sunset on lake

When the Answer to Your Prayer is Boring


My sister sent a picture of a beautiful sunset over a lake to the sister group text last night. In the caption, she referred to an on-going conversation the four of us were having and she said, “Life sucks.” The irony of that was, of course, obvious. She was on a lake, enjoying a view that is supposed to remove us from the stresses and “suckiness” of life but there it was. Life’s circumstances screaming at you while the sun glistens across lake water.

So which is it? Sunsets or life sucks?

It’s both.

We enjoy the sunset even though life can suck. We take our joys and respites where the Lord gives them.

I wake up each day with a prayer on my lips. It’s the same one every day–relief from pain, relief from money worry, relief from worry, period. In short, relief from the life sucks part of the equation. Whether for me or those I love, it is my go-to prayer. Lord, keep life running smoothly. I feel like a hobbit. I want to stay in the shire without adversity or trial, though as Frodo found out, that means without adventure, too.

But where did I get the idea that this was my life and not God’s?

When did I decide that God’s job is merely to ensure that my life follows a certain trajectory, smoothly?

Life is hard and I don’t want hard. I want sunsets on lakes with friends and week-long beach trips with the family and Thanksgivings that are literally over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. Quaint so totally sums up my life expectations. Listen there is nothing wrong with wanting to skip out on the hard stuff, but can we? And what do we lose in doing so? At best, it’ll be a shallow, uneventful life, minus a European excursion perhaps. At it’s worse, it’s all about me.

And, there is that very fine point that hard is coming, as my sister’s text so poignantly stated.

So, what? Pray for mishap and pain? Hardly. As noted, they will come on their own. Pray instead to spend your life for him. When I think of the people who prayed not for comfort and sunshine, but instead to do his work, I am floored by how big and full their lives are for his glory. Christine Cain comes to mind with her human trafficking campaign A21. Check it out and then wonder if starting that organization caused her any sacrifice or stress or worry or angst. Then wonder if it’s been an adventure, a joy to watch people rescued, an amazement at what God has done through them. I’m betting both with the latter making it worth the former.

I don’t have a bucket list, those just seem silly to me, but I am reexamining my life as I turn 60, and it occurred to me that God has answered my prayers. My life has been painful at times, but mostly it’s been fairly uneventful. The Lord has kept it running along smoothly just as I’ve asked. It’s quaint all right, and a tad boring.

But what if I woke up tomorrow and asked for my life to be spent for him, not myself? What if I said, what can I do for you today Lord, instead of listing the ways he can help my day get off to a good start. Then what? I don’t know. I’m not saying he needs me to do something because he can’t. I’m saying maybe he’s got a plan for my life that isn’t just about making sure I get to work on time and the weekend comes fast. Maybe he has an adventure that well, isn’t skydiving out of a plane because I’m turning 60. (People do the dumbest things when turning old.)

But here’s what I do know. Frodo left the shire and had the adventure of a lifetime. One they wrote books about.

 

 

 

cinthia milner transplanted and still blooming justbow

#JustBow

I’ve been attending a somewhat unusual Bible Study recently (which I’ll describe in next week’s post).  We worked through Jesus’ parables in the fall, and then finished up with the Christmas story this week. Here’s what we learned from our study together (about 15 of us). #JustBow

I didn’t come up with the clever #hashtag idea. A guy in our group did. But it represents the group consensus. Many in our group had never gotten on their knees before. Not for prayer or worship. Though they believed, they weren’t kneel-ers.

I am a kneel-er during my prayer time (though not always). I am one to get on my knees to petition God especially when I am desperate, which is most of the time. Scripture instructs us to petition God, to ask him for what we need, knowing that he hears us, and will respond.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 #JustBow

But, do you see the key word in those verses? Peace. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds. That’s the answer to the prayer, really. We get on our knees, we petition for our troubles, and we rise in peace. God may answer our petitions in all sorts of ways, giving us jobs, loved ones, health, or not–as he deems best–but the first answer to our prayer is peace. Not worldly peace. but God’s peace. Worldly peace is the lack of conflict. God’s peace is peace in the conflict.

But, that is only the beginning of kneeling. Of #JustBow.

The second part, the part I’ve learned through my Tuesday night Bible Study, is bowing in reverence, and in awe with no petition on my lips. No words at all. So no pouring out of my heart, though many tears are shed in that position, but just quiet bowing before God. Scripture says that the day is coming when every knee will bow in praise and honor of Jesus, even those who don’t want too will.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11 #JustBow

That verse speaks of a future day, but I wonder if it doesn’t speak of a present day too. At least my fellow Bible Study mates might concur, as each of us slowly moves from a position of pride or control or even rebellion to one of submission and acknowledgment. Are we prophesying this day or are we already there?

I’m at a time in my life when being anxious for nothing is truly impossible. It would be easier to list what I am not anxious about. That list would have about two things on it. The anxious list has so many it’s hard to keep up. And, there are no worldly answers to my situation. My brain cannot figure things out. A therapist isn’t going to get me through this particular valley. Work isn’t the answer. Manipulation is useless. But I can bow. And, when I do, peace is waiting there. Every single time.

I get out of my bed, or out of my chair, and onto my knees or flat on my face, and I stay there. And, when I stand up, I stand taller, more confident, clearer in my thinking, less afraid. That’s a big one, isn’t it? Less afraid? Because there is no way to live in this world and not be afraid. If this world is all we have, then we really have nothing, and fear reigns. But God gives us another verse, one about perfect love.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18 #JustBow

To bow is to be perfected in love. Not your ability to love, but your ability to be loved by God. You kneel expecting, really, what is deserved, a punishment. You rise, fully loved, fully redeemed, fully at peace. #JustBow

 

All Things Material/A Crisis Of Faith

We’ve reached the sad part of packing up Mom’s house. I don’t get to participate as much because I lost two weeks of work when Mom passed away, and now there isn’t the luxury to lose more. I must trust my sisters to pack and sort, and keep or throw away.

It is hard. I would love to go through her things one last time. As painful as it is to box away her things, it is just as painful not too. What would I discover? What would I learn about the last days of her life? The last years? But life dictates, and so does work. Moving from South Turkey Creek prepared me for this moment. I gave away many memories all wrapped up in material things because of the downsizing I did, and the time constraints on moving. I did not have the leisure to sift through each drawer or box-stuffed children’s drawings, though I wanted too. It’s something we all have to face at some point—this reduction of life.

If I ever needed my faith, it’s now. Yet, I will admit to a crisis of faith. I ask the Lord, “Precisely WHERE is my mother?”

I’m told because she died so suddenly, and so unexpectedly, that the processing of her death is harder. I can attest to the truth of that. When Daddy died, I wasn’t happy, but I was prepared. I got to say good-bye, have those conversations and such. I hated his suffering, but the length of his illness allowed him time to prepare, too. He was given sweet time to grieve with us.

There is a quality of vanishing to Mom’s death that there wasn’t with Dad’s. Here one day, and literally gone the next. Talk about life being fragile. And, truly, from the woman who loves the Lord deeply, I am wondering if I bought into a load of hooey. Is what I believe true? Is my mother with Jesus? Did he personally come to her, and take her to her eternal home? Or did she just vanish?

I am astonished at my questions. But, here they are.

My oldest sister could not bear the thought of a yard sale. All those people picking through her mother’s things, and taking them with her. No matter how small or trivial, they were her’s. The process isn’t about material things, it is about life. The life she built in her small mother-in-law house. The life I am very proud of her for accomplishing. It is no small feat to build a life. It takes hard work, perseverance, courage.

But cleaning out her house removes her hard work and wipes the slate of her life clean. She is no more, and her home was our home (my sisters and I) and so where is home now? I look at my three sisters and think, I better be nice to them. They’re all I’ve got now. I better stop with the “who’s right, who’s wrong” mess and just get on with the business of being their sister. What if they got together and voted me out? Well, they can’t. Votes are unanimous.

In case you’re stuck on the crisis of faith statement, let me say, that I get on my knees, and I ask God these questions. I work through it with him, not without him, and hopefully when he gets me to other side of it, I will have a story to tell. About his faithfulness, his grace, his mercy, his provision, his love.

I read once that a group of Jews at Auschwitz decided to put God on trial. There is some debate on whether or not the story is true, but it is told that they held a mock trial and found God guilty of neglect, I suppose. Scripture does, after all, refer to him as Father. Millions of Jews were being slaughtered every day. Where was the heck was he? (I am famous for saying, well, he did let John the Baptist get his head chopped off.) After their judgement, they prayed and worshiped him. They found him guilty one minute, and worshiped him the next. Call me crazy, but I find great comfort in that.