Pray Boldly!

“This is how you are to pray.”   – Matthew 6:9

When I was in college, I did a research project on using directives in the English language.  A directive is like a command, or “an official, authoritative instruction,” as dictionary.com states.  As an example, some simple directives that parents may use frequently are things like shut the door, brush your teeth or go to bed.  These are things we are not merely suggesting our kids to do if they feel so inclined, but are expecting to be done…and quickly!

As I read again the prayer we commonly call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father, in Matthew’s gospel today, I’m reminded once again that Jesus not only lived with authority, he prayed to God our Father that way, too!  Viewing his prayer through a directive lens, it’s astounding to see the boldness with which Jesus prays. Give us. Forgive us. Lead us. Deliver us.  

As disciples, we surely are meant to pray this way, too!  However, it’s important to see that our directives, like Jesus’ must be rightly ordered.  Before Jesus begins praying these bold requests of God, he first praises God for their relationship as Father/Son (our Father) and praises God’s holiness (hallowed be Thy name).  Then Jesus aligns his own desires properly behind God’s desires (your kingdom come, your will be done).  Then, and only then does he begin with the directives, but these are also directives that had first come from God:  daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil are all things God has given us first!

In the Catholic Mass, before we recite the Our Father, the priest always prefaces this prayer by calling us to recite together “the words we dare to say.”  When you look at it this way, it does seem daring!  We call the God of the universe our father.  We ask that he cast his will upon us.  Then, we list the things we want from him as though they will happen.   How dare we say and demand these things!?  Yet, this is our faith.

Perhaps the words God speaks to us in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah can help us understand,

“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth…so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11

If we’ve rightly ordered ourselves to God, the relationship of God’s desires for us and our requests for those desires becomes analogous to the water cycle:

  1. God rains his love upon us.
  2. We absorb that love into our hearts.
  3. We grow in his love and begin to trust him, desiring even more of his love.  (But  we are helpless to give him anything, so we offer the only thing we have: our prayers.)
  4. Our prayers rise to him like water vapor, requesting ever more and more of that life-giving water pouring down upon us.
  5. God’s rain falls upon us even more, etc.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Perhaps with this renewed sense of understanding we can begin to pray even more reverently– and more boldly– to God our Father, just as Jesus did.

Reflect:  Have you ever asked God for something and didn’t get it?  How did that make you feel?  Did you give up on God after that, or did you try to learn more about what a healthy relationship with God really looks like?  Consider one thing you could do today that imitates the example Jesus gave us:  If you are baptized, do you call God your father?  Do you ask for his desires to come before your own? Do the things you request from God reflect things that God would want for you?

Pray:  Heavenly Father, we know you love everything you have created, including each of us.  Thank you for the gift of life and the gift of free will to choose you.  Thank you for the grace of baptism which makes us your children and draws us closer to you.  Thank you for the gift of your Son and your Holy Spirit who dwell among us and teach us how to draw intimately and confidently closer to you.  Amen.

 

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New Year: New Song

“Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done marvelous deeds.” – Psalms 98: 1

Over Christmas, as our family sat waiting for Mass to begin, the choir was singing a different version to a song I’ve always loved.  Hearing it with new words and a slightly varied melody made this old favorite a ‘new song’ of sorts, for me.

As the soloists took turns with each verse, I found myself hanging on each word anew to hear the story they were singing unfold (though the story itself–the nativity story–was also an old familiar one).

Then, this week, as I read the readings from the lectionary, I kept seeing this Psalm repeated throughout the week’s readings.  And I kept thinking of that old familiar song our church choir sang anew, and I couldn’t help but make a connection between it being a new year, and the desire to want to start so many things in a new way as we humans do.  Perhaps one of the most important things we can make new, though, is our prayers.

It is no secret that our prayers are not meant to change God, but rather to change us…change our hearts, change our thoughts, change our focus to something better, higher, more holy than we might first imagine.  So, what better way to start that change, than by approaching our prayer life…our “song” to God, if you will…in a new way?

Here are a few simple ideas:

  • Start praying.  If you haven’t made prayer (conversation with God) a regular part of your daily life, then make this the year you start.  Pick something you naturally do each day that will trigger you to remember your prayer time.  I have a friend who always said her prayers in the shower because it was the one thing she knew she would do consistently every day!
  • Go the opposite.  If you already have a prayer life established, we can still get into ruts from time to time.  Has your prayer life become a list of complaints to God?  Try telling him instead what you are grateful for!   Has your prayer life become a long litany of you asking God for things you’d like to see him do?  Try asking God what he would like you to do…and take some quiet time to wait for the stirring in your heart that just may be his reply.
  • Go simple.  If conversation with God seems unnatural to you, try starting with what’s familiar to you.  Perhaps you are  familiar with the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary but you don’t really know what they mean or how they came to be.  Use this opportunity to do some research and find the true beauty and depth of humility in these simple words.  Or, if formal prayer doesn’t seem natural to you, but you don’t think you can come up with your own words, you can google prayers for  all kinds of things! (The internet isn’t all bad, you know.)  There is no shame in using someone else’s words for a while until you can find your own.
  • Keep at it.  It is easy to think that once we’ve tried something a few times, “we’ve got this” but only the slightest of interruptions to our schedule, can find us going hours, days, or weeks without prayer, and we simply forget to begin again or build it back into our daily life.  Even more common is to simply grow bored with prayer, because it is easy to fall into the trap of believing our prayers are going unheard or unanswered (because we are used to immediate results) so when we don’t get results, we give up.  Prayer is not something (in many cases) that will change us over night. Instead, like a newly planted seed, it is something that takes patience and persistence and faith before we’ll see the “fruits” of our labor.
  • Accept imperfection.  It’s easy to think that when we are doing new, we want to  “get it right.”  God is so much bigger than you or I that he can do very much with our very little!  This means that when words flow beautifully from you and you can pour your heart out to God, God understands and hears you!  But, also, when no words come, only tears and pain in your heart… God also understands and hears you!  God doesn’t need us to be perfect in our prayer. God only needs us to make ourselves available to him.

In a way, we are all beginners when it comes to prayer.  Whether we have “prayed without ceasing”  (1 Thess 5:17) as Paul urged the people of Thessalonica to do long ago, or whether today is our first day in years (or ever!) of saying a  prayer, let us remember that our goal is simply to make some time to offer ourselves to God.

He is sure to notice.

And in doing so, may we discover (whether for the first time, or again and again), that prayer really does change us.  Sometimes in shocking, mind-blowing, dramatic ways. And sometimes in small, but welcoming ways…like an old song, heard new.

Doing Nothing

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples,  “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

-Matthew 26:36

Certain aspects of this moment with Jesus and his disciples in Gethsemane during his time of agony, are relatable for many of us.  Any time we’re “up against the ropes” torn between doing what is right and running from, hiding, ignoring or denying doing the right thing, we are in our own little garden of agony.  Those times of wishing our life could be another way, but knowing we must do what is right even though it will come at a great cost to us –be it to a relationship with others or to our reputation, or our integrity—are our personal moments of agony.  Here in the garden, Jesus gives us a clear model to follow in how to pray our way through accepting our fate, facing our suffering and holding onto hope that somehow, when it’s all over and done with, we too, will find a “new life” and be “resurrected.”

But what has perplexed me for some time now are the words Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel while he is suffering. “Sit here while I go over there and pray,” he tells them.  Not knowing what to do with these words, I’ve chosen for a long time to focus instead on Mark’s telling of this same event where Jesus says, “Sit here while I pray,” (Mark 14:32), which can sound a lot more like “Sit and pray with me,” and to my ear, at least, is much kinder.  But Matthew’s recalling of Jesus’s words makes it seem as though Jesus wants to be all alone and gives the disciples nothing to do—not even pray with him– while he prays.  In essence, it has, at times to me even sounded like, “You knuckleheads go over there and leave me alone.  Something important is happening here and I need it to be quiet.”  And while “over there” the disciples fall asleep, not once, not twice, but three times.  Each time Jesus wakes them and reprimands them for falling asleep.  In Mark’s account, where their job of praying can be implied, it makes sense for Jesus to be upset that they fall asleep.  But in Matthew’s account, why would Jesus care if they are awake or not if he sends them “over there”?

Then, yesterday, as I held Jesus’ words in my heart, pondering them, I read a reflection by Macrina Weiderkehr, a Benedictine monastic nun, where she talks about herself waking early in the morning to go and pray in the cafeteria of her monastery and spotting another sister near her each morning who was also praying.   Upon seeing the other sister day after day in prayer, Weiderkehr is moved to tears recalling something she’d read earlier about the importance of a younger person being mentored by an elder:

Mentoring takes place…when a young person sees in an older person a bright flame of life, which is a reminder of his or her own small flame.  When these two flames connect, the younger person gets his or her flame blessed, while the older person moves into deeper wisdom. (pp. 14-15)

Weiderkehr goes on to say she realized then that seeing another sister’s faithfulness to prayer each morning was blessing and strengthening her “own tired flame.”

Through her sharing of this experience, I had a new appreciation for Jesus’ words and actions towards his disciples in this garden scene in Matthew’s gospel.  Perhaps it was Jesus’ intention to not just model for the disciples (and us) what to do in times of agony and personal suffering, but in doing so, to give them (and us) a final blessing. Perhaps Jesus wanted the disciples awake and attentive to his prayer because in his time of suffering, it was the only thing he had left to give to bless their “old, tired flames” of faith.  Perhaps there really was nothing for the disciples to do but witness the scene as it unfolded, and by their witness, Jesus could be moved “into deeper wisdom.”

In light of this reflection, my eyes have now turned from seeing not just how we, like the disciples, often “fall asleep” to the suffering and agony around (and within) us, but how we are, at times, like Jesus and like Weiderkehr’s faithful sister in the cafeteria, modeling for others how to continue our relationship with God no matter what.  To know that sometimes we are the witness and sometimes—hard as it may be to believe– we are the mentor.

Isn’t it marvelous that the miracles of God are so great, my friends, that even in these small moments of seemingly “doing nothing”– save remaining faithful and prayerful to God– that we are both a blessing to others and blessed?

Reflect:  What person or persons has been the greatest strength and blessing to me and my “old, tired flame”of faith?  How might I thank or acknowledge that person today?  What actions and behaviors do I demonstrate that may be a source of strength for others without my even having been aware of them in the past?  How might I make room for more such actions or behaviors to “deepen the wisdom” of God in me?

Pray:  Dear God, thank you for the gift of faith-filled mentors in my life.  Thank you for Jesus’ triumphant example of faith unto death and new life.  Help me to never falter in following his example.  Forgive me when I falter anyway.  Show me how I mentor others through my faith in you.  Shine in and through me. Use me now and always for your greatest good.

Creating Silence and Solitude

Many of us, I think, understand and appreciate the idea of silence and solitude.  What we lack, really, is the understanding of how to create time for it in our day.

Personally, I am the kind of person who can think about silence and solitude all day long, but putting it into action is much more difficult  for me, because there’s always “something else” that seems like it needs to be done instead.

If, like me, you suffer from this desire to always be reaching for the next thing on your list, here are a few simple ways I’ve discovered I can “make room” for silence and solitude even on the busiest of days.     I will warn you right now it is far from perfect.  I have read many books and articles about setting aside a certain amount each day for prayer and meditation.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, I found that I needed to take baby steps to get me there.

I know for years I thought, “If only I could get away to a monastery and spend a long weekend, then I would surely make the time to pray!”   But the truth is, many of us have either missed our calling as monks or have (more likely) found our calling amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  If you are striving to be a monk then I suggest you join a monastery;  but the rest of us, I think, would find it much more beneficial to look for ways of bringing the “monastery” into our everyday lives.

As a busy wife and mother, this is a sampling of what I’ve found works for me:

  • Look for the moments when silence and solitude naturally occur:  Impossible!  You have no idea how busy I am!  You may think.  I won’t argue.  It’s true.  I do not know how busy you are, but… do you take a shower each day?  Do you spend time commuting around in your car or another form of transportation to get to work or run errands?  Are you ever waiting in a checkout line or waiting for an appointment?  Do you make the time to crawl into a bed each night for sleep?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, pay attention to what you do with that time.  Are you jamming with the radio, checking emails, calling friends, or playing online games on your mobile device?  Or… are you soaking in the silence?  Observing others around you (or saying a prayer for them)?  Observing your breathing, your mood, and your thoughts?  As you prepare for sleep, do you fall asleep to the TV, or do you take time to unwind and relax with no distractions?
  • Use your time differently.  Once you’ve made some observations about what you do with the times that you are alone and or it is naturally quiet, set your sights on using those times for the purpose of silence with God.  (You can even begin with just one of those times—the one that seems easiest for you—i.e.,  every time I’m alone in the car I will not turn on the radio.)   For me, I rarely have the radio on in the car, and I try to use any time I’m forced to wait (stop lights, checkout lines, waiting rooms) as God’s invitation to observe and pray for those around me or to mentally count my blessings.  I have found that shower time and bedtime are actually much more difficult times for me to embrace the moment, but perhaps you would find it easiest to start there.
  • Set your alarm ten to fifteen minutes earlier than usual.  I am a morning person by nature, so when I am the last one to wake up I tend to feel as though I’m already behind.  This is not a good way to start the day!  I’ve learned that during the week it is important to me that I am up before my kids whenever possible.  That means I set my alarm for 5:30 AM or sooner.   During that time I make myself a cup of hot tea and sit down to read the Bible, but for a moment (sometimes a few minutes, sometimes ten or twenty), I sit with the quiet.  I do not pray with my thoughts or words.  I just sit.  Yes, inevitably my mind tries to speed up, flood itself with thoughts, worries, concerns, and distractions, but I try to just observe them and let them float on out of my brain the same way they floated in.  I choose not to embrace them!  This is the moment of the day when I feel united with the psalmist to, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:11)  It is an amazingly calm and refreshing way to start the day!

 

  • Schedule your day.  For years as a housewife, I didn’t think this was all that important.  There were things to get done and I had faith that I would get them done as I went about my day.  But, over the years I had the same complaint…there was never enough time for the same three things: exercise, fixing a healthy meal, and spending time with prayer.  I eventually realized that I made myself the victim of my schedule instead of the creator of it.  Many of us know the story in Genesis of how God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 2:2)…so why do we think we are so special that we need to keep doing and doing and doing with no rest or down time to care for ourselves at all?  Once I realized this, I made a commitment to change.  Now, I schedule my days in a simple notebook.  I pencil out the timeframes that are reasonable for certain chores and when my time is up, I am either done with the chore or (*gasp*) I make myself STOP!  Admittedly, this is not a perfect system, but if I at least stop long enough to reassess the rest of what I had written down for the day, I can make a more informed decision about whether it makes sense for me to continue past the allotted time and finish the task, or whether it is more important to move forward and reschedule the remainder of the task at hand for tomorrow.  (This works better than you might think!)
  • Hold your tongue.  I am a self-professed windbag, so this is a true struggle for me.  But, over the years I have come to realize that not every comment needs a reply from me, not every story that pops in my mind needs to be shared with the person next to me, not every anecdote, quip or silent moment needs to be filled with my chatter.  Silly as it sounds, this was a real shocker for me!  For years, I thought my chatter and input showed others that I was enthusiastic and interested in the conversation we were having.  And sometimes chatter does that.  But, you know what shows even greater interest?  Listening!  I realize that shouldn’t have been the shocker it was for me when I first started applying it, but it really was.  I thought for sure if I didn’t fill every silence with some sort of story or question or comment that the conversation would be full of awkward silences and dissolve.  What I found instead was that it gave others the opportunity to contribute more!  (Go figure.)  This also meant that I didn’t have to do all the work.  What a relief!  If, like me, quieting down is a struggle, try to let just one or two comments pass through your mind without passing out of your mouth.  This, I believe was probably one of my first real exercises in that wonderful fruit of the Spirit:  self-control.
  •  Finally, be patient with yourself!  Many of us do not live in a country or culture that embraces or even encourages silence.  It takes a certain self-awareness and discipline to bring silence and solitude to the forefront of your consciousness, so berating yourself or trying to hold yourself to some high standard of “perfecting” the silence and solitude in your life will probably only backfire.  Instead, have fun with it!  Consider it a challenge or a new adventure and you will find yourself much more likely to enjoy the many hidden moments of silence and solitude that await you.

This list is far from complete, so if you have other ideas or examples from your own experiences, I’d love to hear them!

My #Saywhat Kind of Morning

I spent last week on vacation visiting my family back in Iowa.

You know…Iowa.  Kind of like Grand Cayman, or Cancun.  But without the beach.  Or the ocean.  And with lots of corn.

Don’t believe me?

I’m not surprised.  People rarely equate Iowa with exotic beach locations, but that’s what it feels like to my husband and me every year as we wind our way over the mountains of Pennsylvania and across the Midwest back to our Iowa roots.  Because it’s there that we can truly relax and get away from it all.  (Plus, enjoy some family time.)

Anyway.

Upon our return home to PA last weekend, I gradually came to realize that I had neglected many things:  appointments on the calendar, bills in the mail, and my email, just to name a few.  Since Monday, these realities have pushed their way back into my life with an unrelenting force, and I’ve been running behind them playing catch-up ever since.

This morning, though, I was determined to start the day with a plan.  Get things back to normal.  Find our daily routine again.  At heart, I’m a planning kind of girl, and I knew if I could get back into my routines and write them down, I would feel better about moving through my day, especially since I am now really tired from playing catch-up all week.  Today, it was time to get ahead a little bit.

So, I sat down, as I do every weekday morning, with my Bible and read.  I prayed, and I wrote some thoughts down in my journal.  Then I did something that is really, really new to me.  It’s a new habit I’m trying out, even though I have my doubts.  You see, I signed up for this Online Bible Study that started the first Sunday I was on vacation.  (It got ignored too, in case you’re wondering.  Because, well…VACATION!)   But, before I left on vacation, I had started reading the book the Bible study revolves around (besides the Bible, there’s another book that leads us through the study, I guess.  To be honest, I don’t really know, because all the emails that are a part of the Bible study are lumped in with all the other emails I was ignoring, so…I will get caught up on that, too, and know more soon, but most people who come to read this today know WAY more about this Bible study than I do right now, so to spare myself the embarrassment of acting like I know more than I do about this, I’ll just come clean.  I read the first two chapters of Lysa TerKeurst’s book before vacation and then pretty much forgot all about it. So there you have it.)

Anyway, before vacation I had decided to try something that Lysa does every morning.  Like I said, I had my doubts, but I also knew it couldn’t hurt.  The something she does every morning could easily be added into what is already a nice morning ritual for me of reading scripture, journaling and prayer.  The difference was, this practice would require me to ask God a question (Well, nothing new there, really, I ask God questions all the time.)  The newness came in developing the habit of LISTENING FOR AN ANSWER. Now, that’s kind of new.  I usually “listen for an answer” through a trial of doing what I think I should do and then observing the results.  Kind of like a dance.  Only I usually take the lead, and step on God’s toes a few dozen times.  And then give God no other choice but to drag me across the floor because I’m going the wrong direction and about to spin us both right out the third floor window.

It’s not exactly efficient, but it’s worked for me so far.

Like I was saying, it’s a new habit.  And I liked the idea of asking for a “daily assignment” from God and expecting an answer.  This morning was my fourth morning of trying it out, and I was beginning to think it wasn’t so bad.  After all, the previous mornings had consisted of fairly painless things.  My assignments from God up until today had been fairly simple:  journal, pray, give to charity.  Pretty harmless.  I was pretty sure God was far less demanding than I’d ever thought, and was really beginning to wonder why I’d always thought that following God would be hard at all.

So, with my plan for the day written out in front of me,   I then opened my Bible, prayed, and wrote a quick journal entry.  My journal ended with my asking the question, “What is my assignment today, God?”   Then I waited.  I had every confidence that God would see how full my day already was and just give me a pass.  He’d say something like “take a nice, long bath tonight and relax at the end of such a busy day.  You’re worth it.”  I was sure of it.

So imagine my surprise when that wasn’t my assignment.

My assignment instead was to sit down and blog.

Blog??

But, I’ve barely blogged all summer!  I don’t even know what to say!  And blogging always takes me hours.  HOURS!!  I don’t have hours today to give.  I only have minutes.  Just a few.  If You want me to write this, You’re going to have to tell me!!!  Give me the words!!!  (I get real demanding with God sometimes.  This isn’t always a good idea.  But He tolerates my outbursts and demands and tantrums  with peace and kindness.  Always.   Which I just love.)

I waited.

“Blog about your reflection,” were the only words that came to me.

I still had my doubts.  I didn’t really understand the reflection I’d read today in my Bible.  I liked it, but I didn’t really understand it.  It was a reflection from Mother Teresa and the words that struck me the most were, “Love, to be true, has to hurt.”  I had wondered if that was true when I read it.  Had I hurt for my husband?  For my children?  For my parents?  For my friends?

It took some time, because when I think of loving a parent, or a child, or a husband, or a friend, I tend to think of the things they do for me.  And that’s what makes them easy to love.  But, in truth, I do things for them, too.  And at times, on both sides, we give of ourselves.

I stopped doubting.  God was asking me to blog today, not because He needs me too.  But because love—true love—hurts.  And today, on one of the busiest of days, when I had lots of other (better?) things to do, I needed to show my love to God by giving of my time,  even when I thought there was no time to give.

I was confident now it was a test.  Would I do it?  Would I do what God was asking me?  After all, “God” to most of us is an invisible voice in our head or in our hearts.  Easy to ignore.  Easy to brush off as crazy-talk or just plain ridiculous.  I could brush it off, and there really would be little to no consequence for me.  Or anyone else.  The world would not kink up on its axis.  The sky would not fall.  America would not collapse.  My lawn wouldn’t turn black.

No one would know.

No one.

Except me.   And God.

I would know.  And God would know. And suddenly, I wanted to do it.  I didn’t know what I would say exactly, and I knew whatever I said would probably not make any sense.  And I’d look like a fool.

But that’s another side of love, too, isn’t it?  Be willing to go the distance.  Be willing to look like a fool for the one you love.

So, I heated up another cup of green tea and plunked down on the computer.   My heart was committed.  There was no turning back.

Just one thing first, I thought…let me check my email. (After all… He didn’t say I couldn’t.)

And among the randomness of the emails I felt a twinge of guilt as I saw another email from this Bible study that I’d signed up for and ignored thus far.

I clicked on it.

It was an invitation for a Blog Hop, a chance to put my words out there for more than my usual half-dozen faithful readers to see.

This was no ordinary test.

It was pass-fail.  And God was letting me know, before I even began, that I’d already passed.  I was giving of myself, at a time when I didn’t think I could, to share His words, not mine, with others.

It wasn’t about me anymore, so that made it so much easier.

It was about showing others who God is to me.

How I know Him.

How I love Him.

How He loves all of us the same.

Truly.

But the only way any of us will know that for a fact, is if we stop and take the time to ask Him what He wants us to do.

And much of the time, it will probably be easier than you think.

Some of the time it will be hard, because love—true love—hurts.

But when you say yes?

When you say yes to that voice in your head/heart that is God?

Even when you *know* you can’t?

Well, I will testify to this:   it will benefit you in ways you never dreamed possible.

Sewing a Cushion for My Pity Pot (And Other Prayers of Gratitude)

Like most of yours, my summer has been flying!

I was pretty sure that when I posted way back in May that I’d write blog posts every Monday, I could hear God laughing hysterically with other plans. Turns out I’d heard right. It’s been a whole month now since I last blogged.  And today isn’t even Monday.  So, evidently my plan went all to pot.  (Shocker, I know.)

In an effort to get you all caught up on things that have been happening with me this past month (because I’m sure you’re dying to hear), allow me to bring you up to speed you with my abbreviated list of our summer happenings:

  • 2nd week of July :  We entertained these adorable family visitors ↓↓↓↓

IMG_4904

  • Aren’t they sweet?  Couldn’t you just eat them up?  (I should probably mention that they brought my in-laws with them…all the way from across these great United States).  Long story short, we had all kinds of fun with everyone the entire week.   Life was SO GOOD!
  • 3rd week of July:  We sent our family visitors on their way (along with my in-laws) and almost instantly became bored with life.  It was very confusing.  One day we had three dogs and two extra people and the next day there was …just us.  I was sure we’d get over it.   I planned some things to get us back on track,  (but I think we’ve determined already  how well things work out when I make plans!)  (Did I hear laughter, again?)
  • 4th week of July :  We trudged through the mundaneness of wide-open summer days with nothing to do.  On top of it, I had NO energy.  No oomph.  Meanwhile, I watched my friends traveling on fun, exotic, and exciting vacations (I know this because I stalked casually observed them on Facebook about every 3.5 minutes).  (They were always having fun.) I, on the other hand,  was bored.  B-O-R-E-D bored.  And also tired.  And maybe a little bit disenchanted with all things fun.  And also all things God.  (Yes, I said it.)

And, as is the case when all of life becomes boring, the days and weeks get longer.  For the rarely occurring 5th week of what had become a painfully long, boring month, I STILL had nothing to say on the blog.  So, to pass the time I guess,  I took a seat up on my Pity Pot (which, to me, looks a lot like those five-gallon buckets with a lid) and started  feeling  sorry for myself.  Everyone else is having fun.  Everyone else is rich and can take exotic vacations.  Everyone else lives a better life than me. (Can I hear a “Debbie Downer” mwomp-mwomp, please?)

Trying to find inspiration, I went back to my blog to read my last post.  To my astonishment, very little had changed.  In many respects, I was still the full-of-myself older brother of the prodigal son… and I was still missing the party!  Though I tried to pray my way through it, most days the best I could do was muster a big sigh and expel the word “God.”  (Except it sometimes came out as the more blasphemous sounding “G-a-a-w-w-d,”  I’m not gonna lie.  It was kind of ugly.)

Still, I kept looking for little bits of light on any given day, even if all I could see was a glimmer.

Eventually (and by eventually I mean yesterday, or maybe the day before), I realized that this whole Pity Pot thing was getting out of control.  I wasn’t even enjoying the complaining anymore!

So, I spent some time focusing on that image of the older brother, standing outside the house (or more accurately sitting outside the house…on his Pity Pot, of course!)   I imagined the feelings  of the older brother, watching the party going on inside the house.  And realized this was very similar to watching all my friends take exotic vacations, and fill their lives with joy and laughter.  And I found some words for a question I threw at God, Why do they get to have all the fun?  (No response.)  Why can’t I go inside?  (A response this time:  You can).  I ranted on, Oh, you’d just love that wouldn’t you?  It’s bad enough watching and listening to all the fun from here, but to go inside and watch them have  fun right in front of my face?!?!  No thanks!

It was about this time that I remembered that the older brother’s being outside had been his choice from the beginning.   In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father comes outside and pleads with him.

Now I realized not only had I refused the father like the older brother had, but I was starting to blame the father for my being outside as well.

(Oh, goody.  I’m sure that story ends well.) (*Eye roll*)

I put myself back in the image and tried again.

I watched the party some more.  I finally asked a question that was not about the others and the fun they were having, but about me….Why am I so bored?

And with that question, I felt something change inside me.  It is difficult to say what exactly…A softening?  A shift in focus?  A change in perspective, perhaps?   I decided to just accept the possibility– for just a minute or two– that sitting there on my Pity Pot, watching the party going on inside was exactly where I was supposed to be. 

And I waited.

And as I did, the evening sky grew dark around me and the party lights from within glowed in bright contrast.  The moon and stars looked beautiful in comparison and the birds sang their evening song and the crickets chirped in harmony.

It was a very peaceful image.

I realized I didn’t mind the party at all now.  Instead, I felt a little sorry for everyone missing this glorious night sky!   And I realized I wasn’t bored anymore.  There was nothing mundane about what I was seeing and feeling.   I felt calm.  I felt peaceful.  I felt relaxed.

It occurred to me then that perhaps God and I had different words for the same experience.  What I called boring and mundane, God saw as an opportunity for me to rest and relax.  I had a choice in the matter:  I could fight it and complain (like I’d been doing) or,  I could take and accept his gift of rest and relaxation which—ironically–I always complain about never getting.

Something had changed me.   I was no longer the hard-hearted fool I’d been before.  I was now aware that even there on my Pity Pot, I was loved.

With a new heart, I sent up prayers for those partiers inside, happy for them that it was their time to party.  Joyful for them and grateful to God for allowing me this time to sit outside …yes, on my Pity Pot… and rest.

I laughed to myself when I wondered, could I sew a cushion for my Pity Pot ?  Maybe post it on Pinterest?  I would title it, My Summer Project , and it would be God’s and my joke to share.

I’d forgotten what a difference it makes when I ask God to share His vision for my life’s plan.  In this example, with His vision, I understood instantly that my “boring” life was really an invitation for me to rest.  I also realized a second truth about my life and God’s plan.  This second truth was about my future and some long-forgotten prayers about His using me for a greater good.

And my heart skipped a beat.

And I gripped my Pity Pot with anticipation and excitement (and some fear and trembling, too).  Because suddenly more questions come What is it that I need to be rested for?  What will God call me to do?

I called my questions out to the night sky.

Not yet, the stars and moon sing down to me.   Not yet.  Sit a while longer.

And I know they are right.  Because… while I may anticipate changes coming,  I do not know how much those changes will take of my focus, my time, my energy (my sanity?)  So…

Not yet.

Trust me.

And I do.

I sit.  And rest.  And watch.  And celebrate.  And pray.

And I thank God for this lesson.

Because if God wants me to rest for something that I cannot see coming?  Believe me, I want to be rested.

Because God’s invitation to rest?

Is also an invitation to be ready.

Impossibly Grateful

One of the down sides of having something you perceive to be “impossible” happen for you at a young age,  is that it becomes pretty easy to believe that “impossible” things will become possible for you just because you write them down and want them to happen.

I think for years I believed (still do sometimes, when I forget that I know better) if I just wanted something enough, willed it into my life, it would happen.  Then, when those things did happen, not knowing any better, I’d call it “karma” or “dumb luck” or a “blessing.”  And as long as life continued on, more or less as I planned for myself, than it was easy for me to continue believing that way.

The problem came, though, when suddenly life was not going according to my plan.  People I loved died for no reason, friends turned on me, distance came between me and the ones I loved.  What was I to make of my “dumb luck”, then?  Was this what I’d willed for myself somehow?  And, if so, how could I will it away?

Very often, for most of us, it is in these more desperate hours that we turn to  God.  What do I have to lose?,  we reason.  And so we try our hand at prayer.  We hope that the Being we are praying to somehow picks up on our invisible “smoke signals” of desperation and makes things right for us.  But until then, we have to live with the unknown.  Which can feel a lot like suffering.

But then eventually, somehow, in a way we can’t explain, things do get better for us.  Easier somehow.  Is it time that has healed our hurts?  we wonder.  Is it maturity?  Wisdom?  We don’t really know, but life is suddenly good again, so we do not question.  We simply pick up the pieces and move on.  Hoping for the best, once again.  Perhaps a little more cautious now, but moving forward all the same.

And that’s a shame.

Not that we move forward, or that we remain hopeful, but that we Do. Not. Question.

On a spiritual level, if we do not begin to question our own thinking at some point, especially when life is “good,” then it becomes really easy to say that either God does not matter at all because he has no part in anything we do, or contrarily, that when we make “good” choices God “rewards” us for them, and when we make “bad” God  “punishes” us for those.

Because I’d been brought up a “believer,” I never really considered not “believing. ”  Instead, my belief system for years was more that of  “reward and punishment.” I was especially mindful of it in college and my early adult years.  I’d go to church to “earn God’s favor,” and I’d find life looking up for me.  Then I’d get cocky or bored or self-righteous, stop going to church for a while (which for me was virtually the only time I would pray), and eventually find myself struggling again.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that this makes God moody and vindictive.  A God who wants for us what is good, only when we ourselves have earned that goodness.  A God who then punishes us unless and until we can figure out where we went wrong.  This is very often the God we are introduced to as children in nearly any Old Testament story:  God creates the world and it is good.  Woman (and man) makes a wrong choice, therefore they are punished.  They begin to make better choices,  life gets better.  The world they populate continues to make bad choices,  so God sends a flood to wipe the earth clean.  It goes on and on.

Hopefully all of us at some point, reach a time in our lives when we are forced  to ask, Is this really the God I believe in?  One who gets great joy out of watching me walk through a minefield of missteps and explosions only applauding me when I’ve avoided the mine?   And if we don’t ask different questions, force ourselves to see a bigger picture–ask God to show us a bigger picture– we can all too easily think this is how we are meant to live.  As if God is some sort of Master Programmer who insists on making us guess the rules of  the game.  The problem here is that, if we don’t question Who it is we believe in, we might easily end up believing in a God whose love we must earn, and we forget entirely about the God who from the very beginning “looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen 1:31)

For me, it wasn’t until I  became a parent myself that I finally began to ask the bigger questions.   Suddenly, I had to take into account what I would teach my children about God.  And I had to take into account how I felt about my children, and weigh that against what I believed God felt about me — one of His children.  This helped me grow a bit and see that while, yes, I do punish my children from time to time for making bad choices, I also –most of the time, in fact–am simply content to let them be, discover, learn and grow on their own.  They do not have to earn my love.  Ever.  Because, as the famous movie line goes, “They had me at hello.”  And if I, in my fallen human state, can feel this kind of love for my children, I reasoned, then how much greater must God’s love be for me?  For us all?

The  journey becomes easier then, when we change to that mindset.  Suddenly, from this perspective we realize that the question is not “What did I do to deserve this suffering?,” but rather, “Have I ever done anything to deserve any part of my life–good or the bad?”

And the seed of gratitude is planted.

Gratitude is often the “cure” for just about anything that ails us.  In a state of gratitude, I am reminded that nothing is promised me.  Not wealth.  Not fortune.  Not fame.  Not motherhood.  Not marriage.  Not success.  Not recognition.  Not power.  Not wisdom. Not even My. Next. Breath.

It’s all a gift.  Freely given.

From the vantage point of gratitude, I can see that while I’m disappointed because I’m not getting what I want right now, at the same time, I can see all the things I’ve been given up until now that I also didn’t deserve.

For me this makes God a much more lovable Being.  A Being worth believing in. Someone with whom I really wouldn’t mind spending all of eternity.

That is the pilgrim’s journey that I am celebrating this holiday.

It is the best and only way I know to honestly “give thanks.”