A Long Prayer

A Long Prayer

Dear God,

There is much that I am uncertain about.

This interpretation, that interpretation…

And if I don’t feel a conviction to do this, does that mean that I am not actually called to do it,

Or

Does it just mean that I should grow some spiritual muscle and develop a conviction for it

?

 

 

Also,

Is it always holier to do the more uncomfortable thing

?

 

I don’t know how to pray, God.

How can I pray, when it only reveals how very little of you I understand?

I imagine that you must be

So

Much

More

Than just a perfect superhuman.

But

What

?

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And what do I do if I realize that my motive for knowing you more

Is so that I will appear and feel more

Wise?

(I hate when my motives get all twisted like this.

Forgive me.)

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I know that learning to know you is a journey-

An adventure!

I will not navigate it perfectly.

I know that there are mountain-tops along the way

With much clarity.

I also know that there is…

Muck.

 

Speaking of muck…

 

I confess that when I hear the words child-like faith

Something inside me splinters

And not in a good way.

 

I have slid into a pit of

“Earning my faith”

By being skeptical about this and about that.

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We talk about owning our faith and how good it is to question and search.

But nobody tells you

What to do

When you are just…

Lost.

 

When the answers to your questions sometimes involve that child-like faith and you just

Can’t

Quite

Regain it.

 

There is much that I am uncertain about.

 

But also…

 

The daffodils in the flowerbed outside our door just keep blooming and blooming, through cold and through gray.

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In The Horse and His Boy, Aslan was all the lions.

 

There are certain things that I hesitate to pray for because I’m afraid you’ll send me what I ask for.

 

“… in You we live and move and have our being.”

 

Some days, the sun shines in a warm way and the grass is green beneath me.

 

Perhaps, right now, many small pieces of you are more necessary for me than one giant understanding. And maybe I don’t even need to worry about putting all those pieces together.

 

Maybe I will just watch for the beautiful pieces and name you as I see you.

 

I’ll be watching, God. I’ll be watching.

 

Amen.

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Question: What are you certain or uncertain about these days? Hearing either is encouraging. 

Confession

This week I have chosen to share a story that I wrote for an online creative writing class that I took this winter. The prompt for this story was that the story needed to involve a confession, and be told in a “stream of consciousness” manner. It was the kind of story that flowed from my fingertips, and it took me a little while to realize how it connected to me. 

I cried when I figured it out.

The pain, the frustration, the weariness of trying to pray- that is what this story came out of. 

And then some of my fellow classmates commented on the story, and said things like, “I understand,” and “I am journeying too.” These things helped (I’m a normal human! Yay!) and these things hurt (I feel guilty for not currently experiencing the JOY that following God is supposed to bring, and guiltier still because certainly it is my own fault that I am not experiencing that joy). I am still pondering these feelings. 

But for now… here is my story. 


 

My forty-five year-old knees hurt. I suppose that I have been kneeling for a long time now. Any second now, I will start to pray. Pray for real, I mean. I’ve had all these false starts.

 

Dear God.

Heavenly Father.

Lord Jesus.

Anyone? Anyone at all?

 

I am a terrible human being.  I don’t know what to do about it, and I have exhausted myself.

 

I don’t know anything about prayer. Never have, and never will, at this rate. What am I doing here? I’m not even a Catholic. Every day on my way home from the hospital, I drive past this church, and in recent weeks, I started to feel the the urge to pull into the parking lot. To open the heavy doors and enter the still, quiet grace. I imagine the grace all trapped inside, swirling over and under pews and colliding with stained glass. That’s why things have been so hard out in the world, I guess.

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For Pete’s sake, I got distracted again.

Focus, Thomas. Focus. Close your eyes. Deep breath.

 

I am tired. I don’t think that I have the strength to do this anymore. I don’t think that I have the strength to stop, either.

 

I try to imagine God being real, being a presence right there in the church with me. Wrapping me up. But all I feel is the stillness working its way into me until my body fairly hums with it. It works its way up my spine until I have to shiver.  Am I being absorbed by the stillness, or am I disrupting it? I can’t tell. I shift uncomfortably, aware of the sound of my joints popping loudly in the silence of the church. It’s not just my mind that is having trouble submitting to prayer. My entire body seems to be resistant to it.

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I know what I came in here to do. Every day, I feel my ugliness winding its way through me, loving me and destroying me.  I’m going to give you a name and a face, I say to it. Maybe I’ll finally be able to get a grip on you and… I don’t know what would come next, but I am worn down from hiding.

 

I look down at the soft and wrinkled pamphlet in my sweaty hands. “How to Make a Good Confession.” I had found it on a table just inside the door. Praying isn’t going so well for me, but I think that I gave it a fair shot. I stiffly rise to my feet and head towards the confessional booth that I noticed on my way in.

 

I sit on the chair by the screen, fumbling as I try to open my pamphlet. I need to see the instructions for how to do this.

 

My throat feels scratchy. I clear it, before whispering (the pamphlet says to whisper), “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.” I hastily try to make the sign of the cross, but I don’t know if I am doing it right. Perhaps God will overlook that.

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There is no response from the other side of the screen, so I determinedly barrel on. The pamphlet said to explain my sin briefly, and include how often I have committed it. “I accuse myself of the following sin. I… I do not love my wife. I do not want to be married to her anymore.” I do not love my wife. My wife who has given me three beautiful children and shared herself with me in every way. My wife who has cancer. My wife who has been in the hospital for the past few weeks. My wife who is unexpectedly recovering rather than dying. It would have been simpler, a more dignified end for everyone,  if….

“I have committed this sin… for several years, now, I guess.” There is no pinpointing when something like this starts. I conclude, “I am sorry for this sin, and all the sins of my whole life.”

 

I wait. The pamphlet says that the priest would give me some prayers as penance, but there is nothing from the other side of the screen. I lean nearer and listen. Not even any breathing.

 

“Hello?” I finally dare to whisper. No response.

 

There’s no one over there. I almost laugh at myself, but my sin is still holding me too close.

 

What am I going to do, God? Is a person even allowed to pray about something like this? Something so selfish? Something that has no right answer?  What am I going to do?

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I stand up to leave. I’ve spent too much time here.

 

As I walk to my car, lost in my guilt, I nearly trip over a good-sized stick that the wind has brought down from a nearby tree. I stop and pick it up, intending to set it on the nearby grass so no other sinners trip on it.

 

Instead, I find myself walking back up the steps to the church with the stick. I open the door, and wedge the stick in, so that it holds the door open just a crack.

 

Maybe now some of that grace will be able to escape.

 

Maybe it will find its way to someone in need of it.

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The Perfect and the Imperfect

This is the time of year that I love.

I always say that being a teacher is the very best job you can have at Christmas time. (Muffled snort.) I do genuinely love celebrating the Christmas season with my students, but honestly- it is quite exhausting.

There are so many special moments…

And so many imperfect moments.

This is the time of spilled hot chocolate and having wet socks all day because you stepped in a puddle of melted snow in the hallway.

This is the time of learning new songs that go higher and notes that hold out longer than your voice wants to.

This is the time of forgetting to do your spelling homework because you plain old have a lot on your mind- like memorizing your Christmas program lines, for example.

This is the time of getting hit in the face with a snowball that was somewhat icy, and nobody can tell if it was meant to be icy or not. Except for the thrower, but he’s sure not giving anything away.

This is the time for going Christmas carolling and riding on a school bus. The time for tying yourself to the back of your desk seat with your sweater to remind yourself to sit up straight. The time for not being able to run as fast as normal, because of your puffy snow pants and clompy boots.

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This is the time of garlands and Christmas lights, nouns and simple subjects, reducing fractions, and growing bean plants with Miss Kerra in science class. The time of Christmas piano recitals and buying Christmas presents for your mom and dad.

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This is the time for making your own nativity scene out whatever materials you want to. The time for throwing the regular schedule up in the air and saying, “See you next year!” to it.

And at home….

This is the time for knowing that beef and broccoli stir fry is on the menu for supper, and thawing beef in preparation for that, but then somehow (in the span of 20 minutes) forgetting about the stir fry and putting potatoes in the oven to bake so that you can make loaded baked potato soup. I didn’t remember until I was well into the process of making the soup that I was supposed to be making stir fry. This is the time of scorching said soup so badly that it was inedible, throwing it away, and making a new pot of soup.

This is the time of baking at eleven o’clock at night. This is the time of finding your oven mitt in the garbage but having no memory (and certainly no intention) of putting it there.

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This is the time of dirty dishes and full countertops. (And the time for writing about these things rather than cleaning them up.)

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This is the time of starting a second compost container, because the first one is full. It’s not that you don’t have time to empty it, it’s just that you’re simply, well, not doing it. 

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This is the time of slippery spots on the kitchen floor, but don’t worry- there’s a sticky spot right beside it that will help you get a grip before you wipe out.

This is the time for scrunchy corner kitchen hugs.

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This is the time of secrets and surprises and walking home in blue, heavy, comfortable snow.

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This is the time of going Christmas shopping with very grown-up little sisters.

This is the time of a sweet student bringing you a Lindor chocolate on a morning when your lunch (and spirits) were, shall we say, lacking.

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This is the time of loving what you get to do every day, and the children that you get to be with, so much that you don’t really know what to do about it.

This is the time for choosing joy and relationship, even if you are tired.

This is the time of accepting imperfection- both in others and yourself.

This is the time of lighting candles and sitting on the living room floor and praying.

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And that praying time? That is the very hardest and the very best of all the times. The exhaustion of all the things that you don’t know wears away a little bit, and hope and trust take its place. The pain of the imperfect becomes bearable because you know that there is a Redeemer and you are His.

The perfect and the imperfect… it was even this way at the very first Christmas.

The Savior of the world born into this dull, shadowy world?

How very imperfect and how very beautiful.

 

 

A Morning Prayer

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Dear God,

This young morning is

Soft and

Peach and

Dusty and

Slow and

Gentle.

 

I am

Hurt and

Tear-filled and

Selfish and

Perhaps most of all

I am

Scared.

 

Afraid of what ugliness this beautiful new day might hold for me.

Afraid to trust in Your goodness.

Afraid of still not seeing results.

Afraid of deserving the hurt that I feel.

Afraid of using too many words

Or not enough.

 

This morning is

Beautiful—I am not.

 

Thank you for growing me the same way that

You grow the morning.

Slowly and gently.

You are insistent—like spreading light—

But there is a kind silkiness within your expectation

Of steadfast faith from me.

You promise perfection and completion.

(James 1:2-4)

 

Dear Lord,

You are the Spirit

And where your Spirit is,

There is

Sweet,

Beautiful

Freedom.

Degree by degree,

You reveal your glory to me.

Transform me.

(2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

 

You bring shivers to my skin,

Tears to my eyes,

Hope to my heart,

Peace to my soul.

 

The way that you bring me to you is beautiful.

I love to be with you.

I am learning that

You are all that I need

Because there are so many days when it is

Evident that really,

You are all that I have.

 

Dear God,

You are soft and patient and gentle.

Thank you.

I will keep trying.

 

 

Amen.

 

Eye Contact

Confession: I don’t think that I should be doing “Blog twice a week October”. I thought that it was going to be a good thing for me- a chance to relax. The way it was last year. But instead, it scares me. Because when it’s time to blog, I sit down at my desk with my laptop and tea and I feel plain old empty. Expressionless like I have never felt before. I thought that a full life would result in having lots of things to share- that all this learning and processing would result in inspiration and wisdom. But instead, I just feel tired. The blankness inside worries me.

To be completely honest, I’m afraid to share what I really feel these days. I’m ashamed of the things that I feel and the way that I handle them and I don’t have solutions to them.

I could make a list of things that I am ashamed of.

I won’t though.

I have been exploring my thoughts on prayer further. I shared some baby thoughts in one of my earlier posts- the one about different ways that I approach God.

One that I didn’t discuss there was eye contact. Eye contact with God.

Where I stand and I look at Him right in the face.

It feels bold and almost like I am challenging Him with my this is wrong and I can’t do this and I don’t want to do this. But it is better than the embarrassed hiding that I have resorted to in the past.

I am finding that it is necessary these days- to look right at Him (at my visualization of Him) and feel all of the questions that I have. No words are necessary there.

We just look at each other.

I can’t even describe the feeling.

It’s what makes me feel strong and grounded again. Like whatever happens around us, God’s eyes hold me in a still and protected place.

It’s what reminds me that He suffered more rejection, disregard, and stress than I ever will.

It’s what reminds me that He understands.

It’s His eyes that remind me that I don’t need to understand, because He does. I just need to keep going.

I always look away before He does.

We cry at the same time though.

Then I am red-faced and messy and teary, but He is still beautiful.

It is communion in a new way.

Approach

I like to think of prayer as approaching God.

Sometimes the path to God is golden with sunshine- perfectly lit and warm with golden autumn trees. A path that is made for dancing and skipping and crunching leaves.

Sometimes the path to God is dark and blue and long, but the stars glow above and the moon washes me and I feel close to light even in the darkness. This is a path that is made for discovering and hoping and the contented knowledge of freedom.

Sometimes the path to God is so cloudy, so foggy that nothing is visible. Those are the scary times. The times when I wander and wonder if I still am on the path. Wonder if I have, perhaps, accidentally turned around and am now walking away from Him? The worst is not knowing how close to Him I really am. The reaching out is frightening and disappointing when my hand seems to once again clench nothing when all I need is something strong and firm and still. The mist swirls and I can feel it seeping into me and I don’t want to keep looking.

Panic feels as though it is always just one thought away.

I want to stop.

I want to sit.

But I know that God is there- somewhere- and that pushes me on.

This is the path that is made for wanting and trusting and clinging.

To find Him is such a relief.

When my fingers feel that rock and that refuge becomes real in the mist.

I am so glad to be near Him. So glad that I didn’t sit down and give up.

Coming to God is the first part.

The next part is actually talking to Him.

Talking to Him looks different, depending on what we are talking about.

Sometimes He sits on a throne and I kneel and can hardly look at Him because I have sinned again and He tells me to come closer, but I can’t because I am ugly and so He steps down and comes to me. Sometimes I stand in front of that throne and tell my story with big motions and jumbled words and He smiles to see me so animated. Sometimes I come to His throne shaking and in tears and begging. And he listens and cries. Sometimes I lug burdens along, and He leans forward in that throne, forehead furrowed and chin in his hand and I know that He is listening and caring. Sometimes I come just to sit, because I need to be with Him, and He just watches me and it’s okay to be so continuously watched because He is healing me. Sometimes I come and I am jittery with worries and He reaches out and puts heavy hands on my shoulders and I feel myself growing calm.

And sometimes I come because I need to be valuable and His hands are the only thing that can prove to me that I am.

He is so very real.