Truth: Not Praying.

It’s not uncommon for me to hear of requests for prayer, either through the churches I attend, on my Facebook Feed, or through my school’s email list, and I can read anywhere from one to three requests for prayer (or more) per day.  These don’t include the occasional texts I receive from friends or family, and the even rarer in-person requests for me to pray for something or someone.  And I always respond with a fervent ‘Yes! I’d be glad to pray!”  If I’m responding online or in a text, my responses usually include an exclamation point at the end to signify my excitement and urgency in this, my call to action:

Praying for you in this time!
Lifting you up in prayers now!
Going to God with this immediately!
You’re in my prayers today and always!
#praying #interceding #headbowedhandsfolded

But the truth is, my actions usually never go beyond these responses.  While I’m eager to pray and willing to do so, the requests come to my prayer inbox but don’t go straight to my prayer outbox…they just kind of sit there, marked as read and perpetually in limbo for eternity.  I’m terrible at following through in my responses to prayer requests.  Being on the opposite side of the table – the one requesting prayer – I recognize how important it is to know others are lifting me or my issues up to God, and I count on those who respond that they will pray to do as they say.  So why can’t I do it?

I’m not not-praying in some malicious way.  I’m not intentionally telling people I’ll pray and give them hope, only to not pray for them.  I don’t sit at my computer or with my phone in hand replying and thinking (with a Snidely Whiplash tone in my voice), “Ha Ha!  I’ll say that I’m praying, but in reality I won’t think about their injured puppy ever again! Muahahahaha!”

And I’m not not-praying because I don’t believe in the power of prayer, either.  I value prayer and the idea that we can approach God with confidence and humility and present our requests, thoughts, frustrations, ideas, hopes, dreams, fears, and questions.  There’s something deeply reassuring to know that the Creator has time to sit and listen to me and my voice amid the myriad of other voices crying out.

I think my reason for not praying is that these requests tend to show up at ‘inconvenient’ times for me, and my selfishness gets in the way.  I respond with fervor and willingness, but I always back it up with me making a half-hearted mental note, “Hey, don’t forget to pray for Annie’s nephew later…and don’t forget to buy deodorant.”  And I never do it.  My mind moves on to the next thing, the next problem in front of me, the next issue going on in my world and I never return to pray for Annie’s nephew, or my parents’ health, or my friend’s marriage, or teenagers I know who are struggling, or for my country, or for my church home, or for that family who lost their father, or…or…or…

It’s not like I don’t have anything to pray about – I just tend to lose it in the shuffle of my life.  I put it aside for later and never return to it.  And part of why I don’t just pray for it then and there is because I think there are more pressing matters at hand which…which is stupid, because very little of what I ever do is more important than praying.  When I think about it, the things that come into view that keep me from praying are just ridiculous compared to talking to God about Annie’s nephew or that teenager or my friend’s marriage.  Rich Mullins wrote, “…the stuff of Earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things…”  And the ‘stuff of earth’ usually wins: Facebook…the news cycle…phone notifications…some TV show…games…a shiny light…there’s so much going on around us to draw me away from getting down and praying in the moment I say I’m going to pray.

Honestly, I’m ashamed of myself for doing this for so long,  I’m ashamed because I have said I’m going to do something and then don’t do it.  I’m ashamed for not putting others before my silly-life-things.  I’m ashamed for not immediately going to God with these requests.  God have mercy on me in the midst of my failures, and may I have the ability to change.  And may the stuff of Earth never take priority over talking with my Creator.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Comprehension.

My grandmother’s frail hands slightly shook, uncontrolled, as they waivered over the opened Bible in front of her.  She looked at me, then back to the text, and then back at me.  I could see the frustration in her eyes: she was frustrated because she wanted to talk to me and ask me questions about the book, but she was also frustrated by the book itself.  She pushed her weakened voice until a tiny sentence came out, ragged and quiet, “How do I read this?”

In her 95 years my grandma encountered the Bible many times – she had been to church for nearly all those years, had a close relationship with God, and fostered the love of her Creator in her children and grandchildren.  Over the last few years of her life she occasionally admitted to me that she had struggled in reading and understanding the Bible and all it entailed.  Her beliefs never waivered much, but she wrestled with comprehending the words she read.

In that moment as we sat together in the nursing home, I desperately wanted to say something profound and inspirational to her.  I wanted to say something that would console her in her final weeks on this earth; I thought for a second and blurted out, “Keep doing what you’re doing.  Read, ask questions, pray, re-read, pray, ask questions.  And repeat that again and again.”  I smiled and held her hand, but I knew my answer wasn’t entirely profound, and definitely not inspirational.  I knew that my words frustrated her even more.

It was hard to guide my grandmother at that moment in how to read the Bible because she knew the Bible – she lived out its pages all her life as she fed the hungry and gave to the needy (Proverbs 31:20), raised a good family (Proverbs 31:28), encouraged her friends (Hebrews 10:25), talked with others about God (Mark 16:15), brought my grandpa utter joy and love (Proverbs 12:4), built a strong household (Proverbs 14:1), and tried to understand the Word (Proverbs 1:7).  She wasn’t just a hearer of the word, but a doer (James 1:22).

My grandma sought after God and found what she was looking for in spite of her doubts, fears, and frustrations.  She may have thought she wasn’t doing this Christianity thing right, but she was doing it exactly the way it should be done.  She plowed forward and fought to find God so she could hear that still, small voice in the deserts of her life.  She professed her love of God with her voice, with her smile, with her love for others.  She understood the Bible more than she thought she did, and taught many others around her how to understand it as well.

Truthfully, I would do well to heed the same words I gave my grandma and act as she did because I, too, struggle to understand the Bible.  Despite the classes I’ve taken in (and out) of seminary, I often feel that I don’t know much of anything, and I often wonder if I’m doing anything right.  I suppose part of my struggle is that I want to do everything correctly and honor what I read before I put it into practice, but I’m putting it into practice and not perfection.  I’m going to screw up, I’m going to make mistakes and errors (a lot – trust me, I will), but thankfully God gives me (and you, and my grandma) lots of leeway to try and figure it out as we go.

May we read, ask questions, pray, re-read, ask questions, pray, and re-read the word of God until we comprehend the tiniest of details, and may we act according to what we read, even if we don’t understand fully how to do it.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Nose Goes!

When it comes to praying, I’ve noticed that since middle school there’s always been a rush to see who could touch their nose first – the last to do so having to pray in front of the group.  As a shy and introverted teenager I wasn’t always thrilled to pray in front of others and was usually the first to have my index finger on my snout.  But as I’ve grown older and more comfortable in speaking with God, I’m usually the one who ends up praying – partially because my reflexes aren’t as cat-like as they once were, but mostly because I’m okay with praying in a group.

In truth, for me, my faith is one of the few places where I let people into my life to see who I am – I don’t always let people know my personal stuff (family issues, self-doubts, frustrations, loneliness), so to pray in public is fine with me.  I’d rather be vulnerable and stripped bare in my faith than in other places in my life.  I find comfort in being open in my faith because it’s one place where I know others are uncomfortable and feel just as nervous and terrified and unsure about it as I do, and I know that most won’t judge me for where I’m at in the whole thing.

For the most part I think people enjoy and see the necessity to pray to God; what people don’t always relish is praying in front of other people.  There’s a certain amount of vulnerability involved in speaking to our deity and oftentimes we do it in a very naked way.  In those moments of speaking with God we are stripped of all pretenses, all airs of greatness, all pompousness and we are who we really are apart from everything we’ve made ourselves to be.

To be that naked and that vulnerable with other people can be scary.  That’s where I think a lot of people get hung up when praying out-loud – we’re afraid of judgement.  We’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, saying something outlandish or improper, not having the right words or phrases, or not being concise.  We’re afraid that someone will judge our way of praying and we feel that it’s better to remain silent than to be vulnerable.

But by praying together, I hope that these moments can be places where relationships can grow and form and strengthen.  In our most bare times do we find our places of connection.  When someone else in a group prays with me I find a bridge to them – they are speaking to the same God and are giving words to the same feelings and thoughts and emotions I may be having.  In those moments I feel most alive, most connected, and least terrified of being alone.  Praying with others puts me on a team, places me in the hearts and minds of others, drawing me into them and they into me.

My friends, may there never be a moment of nose-goes in your prayer lives!  Pray together and be together.  Let us strip away all of our doubts and fears and be open in those moments of speaking with God as one body.  Let us be free of judgement of ourselves and others and let us grow together, fully knowing God and one another.

much love. sheth.