Pessimistic praying

I grew up spiritually fatalistic, in a family and in churches that firmly believed we were in the end times, and things were only going to get worse in our world until Christ’s return.

I still believe that Scripture bears witness to this, but lately the Holy Spirit has been convicting me about the pessimism that I’ve carried along with this belief. It is true that as a world, we are marching steadily further and further away from God, but I can’t find any place in Scripture that tells me to give up hope for God’s work in the middle of this.

I’ve begun to see that my “pessimism” has led me to pray limited prayers. I haven’t really prayed for great revival—in our nation or our world. I don’t remember ever asking for a widespread heart transformation of our political leaders—at least not with any real passion.

And this pessimism hasn’t just affected my “big” prayers. When I pray for someone seriously sick or injured in an accident, I hold back from boldly asking for healing. Instead I say, “if it be Your will, Lord” or I ask Him to “work things out for good.” Even when the longing in my heart is so great it throbs, I often hold back from praying in hope.

I think I began praying those words because Jesus prayed for the Father’s will to be done. It seemed right to follow His example, and I still think that is a valid way to pray. But I’ve been realizing that, though my WORDS may be the same as Christ’s, my attitude is entirely different. When I pray those words, they come out of doubt and not hope. When I pray them, I’m tamping down hope. I’m subconsciously thinking, “Well, if I don’t let my hopes get too high, then it won’t hurt when God doesn’t answer this prayer the way I want Him to.” This attitude seems pretty contrary to Scripture. In the Lord’s Prayer, the phrase “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is incredibly hopeful! It’s asking for earth to be more like heaven, where a loving God—rather than a cruel Satan—reigns. When Christ prayed “Your will be done,” He did so KNOWING that His Father’s will was and is completely good. He KNEW that on the other side of suffering was unspeakable joy for him. I imagine there was great freedom when He cried that. I imagine He was thinking, I WILL triumph over the pain and loneliness. I WILL cling to the joy that is ahead.

I don’t pray for the Lord’s will in that way. My sight is incredibly limited, so there is no triumph, there is no ability to see what is on the other side. So when I pretend with my words to be able to do that, am I lying? What’s more important: the words that come out of my mouth or the stifled hope that is in my heart? If I think my words are going to hide a very different heart attitude from an all-knowing God, then I’m mistaken.

How silly to try to hide my longings from God. How silly to pretend to have the same wisdom and knowledge as Jesus. I am human, not divine. I can follow Paul’s very human example when he cried out for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. Again and again he “begged” for this. He didn’t try to pretend that it was okay. He didn’t try to be “spiritual” from the beginning. He didn’t act like he had God’s purpose in that thorn all figured out. No. He cried out. He let God know how he felt. He “begged”! His words honestly portrayed what was in his heart. THEN God began teaching him that “(His) grace is enough.” Paul, being human, didn’t start with that. He shared what was in his heart and then let God transform him.

Lately, God has given our family a rare rest time: No one is sick; all six kids are doing well at school and with each other; Dave’s enjoying his work; I’m not so incredibly busy that I’m barely clinging to sanity.

This is good, yes, but it’s also dangerous because it’s during these kinds of times that my prayer life often suffers. I don’t actively depend on God in rest times the ways I do when things are hard. I don’t pray with the same intensity. But God’s been reminding me that things are hard in others’ lives and—on a bigger scope—in the world and in the church. I can use this space of personal rest to pray with passion—and with HOPE!—for others.

I know that authentic prayer for others hurts. When I pray specifically for the persecuted church, my heart will have to stretch to care more about those brothers and sisters. When I pray for women and girls and boys who are being abused through sex trafficking, my sleep will at times be interrupted with urgings to pray in the middle of the night. When I pray for this nation’s political leaders, I will have to pay greater attention to what is going on in the government. When I pray for the members of our church, I will have to invest more of my time in their lives.

But HOPE requires that I pray. And faith requires that I pray in HOPE.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

Amen.” Galatians 3:14-21

I took this shot in Montana this summer and am posting it today because I find a lot of amazing lessons in the metamorphosis of butterflies and in their fragile, short lives following their transformation. I see them as very hopeful creatures.

“Thank You,” and, “help, please”

End of day. I climb into Em’s loft for our almost-nightly time of talk and prayer. She scoots over her pillow, and my head sinks next to hers. We are both quiet. My eyelids droop. Sleep beckons. I fight back.

“Want me to pray?”

“M-hm.”

“Lord…”

I am usually a long pray-er, but tonight words seem heavy. My tired brain struggles to use them well enough to express the thoughts swirling in my mind. Thinking them is enough work for this moment late in the day.

Finally I say, “Thank You.”

And then, “Help, please.”

Em is not asleep, but she seems content.

And I am, too.

Because my wise God knows my thoughts and intercedes for me, and, though we clearly need the eloquence of phrases and clauses (there are 150 Psalms, after all), sometimes just a few words will do.

And tonight, “thank you” and “help, please” are enough.

A dusty morning

I wrote this post yesterday, but I’m getting the same look today–right away! And I’m not even in the house yet!

I read this quote from Jesus Calling this morning: “Living in My presence means living in two realms simultaneously: the visible world and unseen, eternal reality. I have equipped you to stay conscious of Me while walking along dusty, earthbound paths.”

So far, today has been decidedly dusty.

More accurately, I should write that I am dusty today. It’s a “free” day for me, which in actuality means it’s anything but. It means that I return from taking the kids to school and stare at the hundreds of things that need to be done in my house (both general maintenance/cleaning and the still-moving-in tasks that never were accomplished during this crazy summer—seriously, I still have pictures leaning against the walls of the living room and boxes of stuff in the garage). I have no appointments and no writing deadlines that are due TODAY and, and the fact that I had a big deadline yesterday means that I have left even more things undone (because I would ALWAYS rather write than do housework, no matter how tedious the writing task is).

So today my brain is frazzled. I flit: clean the half bath, fill the soap dispenser, think, “would the sheer curtains make the front room less gloomy feeling?” I try them. Nope, they don’t even fit on the rods—and I like the rods. I get suddenly depressed about decorating my house. I just want it done—and that reminds me of the 8th grade teacher I taught with years ago who drilled her students so diligently on the difference between “done” and “finished” (chicken is “done,” tasks are “finished) that when her students came to my classroom they corrected me.

Em and I had a bit of a grumpy morning, so thoughts about that are also swirling. I’m tossing around the pros and cons of taking on a longer-term writing job possibility. Bits of prayer surface. “Lord, I am so unequal to any of these tasks. I’m not even sure what to do today, much less tomorrow or long term.” But praying and listening get swallowed up.

I am not just dust-y. I AM dust, floating, mis-directed by any small puff of air. I imagine Satan blowing me this way and that, aided by my own un-captured thoughts.

The dog begins following me around, reminding me with soulful eyes that I promised her a trip to the dog park where I have planned to have some quiet time and Bible study.

I put her off for awhile, find more tasks to do, more distractions. Finally, though, the look becomes pitiful, and I succumb, as much to the Holy Spirit as to the dog.

So here I am, sitting, letting it all out, hopefully silencing the talk in my own head and listening, be-ing.

I’ve got to walk in the dust, scuff my feet in it even, but I don’t have to BE it.

I’m posting this and checking e-mails and she’s hoping to be outside very soon! I need this kind of focus!

a cycle of gratitude

No! Not ours! Em and Maddie oohing and aahing over baby Silas, son of Aaron and Jody. He’s very adorable.

Last week my kids attended a Backyard Bible Club. On the last day, as we parents came early to listen to the kids sing the songs they had learned during the week, I overheard a young mom behind me say to another mom, “Oh, yes, I have four children, ages 5, 4, 2, and 7 months. And we’re trying for a fifth. I just want another one, you know. They’re so precious.”

My shoulders slumped. That’s not my sentiment at the best of times, and it certainly wasn’t last week, as I was focused on unpacking my house. At one point in the week, I told Dave, “You know, it’s real easy to forget that one of the major reasons I’m getting this house organized is to make a home for our kids.  It’s ironic that much of the time I just want them out of the way so I can get it done.”

In church yesterday, as I took notes on the sermon, I also wrote this in my journal: “Help! I don’t want to be a mom right now. I want to be a child, YOUR child, Lord. I’m tired of the responsibility, the constant need to do so much and be so much to these four children. I can’t do it. Please, Lord, hold me like a little child, pull me close to your chest and help me to rest. To do this job of being a mom, I need to be Your little child.”

The sermon yesterday was on the first part of Colossians 4, in which Paul tells the church at Colosse (and us) to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Our pastor had a lot to say about this and the verses that followed (check out his blog at craigsturm.wordpress.com), but he said this about the “thankful” part of that verse: we should be thankful for the very privilege of prayer itself.

I connected that to the prayer I was writing in my journal. What an amazing thing that I can cry out to the almighty God of the Universe with a prayer like that! I have His attention. He bends His ear to my helpless, self-centered appeals.

Today I read the hymn “All for Jesus, All for Jesus,” in which the hymnwriter Mary D. James (1810-1883) takes this idea a step further. Here’s the last stanza:

Oh, what wonder! How amazing!

Jesus, glorious King of kings,

Deigns to call me His beloved,

Lets me rest beneath His wings.

All for Jesus! All for Jesus!

Resting now beneath His wings;

All for Jesus! All for Jesus!

Resting now beneath His wings.

I love that line: “(He) deigns to call me His beloved(.)” I can be thankful that, as His beloved, I can pray to Him about everything.

And I can be thankful that my prayers for help are answered, that in being His helpless, needy child, I can parent more and more in the way He wants me to.

Gratitude for the privilege of prayer itself. Gratitude for the deeper relationship it draws me into.

Prayer: a cycle of gratitude.

Pick ’em wisely, then fight them well

And speaking of fighting/wrestling, here are the two boys doing just that–one of their favorite activities. Once again, it’s at a soccer game!

I may have been standing up with the rest of the congregation, singing along with them, but inside I kicking and fussing. “I can’t believe they left that mess for me to clean up. Don’t they realize…” My hands clenched the back of the seat in front of me. It had been a month of what felt like non-stop service to my kids (the four of my own and our two international students)—without a bit of gratitude in return. I was burnt out.

And I was fighting mad—not enough to take on anyone out loud and in person, but enough to wage the battle inside my own head. I’d carried it into church. On the third song I felt God poking me, harder and harder, till I ceased my inner tirade enough to listen.

“You know, you’re not in the battle right now,” the Holy Spirit reminded me. “I’ve given you this space and time to regroup and rest, to connect with your life source. And you’re throwing punches like your opponent is still in your face.”

Oh, how often I do that. In moments of peace and quiet, I give into the urge to rehash past things I have perceived as wrongs. It makes me feel right and justified. It puffs me up into a martyr (ach, that mommy-martyr syndrome). I allow myself to think that I am building up ammunition so that one of these days—yes, one of these days—I’ll let it loose and air my grievances, and they’ll be really well-delivered because I’ve practiced them so much in my own head.

But this is the wrong battle.

I’m in a battle, all right—or at least I’m supposed to be.

But it’s not the one I choose to fight so much of the time.

It’s like the enemy is right there—throwing in lightning-fast crosses, catching me off guard with his left hook, jabbing me under the ribs with his knee.

And I’m swinging punches at myself, pummeling my own face, kicking my own shins. I weaken myself and become even more vulnerable to the enemy’s attack.

Because there IS an enemy. And he LOVES it when I fight the wrong battle.

Ever since that morning in church, I’ve been asking God to show me the battles I AM supposed to be fighting.

These battles are not WITHIN but are actually AGAINST my own mind. “(W)e take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” That’s the second half of 2 Corinthians 10:5. The first part of that verse is also applicable. Though it is often used to refer to false philosophies and doctrines, it certainly applies to the false things I tell myself and the wrong perceptions I hold. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God…”

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12 NLT

The enemy is never really my children or my students, my boss or my colleagues, my husband or my friends. The enemy is wholeheartedly focused on one goal: to keep my eyes and my mind OFF of Christ, away from true knowledge of Him and the Father. And this enemy will use whatever weapons work best to accomplish this.

So I DO have a battle to fight. But the one I often get drawn into is a false battle, a decoy, and being in that false battle is a sure sign that I’ve stopped fighting in the real one.

I have to listen closely to my Commander-in-Chief. “Jen, did you really take a look at that thought that just passed through your mind? It was full of self-pity and self-promotion. Don’t give into that thought. Fight it! Wrestle it down. Catch it NOW before it lures you in. Ask Me for help. Cry out to me and keep your eyes fixed on me. I will rescue you.”

I need to pick my battles wisely.

And then, I need to fight them well.

And here’s how it ends (usually)–collapsed in laughter! (There must have been a time-out between the earlier pic and this one, since PJ now has a hat on. Maybe the grass was tickling his head?)

Grovel or Go? Lessons from Isaiah

Yes, PJ IS standing in an open car window--at least it wasn't in motion! I'm amazed--and grateful--that we've only had ONE trip to the emergency room with our little daredevil. I'm sure it won't be the last.

Too often I tell God what I want Him to do with me and for me. I guess there’s an acknowledgement of weakness in these kinds of prayers—I am, after all, admitting that I can’t make these things happen—but there is also a sense of pride. I may not have the strength to carry this out, but I know what the best course of action is.

Today I discovered I even tell God what to do in regard to my sin. This morning I prayed, “Lord, reveal my sin to me. Help me to know the ways I am straying from you.”

I’m not knocking this kind of prayer, and I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit interprets it for me, but as I studied a passage in Isaiah today, I realized that this prayer is based on a lot of ignorance. If God really DID show me the depths of my sinfulness, I would be crushed, as Isaiah was when he was in the presence of God. Overwhelmed, his only understanding in that moment was of his own dirtiness in the presence of the completely clean and holy God. “Woe is me! For I am lost;” he said, “for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Regarding this passage, R.C. Sproul comments that this is a rare occurrence: God does not often crush us with a full picture of our sinfulness. Instead He reveals it bit by bit, in His own time and plan, as it is necessary and good for us.

That leads me to examine the motives behind my “Show me my sins” prayers. Am I asking, perhaps, out of a heart that still hopes to do penance, to somehow pay for my own sins, to show that I am truly sorry for them, and in this sorrow, to gain some acceptance?

Again, Isaiah’s example helps me. Isaiah was not asked to do penance for his sinfulness. Instead GOD sent an angel with a burning coal to purify Isaiah.

He did the same for me, with the death of Christ. I cannot accomplish my own purification, and therefore, He doesn’t ask me to. He did and does that Himself.

“…your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Even knowing this, KNOWING that Christ paid for my sin, I have a tendency to grovel in it. I mistakenly think this is true sorrow, when it is really self-serving.

But that’s also not what Isaiah did. After God pronounced him clean, God immediately asked if Isaiah was ready to go to work. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

And Isaiah didn’t respond as I often do. “Hold on, Lord, I’m still processing how awful I am. I’m still overwhelmed with what I did (or said or thought).”

No, Isaiah IMMEDIATELY answers, “Here am I! Send me.”

This is not only a statement of willingness but of confidence. Sproul writes that if Isaiah had said “Here I am,” he would merely have been making a statement of readiness, but the inverted structure—“Here AM I!“—speaks of Isaiah’s new view of himself. The Lord had taken him through an understanding of Isaiah’s own unworthiness and the Lord’s grace, and Isaiah came out of that with a new sense of self-worth as a creation and servant of God.

Wow!

“Lord, I am Yours. Reveal to me what you want me to know, not so I can grovel but so that You may direct me in the ways You want me to go. Bottom line, Lord, here am I, Your creation, purified, qualified, and commissioned. Do Your will, Your best, with me.”

My Enough

The earmuffs are headphones, the pink shades are, well, shades," and the little man is pretending he is a disc jockey playing some tunes. One of our many "jam" sessions.

11/10/11  I yelled at Maddie this morning. No words, just a primal scream of frustration, eyes wild and wide (I was facing the bathroom mirror and saw myself). It was a “scream or throw something” moment. It was–horrific realization–a moment when I could imagine smacking her, hard. The scream scraped my throat. My ab muscles ached when it was done. Maddie, already in tears before it started, was, of course, in bigger tears when it finished.

I can make excuses: Dave’s out of town; I’m running ragged trying to get all six kids to the three different schools they attend; Maddie had another of her wailing, sobbing mornings because her pants actually touch her body and then the toothpaste stung her lip; I’m battling a cold that makes my head feel like toilet paper is scratching the inside of my ears. But. I. Screamed. At. My. Child.

There is no excuse for that.

I told Maddie I was sorry, I told everybody I was sorry (after all, they’d all heard it), we moved on, we eventually got out the door (though not without more grumbling on my part about hurrying and putting shoes on and getting out to the car), and we made it to our carpool location on time. But the morning felt ruined.

Before they got out of the car, I asked them if I could pray. “Oh, Lord, I blew it this morning,” I said. “Please heal my children’s hearts from the damage I caused. Please heal me. Thank You that You do not lose patience.”

“It’s okay, Mom,” Em said, and I thanked her, though I also said it wasn’t really ok. I held Maddie in a long hug before sending them off to the other van. I took Patrick to school, came home, and lay flat on my face on the library rug.

It took awhile to shut off my tumbling thoughts, to stop the battle going on in my head between penance and excuses. It took the Holy Spirit’s gentle “Shut up” for me to be still, to listen.

“You’re weary and burdened. Come to me.”

“You’ve confessed your sin. I am faithful. I will forgive and cleanse and change you.”

“You’re a new creature. You let the old, dead one rise up like a shrieking zombie this morning, and you sure didn’t seek Me in the midst of the trial, but I am still making you new. I will complete what I have begun in you.”

“Beating yourself up will not pay for your wrongdoing. I paid for it, and I will take care of it now.”

“How can you help Maddie with her clothing issues? Talk with Me about that.”

“I can and will make good from this. Learn more about Me. That will renew you.”

I lay on the rug for several more minutes, feeling limp but cleaned out, able to see more clearly what led to my zombie shriek.

I had gotten all my gears oiled and ready, scheduled this morning down to the minute, and thought of my children like cogs in a machine and myself as the master mechanic.

I’d begun to think, “Yeah, I can do this! A little issue here, little issue here. I’ve got it. I can handle it.”

Uh, obviously, no, I couldn’t. My system rested on ME, and I broke down this morning. Sooner or later I always will, so any plan that rests on my ability or character fails because I fail. I’m human.

Definition of human: “messed up.”

This would all be utterly hopeless if I did not have someone other than a human to rely on, Someone SUPER human, Someone good through and through, perfect to the core.

My God is the only one who does not fail. Therefore, He is the only reliable source of hope.

Only one source of hope. Not a whole bunch of systems and backup plans and “go-to” components.

It sounds a little like a pipe dream, like a machine that looks magnificent but doesn’t function. It sounds unreliable. It’s not enough to rely on.

But it IS—because the source of the hope is enough. Hope in God does not disappoint because HE does not disappoint.

Christ in me, the hope of glory. Christ in me, my All in All.

Christ in me, my ENOUGH.

Note: This was from last week. This morning I realized, with great gratitude, that we have had no tears about clothes for three straight morning!

I Choose Gratitude

I'm using an iPad for work and recently the kids and I took a picture of the rain on the sunroof of the car with it. It turned out very cool! So I'm sharing!

We had two meltdowns this morning—before 7:30! I was getting PJ out of bed when I heard Jake wailing from directly below in the kitchen.

NOTE: The boys’ room is a converted attic above the kitchen. It has no heat source, so whoever converted it simply cut a hole in the floor and stuck vent covers on the top and bottom of the hole so warm air from the kitchen can rise through the floor. It works well, especially when I need one of the boys to come downstairs or I want to fuss at them without climbing the stairs. When they are wrestling or having a jam session, it’s not so helpful.

So now you understand that when I knelt down by the vent, I was able to yell directly into the kitchen. “Jake, what are you crying about? Is everything ok?”

“I canneatsheerios cause thereall gone!”

Not a clue.

“What?”

More of the same.

“Jake, come under the vent, stop crying,” (he obviously wasn’t hurt) “and tell me what is wrong.”

Finally I deciphered. “The honey-nut Cheerios” (okay, really “honey nut scooters” or some kind of off brand) “are all gone.”

This is serious in Jake’s world.

I did what I always tend toward in these situations.

I lectured. I did go downstairs first, put my hands on Jake’s skinny little shoulders, and kneel in front of him. Then I laid out the spiel: There are children whose mothers cannot feed them breakfast today. I have met some of them. That is heartbreaking. There are children who are only getting one meal today—or none at all. Do you really think that having to eat some off brand of Corn Chex rather than your beloved Honey Nut whatevers is a big deal?

He shook his head no, and I sent him off to my office to talk to God about it. When he was ready to eat Corn Squares (I just looked at the box for the right name) with a grateful spirit, he could come back.

It didn’t take too long.

Next was Maddie’s meltdown. Clothes. It’s always clothes with Maddie, has been since she was barely walking. “They’re too tight.” “They pull on me here.” (She points to her bottom.) “You HAVE to stretch them out.” The girl would prefer to wear footy pajamas all day in the winter (who wouldn’t?) and a tent dress in the summer. She didn’t wear socks for two whole years (including Chicago winters) because she didn’t like the way the seam rubbed along the top of her toes.

This morning the jeans that felt just fine yesterday no longer fit. “Seriously, Maddie? You did NOT grow a size bigger during the night.” (I tell myself all the time that talking logic with a seven-year-old is about like getting Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee to agree, but I keep doing it anyway.)

She got another variation of the same message I delivered to Jake.

And, as always, God spoke it to me as well. “Are you grateful for this morning? Are you glad for the opportunity to feed your children, to share this part of the day with them? Are you rejoicing that this is a brand new day, planned and designed by Me—and you get to be involved in it? Are you thankful that I have given your entire family health today? Aren’t you privileged to have a job that you love? Have you remembered today that, no matter how stressful your life seems to be, your standard of living is above 98% of the world’s population? Have you reminded yourself that there are infertile women—or women who have lost children—who would LOVE to be in your situation?”

Am I thankful? In everything?

I’m convinced that a spirit of gratitude primes my heart to accept the bigness of God, opens my eyes to see His goodness, and settles my spirit to trust in Him no matter the circumstances I find myself in.

I’m convinced that it’s really, really important.

But I allow discontent to fester. I pretend it’s something other than it really is. (“I’m just venting.” “You wouldn’t believe how frustrating today was!“ “I think the kids said, ‘Mom!’ about a million times today.”)

Because of Christ, though, I have a choice. I CAN choose to be grateful. Over and over I MUST choose to be grateful. The alternative is not a pretty option..

“May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.” (Col. 1:11b, 12a). There’s a link, isn’t there?