On Giving Up Vague Prayers for a Well-Defined Faith

While the house sleeps, I curl up in the stuffed green chair to pray on quiet summer mornings. I find myself searching for words beyond the perfunctory request for God to “bless” my day, my children, my endeavors. “Bless” is shorthand for all of the needs around which I can’t form words. I don’t even know what it means, or what I want him to do for me. My prayers carry a vague notion of wanting–desires unformed and ill-defined.

This summer our family sits in an ellipses, those three small dots that indicates a pause before the end of a sentence. Autumn will enter with a flurry of change for each one of us: two new schools, new family dynamics, a new vocation. We need more than the blessing of God. We need wisdom, comfort, peace, and guidance. We need eyes and ears attuned to the Holy Spirit. We need each other. New friends. Courage. Confidence in Christ. We need a renewed reverence and the ancient words of scripture buried bone-deep from which our muscle memory rises.

We need more than blessings. We need answers.

Shelly Miller’s book Rhythms of Resthas been a faithful companion this summer, and her words have encouraged me to find words of my own as I pray. She writes:

I’m learning to say what I want with greater clarity and definition, even when it feels uncomfortable and presumptuous, because I don’t want a mediocre life as a result of vague prayers and ill-defined faith. When you are tired, depleted, worn out, and weary, imagine Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you want me to do for you? Jesus often receives one’s question by responding with another. I feel this question, rather than hear it, as I re-learn how to pray. What is it I want? By sitting with this question all summer, and allowing it to take root in the deepest parts of me, I discover with greater clarity what we want and need as a family. I discover that the things I thought I wanted are not always the things God wants for me. I discover that prayer is less a vague collection of “bless me’s” and more of a conversation.

The “God bless…” prayers feel like throwing a handful of dust in the wind. The wind sweeps them away, and I am left holding nothing but unknowns. As I become more specific in prayer, and I define my needs before God, I find the words to tether me to Him. I know what it is I want–wisdom, a friend for my child, an open door, a willing spirit–and I ask for it. When Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” I sit with open palms and robust prayers as I wait for him to answer.

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Do Shelly’s words resonate with you too? Do you pray in generalities or with a well-defined faith? How have your prayers changed as you’ve grown in faith?

When You Feel Ill-Equipped to Lead Others into a Deeper Faith

The year I turned 24, I spent an unreasonable amount of time debating what color my hair should be. I indulged a mild obsession with the TV show Friends and regularly debated the merits of a Ross-and-Rachel combination. I quit my nursing job with good friends, sweet patients, and flexible hours to accept a temporary desk job, hoping to make more money in a less physically demanding environment. In September of that same year, after a summer of swollen feet and watching sitcom re-runs from a side-lying position, I gave birth to my first baby…

To read more on how we grow into our roles as parents and spiritual guides to our children, join me at In Touch Magazine.

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Why We Need Each Other on the Broken Road

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”~ Albert Camus

Winter possesses its own spare beauty. Steep slopes of fresh white. Frosted windows. Steel skies. Sharp branches. It’s lovely in its own way, but few would choose to live in a Narnia of forever-cold days. Winter draws a curtain against the cicada’s song and summer’s lush gardens until our memory of summer fades.

We forget there is bounty and more beauty to come as we experience the longest nights and the darkest days of the year. We wonder if winter will ever evolve into spring. If the earth will once again offer us bouquets of peonies and roses and sweet russian sage.

Walking a broken road in the grip of grief feels like a journey through winter, a long walk on those steep slopes under steel skies. There is beauty, but it is the kind of beauty that requires a wounded heart in order to see it clearly.

I discovered beauty while walking my own hard road, and I found it sitting around my kitchen table with the people who care for me. I saw it in the familiar faces of dear friends who surrounded me as I wrestled with grief.

I discovered that the consolation of community gives me hope on the hard road.

Friends have borne witness to my pain, and rather than shy away from it, they embraced it as their own. They offered words of affirmation and sincere prayers on my behalf, but more than that, they offered the solace of their own sadness. They carried me down the broken road when I could not stand upright on my own two feet.

Those who bore witness alongside me, offered me grace for my grief and the promise of summer for my sadness. They believe the earth will once again bear fruit, and the garden will grow full and rich in color. They believe I will once again know delight.

In the midst of winter, I found an invincible summer in the place I least expected it–in the people who gather around my table, my friends.

A Companion for the Broken Road

I lay awake in bed, and a small grief opened like a night blooming flower. I found the well of skin between my husband’s collarbone and his shoulder, and I lay my head there, his solid warmth a comfort. The flower of grief continued to bloom.

I dreamt terrible dreams. I woke in the middle of the night–my mind on an endless repeat–remembering the details of my disappointment. I thought about what I should have said and what I could have done, but realized nothing but the hands of time tick-tocking backwards could change the source of my sleepless nights.

I held imaginary conversations in my head, but soon realized enough words had already spilled into the wound. Words wouldn’t change anything. Sometimes the best we can do is hold out a hand to the one who hurts and who hurt us, and offer to walk the hard road together in silence.

I lay awake in bed, a small grief blooming, and I reminded myself that Peace is a person.

Peace is nail-pocked hands and a pierced side. Peace is a man of sorrows acquainted with the bloom of grief.

Peace is a lamb. Peace is a lion. Peace is the morning star, the cornerstone, the light of the world. Peace is Emmanuel, God with us. Peace is the resurrection and the life. Peace is the author and finisher of our faith.

Peace is Jesus, and he is mine and I am his.

The Prince of Peace waters my small grief with his own tears. He walks beside me in the tick-tocking hours of the day and in the blooming hours of the night, traveling the hard road together in companionable silence.

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Perhaps you find yourself walking a hard, broken road today. Know that you’re not alone in your grief, Peace walks beside you and wants to take your hand on the journey. I’d be honored to pray for you, so feel free to share your request in the comments or via email. Peace be with you today.

Easter: On Resurrection and Ruination

The three of us sat on stiff bleachers with maroon banners hanging over our heads, surrounded by thousands of fellow parents and our soon-to-be college freshmen. The university’s band played a song of celebration a few feet away, and I smiled as I watched the drummers beat out their joy at playing for a full crowd.

Just beyond the thick stone walls of the gym, tree branches swayed in the blush of first bloom. Students sat on checkered blankets sunbathing in the quad. Runners ran circles around buildings. Taxi cabs honked in the distance.

It was a typical spring Sunday for city dwellers, but for those of us who sat waiting, the day held the potential for a pivotal decision. If not for the few parents entering with palm fronds from the chapel, I would’ve entirely forgotten it was Palm Sunday.

Excitement thrummed under the surface in the room, as the president of the university took to the stage to welcome the potential students of the class of 2021.  As we sat with our daughter, I realized that this day could lead us to take our final step towards her future. I expected the president, a jesuit priest, to give us a rah-rah message, one meant to encourage our child’s enrollment with stats and impressive facts about the University. Instead, he met us at this fork in the road, and said something so surprising I’ll never forget it.

“We want to ruin your kids for life. We want to awaken them to the world, so that every day they wake up bothered.”

It wasn’t the message I expected at an admitted student’s day, but it was the Palm Sunday message my soul needed. I have faithfully prayed these convictions over my children and their future, but I fear that I haven’t been as faithful to live these convictions out  in our everyday.

I spend a great deal of time managing my children’s expectations, seeing to their comfort, eliminating pain where possible, serving their life to them rather than teaching them live in service to something greater. All the while praying that their convictions would come from a sincere relationship with Christ, a relationship that should be marked by ruination.

I want my kids ruined for life because of Jesus. I want them awake to the pain and injustice in the world around them, and I want them to wake up every day bothered by it. I want them to realize they have a role in the re-making of the world and in bringing God’s Kingdom here on earth. I want them to wake up every day knowing and walking in the truth of it.

In part, this is the message of Easter–that a life given over to Christ means suffering, sorrow, and bearing the burdens of others, but it also means a righting of wrongs. It means glorious resurrection. In my day-to-day, and in the daily lives of my kids, I’m not sure I have preached the message of Easter with my life as much as I’ve given it lip-service.

As I listened to the president priest, I knew we’d found a home for our daughter. I also knew more work must be done in my own home and heart. I forget that working out my salvation is a daily practice. I came away with his words ringing in my ears as a call to worship with the whole of my life.

May I too, wake up bothered. May I too, be fully awakened. May I be ruined for life for anything other than Jesus.

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Wishing you the happiest Easter! May your day be full of light, joy, and homecoming.