By Ashley Chang '23
December 19, 2022
"Your prayer life is weak."
Long story short, my doorman Jean rebuked me in the middle of our lobby. It was my ninth week in New York City, and he spent the next thirty minutes telling me to pray. “I already pray,” I said. No. What he was talking about was prayer in the mornings. The first thing I did, when I woke up, had to be prayer. What about water? Drink that after. Read a Bible verse too, ground yourself in scripture. Okay. Okay? I said I was going to pray. He told me he didn’t believe me. I said I promised I was going to pray. Really? Really.
On Sundays, Jeans signed packages and received Doordash orders in the lobby of Sonder At One Platt, the building where they stashed all the interns for our corporate housing. Usually, I talked to him twice during his weekly doorman shifts: before I went to church, and before I dropped off my laundry. We became friendly around three-quarters through my internship, and the first time he and I had an actual conversation, Jean asked me how church went. “Good,” I said. (I’m not much of a conversationalist.) He asked how goes the praise.
“Do you raise your hands when you sing?” He lifted his arms, and swung them round.
I pressed my arms against my chest, and bobbled back and forth. “More like this.”
Afterwards, Jean told me I could stand to grow as a prayer warrior, and wrangled me into promising I'd pray every morning, before checking my phone, drinking water, or even peeing. My five-minute trip to drop off laundry turned out to be thirty minutes, and by the time I left, I'd promised him I'd pray in the mornings at least five times.
I always keep my promises.
The next morning, I woke up fifteen minutes before I had to start working for my internship, and read the verse of the day on the Holy Bible app, as Jean instructed me. Afterwards, I prayed. It was nice. I’ll admit I zoned out a lot—my attention span is not so good, but it was quiet, and just enough thoughts ran through my head that for a moment I could feel Christ. It’s weird. I feel this impulse to say that I was feeling something, that it could be anything, but you know what that isn’t true. I was feeling God. And man, did I need him, when I worked from home those mornings, in the middle of the financial district of New York. Even though I had been blessed with a small group, church community, and work friends, truth be told I was lonely. At the time I really needed God with me, and lo and behold, that morning I felt peace. I feel like sometimes our relationship with God can feel like it’s long-distance, the farthest thing from face-to-face, but the truth is he’s closer than anyone can be. He knows us, deeply. And that day, he was with me. I don’t know how else I would have survived that summer, honestly.
“God, break me,” I said, a few days later. I was getting courageous, and these words would come back to bite me. “I feel at peace right now, and kind of good, you know? I wonder if I’m fully relying on you.” I’d been praying every morning, after Jean had emboldened me. Although it’s not as simple as needing horrible things to rely on Christ, it's what I asked, after feeling spunky.
That Friday, during my tri-weekly checkup with my intern manager, he said he wanted to go over some extra feedback with me. He pulled up the intern ladder, a fancy chart that was basically a performance rubric, and said if I didn’t follow every bucket, I wouldn’t get a return offer. While speaking, he tapped his Bose headphones and looked me dead in the eyes. “You’re off-track.” I’m not a facially secure person. At the tip of my ears, I could feel the tears welling, but I held it in until after the call, then laid on the couch of my corporate housing, the place where I prayed every morning, and began sobbing. This feeling, that I was about to cry, made it hard for me to be around people in the following weeks.
I prayed thirty minutes the next morning, and read Jeremiah, stuck in the parts where God was rebuking everybody. I called my Dad, and people hugged me. Tears were stuck behind my eyelids, and I felt guilty for mentioning that I felt bad. And then my internship continued on. I made pull requests and got headaches and asked my manager if I was on-track. He said only time would tell. My recruiter told me it was normal to not do amazingly, but the way she phrased it, I knew she didn’t think highly of me.
The next Sunday, somehow I missed Jean. I prayed for him in the meanwhile, and hoped others were praying for me.
Those days, I experienced a kind of stress that I usually have to sit with, that I can’t assuage for weeks and sometimes even months or years. I prayed and it took a while but I felt his presence. On Saturday I called my Dad, and on Sunday I had some downtime to myself. I spent a good amount more than fifteen minutes on the couch, and prayed during the evenings. (What a novelty.) I played worship songs and cheesy Hillsong and listened to Bible verses as I fell asleep. Even though I usually feel like my mind can’t breathe when the stress overwhelms me, those days, I felt his peace.
Oh, we wrestled. But those last few weeks, I grew closer to God than I had in months, and even during some dry years, probably. I started to believe that no matter where I went, if he’s there things are more than okay. I worked so hard the next few weeks, but he had different plans. Still, I wouldn’t give that up closeness for anything.
The last time I saw Jean, I told him I’d pray for him. I have nothing special to wrap up this part of the story, but we spent thirty minutes talking about different things. He told me about his job prospects, and added me on Linkedin. I told him about the spam and rice I was making. If there’s anything God has gifted me with, it’s community. Although I never really talked about my Christian community in New York, they were amazing. Leaving them was the hardest thing about leaving the city.
Two days before my internship ended, I was told I wouldn’t receive a return offer. Going to the office was so hard. Usually I work remotely, but I came in on the last day, just to see all these people, who on paper were doing better than me. I went to the bathroom to hide the tears behind my eyes, and breathed in deep when I spoke in order to feel safe. You know, even though I felt loved at the time, going to the office was rough. I saw the girl I went to church with, coding at the table beside me. She used to play guitar while I beatboxed accompaniments, and bought me Japanese when I said I didn’t get a return offer. Next to me, was another intern, who talked about shopping so I didn’t have to talk about the hard parts. She asked me if I wanted to go thrifting later that day, and though I said no, it was sweet. Through those string of very hard days, I started to see through my loneliness and notice the people who cared about me. Through trials and tribulations, God gave me that as well.
Although I don’t know what else will come, I know I’ll pray tomorrow morning. The pain took a long time to heal—for a moment, looking at a water bottle with my company sticker tacked on felt like too much for me. All I know is that I will read the Bible, which I’ve done every day since that hard string. I will annotate the passages I print to prepare for the mornings. (It’s been fun.) I will seek him, and he will give me rest. I wasn’t always happy, but his joy carried me.
The night before I left the city, I had a few hours left after packing. I put on my headphones and went on a walk around the financial district, past the Five Guys and Taco Bell that provided a contrast to the avant garde-ness of everything else. I went to Seaport, which is this area by the water behind all the skyscrapers, and listened to worship music on loop as I sat on a wooden chair facing the river. Even now, when I hear those songs I think about that time, closing my eyes and resting my arms on the handrail as some janky Third Day guitar played; oh, to be a “Soul On Fire.” For a moment, I prayed, but also I just sat there. It was good, and he was with me. I can’t say I was happy, but I felt this deep joy, and knew, for sure, that he loves me. He knows me, and he loves me, more than anybody.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
(Habakkuk 3:17-19, ESV)
Picture by Eunae Ko '23