The Power of the Prayer Bench

A discovered treasure in an old farmhouse brings God's comfort in this excerpt from Thin Places.

by - Posted on Aug 11, 2015

Prayer bench is a comforting treasure when renovating an old home.

Growing up, I was in awe of the empty old farmhouse next door. I looked at it from the road, admiring the front porch, thinking it must have been grand years ago with fresh paint and shutters that weren’t losing louvers like loose teeth. Often, I’d get off my bike and climb the bank, up the two creaking porch steps to peek in the windows.

Once I saw a woman, dressed in a habit, walking by the old falling down outhouse in the backyard. Her veil blew in the breeze and she looked almost like a dream. I overheard a neighbor say she was the owner’s daughter, a Catholic nun visiting and staying in the house without plumbing, heat, or electricity.

Years passed. I graduated, went off to college, and got my degree. I met my husband, Tony, and bought a house an hour or so away. We had a son. On a visit to Mom’s, Tony slowed down as we passed the house, still empty and bearing the scars of weathering storms. “What’s its story?” he asked. “Beautiful old house.”

A year or so later, my mom casually mentioned that a realtor was at the old house next door. I called Tony and the next day he made an appointment. At work, I got the call. The house was ours. Stunned by Tony’s quick decision, I was excited but overwhelmed by upcoming changes. Both of our jobs were over eighty miles away.

It seemed completely illogical and absolutely unlike us to do something so drastic without thinking it through.

The house was in rough shape and we had to take out a big loan and borrow money from generous loved ones. The payments were crushing. We put our house on the market and began renovations on the old farmhouse. Without electricity or plumbing, we could work for only short periods of time. I boxed up the previous owner’s belongings, making a pile of trash and another of things worth keeping.

As I tackled the living room, I stood at the floor-length window looking out at the front porch, and for a moment I felt as if time had completely shifted and I just might see a child version of myself looking back at me. Weeks passed. The house we were trying to sell hadn’t had a viewing in almost a month. Our bank account dwindled, and I began to fret that our leap of faith was a huge mistake.

Meanwhile Tony made long lists of projects with a dollar amount beside each, and my fears went through the roof. The upstairs bedroom was the last one for me to clear out. As I piled things to be taken down to the dumpster, I stripped the bed of ragged linens and found a Saint Christopher medal beneath the pillow. I tucked it in my pocket, remembering the nun, and guessed this was her room.


In the corner by the window was a bundled patchwork quilt tattered and mouse eaten. Carefully picking it up, I realized a small piece of furniture had been stowed away beneath it. It was a prayer bench.

I brought the bench to the window to get a better look at it and admired the smooth wood and the simple hand-carved circles that decorated the sides. Placing it on the floor, I knelt on it. I felt myself exhale. I had been holding my breath for weeks.

All at once I let go of my stress. “Thank You,” the words came from my lips without thought. “Thank You.” It felt good to be grateful—a spiritual reaction I hadn’t expected.

I closed my eyes enjoying the moment. As strange as it may sound, the wood beneath my knees was soft and comfortable, and I realized there were slight grooves that I hadn’t noticed, places on the old wooden bench that had been shaped by decades of prayer.

I stayed on the bench, releasing my worries. Finally I got up. I felt invigorated, excited about our future—my confidence in our leap of faith restored. Time on the prayer bench became a favorite part of my workday. Slowly the house was getting done.  I was feeling at peace. And though I don’t know how, we were making ends meet.

Just before winter, interest grew in our former house. Two potential buyers put in offers at exactly the same time and we got more than our asking price—exactly enough to finish the new house. In every sense, our prayers were answered.

The bench was a priceless part of the restoration. While we worked on fixing the house, it was my time with God that brought me to my best self. I always knew treasure lay in that old house I grew up next to, but I had no idea it was the most valuable kind. Abundance you can’t buy or sell, the kind you hold in your heart.

Get Sabra Ciancanelli's new book by clicking here:  Thin Places: Touching the Edge of Heaven.

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