I think they call that grace.

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This is part XV of “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays and reflections of growing up Christian in former East Germany. Subscribe via email to my blog or bookmark this page. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 

7 Replies

  1. Tara

    Oh grace. You lavish life-reshaping gift you. <3 <3

    1. Astrid Melton

      Love it.

  2. Vanessa

    Grace …when God answers our deepest, unspoken thoughts and fulfils dreams we never knew we had! Thank you for your post. Inspiring words!

    1. Astrid Melton

      I love that. Thanks!

  3. I think this may be why people don’t expect The Church to be better, or to actually make a difference in people’s lives. I think this may be why we accept the mediocrity in our spiritual selves. As you’ve said, it’s too big and too impossible.

    Thanks for putting words to one of life’s persistent questions.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yeah- this makes sense in the context of church/faith. I would add ‘too familiar’ to the list- we get comfortable in our walks however limiting they are. Thanks for reading!

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