My Book of Uncommon Prayers: These Frail Threads

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I don’t want to be naïve again, speech peppered with Praise the Lord’s and God Bless You’s, and other Christian slang, as if by filling in the blanks I could sanctify the moment.

I meant well.

There are elements I wish I could reclaim—the idea that God would intervene if I could muster enough faith, the idea that God would love me more if I kept more of His rules.

Always.
Simple. Kind of.

I would love to get back to the uncomplicated worship where I knew God was big, powerful, and good, and that somehow my weak words meant something in His kingdom economy, that his gifts freely given actually changed things—changed lives.

Even mine.

But things don’t always turn out as expected. The right key doesn’t always fit in the lock; and though I still believe, my belief is tangled and mangled with shaky hopes and sanctified suspicion.

The strength of will is not always armor enough when facing a cosmic battle. And inspiration and revelation once cavalierly received have slowed to a trickle in the murkiness of time, trouble,

and desperation.

Cataracts of soul have dulled even further the glass darkly explanations, and my longing for more drives me to my knees.

Can I have the wonder back? Can I feel again past the numbness of mind and heart? Oh, Lamb, Oh Lover, Oh Rescuer, save me. Let me feel again what it means to be connected to eternity with these frail threads of confidence and leave the doubt of this dirty life behind.
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Psalm 86:1-7
Bend down, O LORD, and hear my prayer;
answer me, for I need your help.
2 Protect me, for I am devoted to you.
Save me, for I serve you and trust you.
You are my God.
3 Be merciful to me, O Lord,
for I am calling on you constantly.
4 Give me happiness, O Lord,
for I give myself to you.
5 O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive,
so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.
6 Listen closely to my prayer, O LORD;
hear my urgent cry.
7 I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble,
and you will answer me.

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Surrender

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Surrender feels like failure.
It feels depressing, like giving up.
There is a darkness to it, a weight to it—the unwilling outmanned, outmaneuvered, surrounded, and pressed to defeat.
Surrender feels like exhaustion.
It feels compressing, like yielding up the last breathless bits of me.
And yet You call me to this laying down of arms jazz
in exchange for Your loving arms.
And I find that surrender to You is not as much giving up as over—not as much failing as falling into a tender pull,
deference to one more wise and able, after all my best ideas have faltered and failed,
after all my excuses have dried in my mouth,
after all my tears have washed away nothing.
It is the unclenching of a fist, the unmasking of a façade.
It is the baring of a war-torn will, the stripping of all that chokes and hinders.
And I find that surrender to You is not as much like crying “uncle,”
but more like a hallelujah.

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John 15:4-7 (ESV)
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
James 4:10
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

Reel Faith

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Many things you fear come to pass, but

most don’t; and

since you never know which will or won’t, it makes more sense to fear none. But

my Pollyanna is more my Puddleglum, and

my optimism quotient is tempered by what is truly possible on this broken planet; so

how does a glass half empty gal have faith without feeling like it is more about wishful thinking and cooked up certainty?

How to live in the real world with real faith when real is often reeling with the now and the what could be? Yet will I praise Him.

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“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~Matthew 6:34

Asking you, asking me . . .

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Does your faith-life even require Jesus?

Got the maxims memorized.

Got the rules down.

Is religion more your bulwark than relationship—

behavior and image more important than face-falling service,

open-hearted devotion to His worthiness?

Has purpose surpassed person?

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate this substance-hoped-for idea.

Are we a scattered and lost flock, devoted to a text but without a message?

I think I would rather falter on a rough road than walk resolutely down a worn and wrong path,

stuck in a form of obedience . . . but without a desperate, clinging trust.

My will is contrary to my dedication;

my rituals supplant my connection, offering a form without reality.

Am I so right-on religious that as a Christian I can do this thing without Jesus?

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Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. ~Psalm 51:10

I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

~Romans 7:19

 

The Daily Prompt: Renewal with a Hitch

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Renewal always sounds bright and shiny, like a beautifully restored vintage car or a vibrant blossom in the spring bursting from what had looked like a lifeless branch. But the problem with renewal is that something has decayed in order for it to require a new life. So restoration is a good thing. Right?

But renewal comes with a hitch. What is new is chained to what is old. When I walk in fresh ways, my past self is not dismissed like a cast-off piece of clothing. My past is the chain tied around my ankle, reminding me that whatever lies ahead, whatever bright, polished penny-of-life has brought new promise and vision, I am only separated from what has gone before by my willingness to step intentionally onto a new path.

Sure there are helps in people and programs. There is spiritual renewal that comes from the supernatural. But as long as I walk in this skin and bone, my whole story is part of me. Deaths, accidents, betrayals, and sufferings, both physical and mental, do not suddenly and totally disappear in the presence of some mysterious regeneration of self or circumstance. Glass-half-empty does not of its own accord morph into glass-half-full. Renewal is the gritty process of intentionally looking to what is ahead. It is the planting of one foot in front of the other, heading toward a brighter prospect. It is the recognition that what is really real will become actually real when faith becomes sight.

In faith, I may be a new creature and all things may become new in some spiritual sense; but in truth, renewal here requires the commitment to press on in weakness, not forgetting the other chapters of my story, but putting them in the grander perspective of the whole story.

“Now I know in part; then I shall fully know, even as I am fully known.” ~I Cor. 13:12b          

 

My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Pain and Hope

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I woke suddenly in the wee hours, the dark hours. Was it the weird dream I was having? Maybe. But aside from that, I immediately was aware that I had passed the anniversary of my first child’s death and had not remembered.

That was what kept me awake.

I stopped hearing the heartbeat with my stethoscope on Nov. 18, ’74. The doctor confirmed my full-term child was dead on the 18th, and I gave birth to her on the 19th. Every year at this time, whether I say anything or not, the loss rises up. And though time has healed the rawness of the wound, the grief has always been there.

But not this year.

The loss of Noelle colored my whole life. It framed my internal dialogue with God about what is just and right, and what is love in His eternal economy.  I wrote a lot of songs. I wrote a lot of poetry. And I journaled the highs and lows of grappling with loss and disappointment. I processed a lifetime of questions. I railed and returned to the knee time and time again, knowing that He was there to meet me in my anguish and questioning.

Though it hurt to turn the grief over and over in my mind and art, the reality of it, in a strange way, is what gave me hope. There was the expectation that something so horrible would be made right at the end of all things. All the hard things would not be for nothing.

Pain and hope link arms, and it is what keeps you pressing on. It kept me pressing on.

To stop feeling the pain is to forget. And to forget is to become numb.

If I forget, I don’t care.

If I don’t care, I lose hope that things will ever be right.

The steady drip drip of loss joins the stream of all the other pains in my heart and in this world, and it would flow on and on unabated, swallowing up all the cries of us, the anonymous, if not for the glimpse of promise. I must believe that even if I stop feeling, His promise is stronger than my exhausted unbelief.

“Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” ~~Mark 9:24

Lord, of the faithless, the weary wanderer, though I am apt to complain more than praise, don’t let me stop feeling the pain that reassures me I am connected and hoping for your kingdom to come. Be near me in the silence of my heart; speak love to me. Help me to not stop caring.     

 

 

 

I Wonder

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Do you ever wonder about all those people you have crossed paths with, crossed wills with,

and do you ever wonder what it will be like to spend eternity with them—those who pressed all your wrong buttons and abused your good nature?

They believe the same as you—except for all the details of doctrine where you are right and they are wrong.

But that should not keep them out of heaven, right?

It’s easy to segregate from the unfaithful, of course; that us-them thing works much more efficiently there. But it’s the faulty faithful I have trouble seeing alongside me as I walk on blissful shores. It is much more comfortable to see them in my mind’s eye punished for all the insensitivities, the lies, and . . . I think they were lies.

But then again . . .

Do you ever wonder when you accidentally meet up in a shop or accidentally stalk their Facebook page whether or not they have changed—whether they are sorry for the wrongs and whether they are properly chagrined at how they refused to value your wisdom and gentle spirit?

Do you wonder how God could love them the same as He loves you when their diminished character kind of makes you ashamed to call them brother and sister?

I wonder as I blunder.

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“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8