Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Prayer: Part Five
I haven’t been through so much, not like the protagonist in the book of Job. It is hard to imagine what he went through. A devout man, praying for his family continually, a good businessman, a good friend, and everything turned against him.
He lost his wealth. Bandits killed his livestock, fire from heaven killed his employees, and a great wind crushed the house where his children were eating. He must have thought long about the dying moments of his employees, his children. Then he was covered, head to toes, with sores.
I haven’t been through so much, not like the parent in Somalia who watches her child slowly starve. Or the orphan wandering the streets after a tsunami.
But we each have experiences that shape us. It seems that when we have been pushed the hardest we grow the most. Not a pleasant experience.
I have had some unpleasant experiences. I have been gravely ill. I have been kidnapped, and mugged. I’ve been stranded afoot in a snow storm (caught pneumonia). Once I was in a sand storm. It shredded my tent and I sought shelter from the stinging sand under an over turned picnic table for several hours until it passed. I have held and kissed my dead child in my home, in my drive, in the emergency room, and in the funeral parlor. About ten years ago I thought that my marriage was doomed. I’ve had back injuries and skin disease. I’ve had dreams come true. . . and seen them turn to nightmares.
And I feel joy.
I feel joy, and I feel strong, and I feel protected.
What a long strange trip it’s been.
I am currently struggling with how to deal with my child’s mental illnesses while lending my wife the strength she needs. And as I look at the task set before me I am in awe of my creator. He prepared me for this challenge by using difficulties times.
When they used to make swords they would heat and fold the metal over and over, mixing the carbon with the iron to create steel. This would make the metal strong and flexible. The heat of the forge and the pounding hammer on the anvil creates a tool, a weapon, that is resilient and capable.
I sometimes feel like that sword. When life takes us into dark places we are pounded into new shapes. Afterward there is often an imperfection. We become a little bent. We slide our fingers over the damaged areas and even if it isn’t visible we can feel. . . well, a little bent.
But we are stronger. We are better able to take the next blow. The soot, the carbon of the flames, the traces of the furnace are beat in, blended with who we are. We are stronger.
I dearly loved Willy. That little boy who was my dream child, who looked like my baby pictures, who laughed and cooed and giggled. . . But he died, and that event bent me in ways that will never be smooth again.
They say that after decades of persecution the Church is flourishing in China. Many gave up so much for their faith in that country. They gave up their homes, their freedom, sometimes their lives. And now it flourishes. Could it be that the struggle is what made it grow so well? Could it be that the muck and filth of human oppression was needful nutrients to make that hard soil fertile?
Could it be the same for the individual? Could it be that hard times force us to rely on Him, make us better able to serve? Could it be that when we are forced to strive, to struggle and weep and grieve, that we draw closer to the only true strength in the universe?
Let me tell you something about how it affected me. Imagine the human heart as a dial, its needle pointing to its current emotion. You might find that the range of that dial changes during a lifetime (some get wider, and some get narrower). I know that when I was a teen it was a small thing. The needle's pointed range of emotions was short arc. Sure, I felt it was large (teens are so dramatic), but it centered on me. If I was a little sad, a little happy, a little whatever, it wiggled to and fro; it was pretty much all about me.
As I grew and as I experienced, the range of that wavering needle swept into new areas. The death of Willy made it burst, double, triple what it could feel. I grieved over my child, and I grieved over the losses I saw in the world. My heart felt like some living thing bursting out of my chest. It was covered with spikes and it felt like it was trying to kill me. And I found in the midst of my anguish that the world was filled with pain like mine. I had never noticed that there were so many people weeping. My world had been much smaller, my heart had been much smaller. Now it was big enough to hurt for others.
As I face new tasks, I see that the hurts of my life make me better able to handle new challenges. That isn’t to say that I am capable of handling them on my own. I am not. The work at hand is bigger than I can bear. Fortunately my LORD is quite capable of lending me the resources I need. My confidence in Him makes it easier for me to tell my trembling legs to hold still, not run.
That is why I feel joy, strength, protection.
The greatest source of this new found strength, new found courage, is prayer. It is in the knowledge that I am entirely weak and unable. I can do this because He holds me up when my knocking knees will not. I get that from prayer.
I used to think of prayer as something my grandmother would do. It was something for little old ladies. Though I had heard it was for everyone, I thought that real men don’t pray. It was something folks did in groups at church and was preceded with a litany of sad stories, spoken in somber seriousness without joy.
Today I find that prayer is not about a formulae of penitence and begging. It is something that is whispered and shouted and laughed and screamed and wept. And I am still a real man. I don’t worry about what others may think. It is a private thing, and it is a public thing. It is sharing with Him who I am, where I am, and what I am feeling. It is about a relationship. . . my sharing, my giving of me to Him.
I have found value in praying about a single topic day after day (this year I spent a couple of months praying a focused prayer about Jesus as my shepherd). I have found that it is useful to sometimes pray flat on my face, and sometimes shouting at the sky. Prayers can be written, and even drawn (and both! That prayer on The Shepherd was written in tiny lettering on a wall forming a life-sized image of Him.).
But if you are unused to prayer, where to begin? I have a recipe for prayer that I am teaching my children.
Take three gratitudes and place it in your heart.
Mix in three concerns for others.
Stir with love for two minutes.
Ask for strength for two of your largest concerns.
Dust with two more heartfelt thanks.
Frost with a praise and an amen.
It is a simple prayer that fills the soul and can be served hot from the passion of your heart, or cool with the joy of everyday living.
That sounded a little corny. (Sorry.)
I want to say that prayer is more than going to Him with requests (please heal. . . please give me. . . please teach. . .). Those are fine. But there should be more. I find that in starting a prayer in praise and gratitude it puts my heart in the right framework. The real point is in sharing my life with Him and He sharing His strength with me.
I’d never make it without it.