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Prayer

SharingMy son’s girlfriend is an atheist.  He wants to share his faith but he doesn’t want to alienate her and he knows sharing his faith with her is risky.  Sadly, her defenses are already up because of a series of abrasive Christians she has already met.

Why is it that when many Christians share their faith it sounds like a reprimand?  “I know that you think you’re right, but . . . I believe that what you are doing is bad because . . . God hates it when you . . .” As a result, this young woman and so many like her see Christians as narrow-minded, bossy, and judgmental.

It is going to be a long, rocky road before she will be able to perceive anything else. Yet, my son has people pushing him to convert her NOW. Even when these people know why he is taking his time, they say the same thing.  “If you don’t do it, I will.”

This is what my mother called bull in a china shop.  These people know things are delicate and easily broken but they are going to thunder and they won’t consider another way.

My son has chosen another approach for dealing with people who have suffered abrasive confrontations in the name of Christ.

  1. Let the person get to know you. Model Christ’s behavior in your life and it will be seen.
  2. Mention your faith at appropriate times.  As you interact with this person, don’t hide your faith or your church activities. Make brief comments as appropriate and then move on. This doesn’t mean any time there is a lull in conversation.  It needs to fit.
  3. Link the two.  As your friendship deepens, make the connection between your behavior and your faith more obvious.
  4. Invite. Ask this person to come to a church activity with you. If your friend is especially skittish, start with a social activity. Or if they are civic minded, you might ask them go to the Crop Walk with your youth group. Then invite them to a special service.
  5. Encourage.  As this person starts to open up, encourage this by inviting them to learning activities such as women’s circle or a study group.  The more personal relationships they build with kind, loving Christians, the more likely they are to see the Love and Beauty of Christ.

–SueBE

My dreams are so vivid and full of adventure that, in comparison, life can be dull as dishwater!  Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, my eyes are dried out from frenzied REM-ing as I try to follow the action in my dreams, and my feet are dog-tired.  As if I’d been traveling in the night!

I don’t always remember what I’ve dreamed, but the other day I remembered seeing a book, and a camera zooming in dramatically on the title.

Why I Called on God,” the book’s cover read.

But it didn’t seem to be a warm and fuzzy inspirational memoir – it felt more like some kind of exculpatory treatise, as if I was trying to justify my habit of praying and waiting on God to move things forward when I could well have done at least some of it my (darn) self.

(Pardon the almost-expletive!)

The title seemed to say, what? You want me to do something about a problem? Why? I called on God! He’ll handle everything!

Since this is a prayer blog and we don’t use off-color language (Heck, we’re so sweet and pure that we don’t even know any swear words! You believe that. Don’t you?) indulge me as I paraphrase and re-jigger a common “blue” phrase to make a point. Please don’t be offended.

Sometimes, we just need to… sit or get off the cot. Know what I mean? I’m saying it can often boil down to just getting up, off of our keysters, and moving in any direction. Think of prayer as a mobile app; you can pray while heading toward your goal, and God will get the day off for once. He’s spending so much time propping each of us up that there are sections of space and time that are getting kinda weedy.

Since I had this dream a few days ago, I’ve begun paring down my excessive praying (Help me catch this spider! How much spice in this recipe?) and ask God’s blessing as I use my own best judgment. I bought a “Bugzooka” – a kind of tiny vacuum – to help me catch bugs that dare breach the hull of my house (the brochure said it would rescue insects alive, but, well, I wonder how you say “condolences” in arachnid?)

And I’ve looked up recipes online to get the 411 on how much paprika to put into the dish I’m making for dinner (note to self: biiig difference between t. and T. in a recipe. Live/learn.)

I’m still living “prayerfully and positively” but I’m also getting my keyster off of the cot. If my dreams are better than real life, it seems I’ve got a lot of work to do!

Jesus PrayerI’ve written before about how to pray when you don’t know what to say.  Oftentimes, in times of crisis, the words are not important.  It is the connection to God that pulls us through.

That said, when I have no words for a given situation that lack becomes my focus.  When I should be focusing on Him, instead I am focusing on what isn’t there.  The words I need to explain a situation that He already understands.

Recently, I learned a prayer that is a great go-to prayer in times of distress, The Jesus Prayer.  While there are several versions, this is the one that I learned:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

That just about covers it.  Lord, I’m coming to you and, in my flawed way, I have no clue what to say.  Help!

That said, some people leave off “a sinner.”  Including that phrase puts them in a dark place of self-doubt and self-incrimination.

Me? I include it. At this point in my life, I can accept the fact that I am far from perfect.  I don’t like it, but I can accept it.

So when I have no clue what to pray, I have this to fall back on.  I may have no idea what to say, because I am, after all, flawed.  But I can fall back on these words and on His infinite mercy.

–SueBE

I am an earthenware jug
filled to the brim with simple water —
Adam’s ale, most humble mead.
And yet I cry:
Make me wine,
make me wine,
make me wine.

I wrote this poem fragment one afternoon, realizing it at once as a declaration of one of my deepest sins: I don’t think that I am good enough for God. I want to be special; I want to be a saint. I want to be extraordinary.

But what’s so wrong with ordinary? After all, I am as God made me. Why ask for wine when water is enough? And then it came to me: What if you knew that all you had to do is to be your best self, in all your day-to-day plainness, and you would be doing exactly what God wanted of you? What if being ordinary and happy is enough?

Sometimes I feel like Pinocchio; that somehow, if I do something wonderful, something important, I’ll achieve “real boy” status. But maybe this is as real as it gets. Instead of keeping my eye on some nebulous, unachievable future, why don’t I just look around at where I am right now, and focus on making it as good as I can make it? Wouldn’t that be a better use of my time?

It comes down to this: Some people, a select few, are extraordinary. And they earn that status in contrast with the rest of us, the vast ordinary majority. And that’s just fine. We are all doing God’s work by being who we are. Shouldn’t that be enough for us?

I’m not going to pray to be converted into wine anymore. I’m done with whining, too. I got the message, and I’m passing it on: You are enough. You are perfectly perfect. God made you so. Don’t waste your time fruitlessly wishing to be what you’re not. Just be a perfectly perfect you. God is absolutely crazy about that person. And so am I.

Once again, he was an important historical figure,” said the author. “He was the forerunner of some of the greatest political players of our time, and if you look at a list of all his accomplishments, once again – one can only say, he was ahead of his time.”

I’d been listening to this conversation on NPR for a good fifteen minutes, engrossed and infuriated. Truth be told, I had no real interest in some politician’s biography, but what was really keeping me tuned in was one simple fact. During the whole conversation, the moderator and the guest had never once mentioned the historical figure’s name!

Who the heck is it?” I yelled at the radio. “Once again, I ask, ‘what’s the dude’s name’ for crying out loud.” As the program ended I put two and two together. My face turned red and I was really embarrassed, even though it was only me and the radio in the room. For goodness sake. The historical figure’s name?

Juan Seguin.

Once again.

Le sigh.

I thought they kept saying, “once again,” when they were actually – repeatedly – saying the name of the man they were talking about. Juan Seguin.

Merciful heaven! Think I need to leave my brain to science. If they’ll take it!

But how often do we find that we’re not really plugged in, not paying attention, but get riled up while having only half of the facts?

On my local newscast, a man was interviewed about the imminent introduction of Obamacare, and he said, emphatically, to the reporter, “It would be great if we had a little bit more time to get used to the idea. I mean, there wasn’t even any warning this was happening so soon!”

Say what? How much more warning could there possibly have been? I wrote an article about what was then the Health Care Reform Bill for the magazine Music & Sound Retailer in January of 2010. I interviewed small business owners from across the country and they hated the idea even then. So this law has been around in some form for years now.

Somebody at a store mentioned to his friend that he had a contracting job in Pohatcong. “Don’t you mean ‘Hopatcong’? his friend corrected him, rather (if I may coin a term) jerkily. But here in New Jersey, we’ve got a rich palette of Native American-based town names. We’ve got us a Pohatcong, all right. Along with a Hopatcong, and even a Lopatcong for good measure. So there, Mr. Know-it-all!

Maybe we should start a new holiday: Fully-Paying-Attention-Day. I know most of you out there are multi-taskers, but wouldn’t it be a kick if all of us were on the same page, tuned into the same wavelength? Taking a time-out from assumptions and half-hearted conversations might even lead to real communication. Once again I say, let’s really listen to each other (if only for today!)

UniqueMy name is Sue and I am an introvert.

When I tell people I’m an introvert, they laugh.  Why?  Because, when I’m in the mood, I am outgoing.  I talk to and genuinely enjoy people, right up until I’ve had enough.  Being with people isn’t where I get my energy.  My energy comes from time spent away from noise and crowds.  I need quiet time.

This means that sometimes people will ask me to do something, and I have to tell them no.  My schedule is too crowded, my days are too busy.  I need some time to myself even if what they are asking me to participate in is a church activity.

Sometimes that gets me a funny look.  “God wants us to (fill in the blank).”

I know this.  I am, after all, fairly intelligent, and I’ve been paying attention.

But, I’m still an introvert, and I’ve finally come to the realization that I’m an introvert because this is how God made me.  It isn’t because there was too much sulfur in the water when I was a child.  Or because I didn’t have a small pox vaccine.  Or because I never had braces.

This is the way that God made me. I can’t help but believe that if God made me an introvert, he must be okay with it. As a result, I don’t fight it.

If someone asks me to do something, I pay attention to my first reaction.  Community choir.  Teach a class.  Participate in a fund raiser.  I could do any of it.  I have the skills.  But if my first instinct is to curl up in a ball, I simply thank them and tell them that I can’t.

Some people understand.  Others don’t.  But that’s okay.

My name is Sue, I’m an introvert, and this is how He made me.

–SueBE

  1. Start with what you believe. In the case of the rosary, begin with the Apostle’s Creed. When facing a decision or turning point in life, begin by examining your moral code: What possible response is most in keeping with what you believe? Then, and only then, can you peacefully proceed.
  2. The Joyful Mysteries: Life will often be wonderful, amazing. Watch for it.
  3. The Sorrowful Mysteries: However, it will hurt sometimes.
  4. The Glorious Mysteries: In the end, it will all be worth it.
  5. The Luminous Mysteries: But most of your time will be spent in contemplation, puzzling the whole thing out. Life’s a mystery. That’s how mysteries work.
  6. You’re going to end up saying, “Pray for us,” a lot. It comes with the territory.
  7. It’s repetitive. But if you’re paying attention, it can be transformative, strengthening, reaffirming.
  8. It’s a lovely thing to embark on alone, but in the company of others, it can be magnificent.
  9. It’s circular: It all comes back around. Keep that in mind.

Meteorologists have recently come up with a phrase you may have heard: “weather-aware.” They’ll show you the forecast and say, “It might be a passing front, but you should always be…. weather-aware.”

Sounds kind of ominous! But really, most of the time, it means: umbrella, yes; flip-flops, no. In some ways, it seems like meteorologists want all of us to see the world through the same lens that they do. All weather, all the time.

On the radio, I heard that New York City had introduced its public bike-share initiative. “We’re just in the final phases of the Citi-Bike program, and we’re rolling it out slowly, trying to build momentum.” Rolling out bikes slowly? Was that pun intentional? Does the spokeswoman see the world as one big bike path?

Norman Schwarzkopf once spoke to the press about a military operation, and he was asked by a reporter for specifics. “Sorry, son, I’m a general, and generals only speak generally.”

Doesn’t it seem as if we all see the world through our own particular filters? I know that my son sees every dollar as a potential video game. I see every food item in the store as a coupon waiting to happen.

And when it comes to prayer, I seem to see every moment as an excuse to give God a laundry list of things I need done. A “honey-do” list for the Maker of All Things! Why not? It’s not as if He’s holding the whole world together or anything! Surely He has time to help me with every little thing I need or even vaguely want.

I get so specific with God in prayer – asking about a particular bill, the leaky faucet, even my insurance co-pay – that I lose sight of the fact that God’s already on it. If I were to say what’s in my heart as I prayed, it would consist of: “Here’s what’s happening (as You know) and I’m just checking in to make sure You’ve got my back.” Isn’t that what we need anyway, from anyone in our lives?

Friendship, romantic relationship, even a co-worker. We want to be sure that our partners are on the same wavelength and that they’ll be there for us when the chips are down.

Could it be that God expects us to have His back too? I think we can make His job easier by actually releasing worries once we’ve prayed about them. Maybe even making a dramatic “jazz-hands” gesture as we unleash our troubles into the ether, certain that these problems now officially belong to God.  Poof!  All good.

Seeing the world through the filter of faith can really change the way you look at things. It can also take a load off of your back and lift a burden from your heart.  You’ve just got to leave the heavy-lifting in the Right Hands.

public prayerMy friend Lynn and I just finished teaching a class on prayer at Florissant Presbyterian Church.  Talking about prayer to other people is a breeze.  Praying out loud in front of them?  Not so breezy.

Lynn is really good at praying in public.  Really good.  Fortunately, she was on board with helping me learn.  We opened each class with a time to share Joys and Concerns.  Then Lynn would read a devotional that ended with a prayer.  After that prayer, she’d dump the next part on me.

That’s how it felt in the beginning.  This second prayer is always about the joys and concerns.  I stumbled over the notes I had taken as I prayed over whatever everyone had shared.  This ranged from children looking for work or a new home to friends and relatives who were sick. Sometimes we pray for the family members of someone who had died.  Joys include travel, new jobs, a new baby or a new home.

I’d love to say that by the end of two months, I was smooth as silk.  I’d love to say that, but it wouldn’t be entirely true.  I’m still not nearly as good as Lynn but here are three things I learned.

  1. Bring a prayer. If you know you are going to have to pray in public, you can always write something ahead of time. No, it isn’t cheating. Congregational prayers that are printed in church bulletins so that we can read them together are written ahead of time. You can do it too.
  2. Take notes.  If this is an impromptu prayer, such as praying over joys and concerns, you can’t prepare ahead of time, but you can take notes.  Trying to remember all the names as you pray before the group will just make you nervous.  Write down names and a few details.  Group like requests (illness, births, travel, etc.) together to help keep your thoughts organized.
  3. Be yourself.  Do not compare yourself to anyone else.  Lynn intimidates me without even trying.  But I’ve learned that I can give a prayer that is short and sweet and to the point.  Sure, other people might work in literary references and talk for five minutes or more.  That’s not my style and that’s okay.

I’m not going to lie to you and say that praying in public is easy.  That said, I no longer feel like I’m walking the plank. For me, I think that a big part of it was getting over the fact that I don’t do it the same way other people do it.

But that’s okay.  It’s what you are going to get whenever you ask me to talk to someone on your behalf.  Family, friend or God, the conversation is going to be direct, simple and to the point.

–SueBE

 

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