Laundry, Motherhood, Prayer

IMG_0007.JPGAs a child I daydreamed of monasteries and monks and what it would be like to cloister away all day to pray and read.

I love solitude, and I thought monks—with all their praying—were as close to God as you could get.

Ok, maybe I was a weird kid. But even as a child I saw prayer’s importance.

In junior high I scrawled my prayer needs into a journal, faithfully tending that list. By high school praying had etched itself in me, carrying me through two years of ministry training and then college.

I never really struggled to pray—not until marriage and motherhood, when diapers and dishes swallowed up my time. After kids, the question, “Have I prayed today?” quickly turned into “Did I remember to brush my teeth?”

On these days I appreciate the simple prayers—what Anne Lamont calls the “three essential prayers, “Wow,” “Help,” and “Thanks.”

Motherhood showed me how I complicated prayer. I treated prayer like an end itself—like a spiritual barometer—not the bridge to know Jesus.

I no longer see prayer like a subject we can master. It’s not a game we win or lose.

Imagine if we charted and measured how much we talked to our spouses or our children?

God doesn’t watch us from on high with a stop watch, calculating how many minutes we devote, just like I don’t carefully measure the minutes my sons spend with me.

But I do take note when they choose to snuggle up next to me. I notice their small acts of gratitude and love. God, too, notices when his children trust him enough to come—not out of duty—but out of love. God doesn’t judge us by the clock, but he does test our hearts for faith.

Sometimes we forget that mountains don’t move because of heavy-duty lifting in the act of prayer, but the faith behind the prayer—faith in the Mountain Mover.

We earth-dwellers so often forget that without faith we will never please God (Heb. 11:6).

As humans this confounds us. I can picture myself in that fanatical crowd after Jesus feeds the five thousand. They can’t wait to find out what they must do to accomplish God-pleasing work. Jesus’ answer still catches me by surprise.

He didn’t tell them to go to the synagogue to pray for hours or send them away pledging a laundry list of good works.

Here’s how John’s Gospel records it, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’” (John 6:29).

Believing. The true work of God is not in doing, but believing.

Allow that truth to sneak into your heart and smuggle out the fear your prayers don’t matter or measure up. Allow the grace-healing power of belief to set you free so you can keep trusting and talking to the One who offers unending relationship.

And when we begin to remember that our prayer walk is really a love walk, we’ll run to prayer

Practical Prayer Help

  • Don’t wait for quiet to have a “quiet time.” Solitude may never come, but God can calm your nerves and anxious heart when the house pulses with the busyness of life.
  •  Plan it. Set your alarm and coffee pot. If you want to develop a workout routine, habit experts tell us to lay out our clothes the night before. In the same way remove some of the barriers to prayer. Get your spot ready, complete with Bible, blanket, pen, and notepad.
  • Carve out time. Make what Ann Voskamp calls “hard stops” to pray. I think of these as little mini vacations from work and kids—time to connect with God, if only for five minutes.
  • Get sleep. Sleep might as well be a spiritual disciple because without enough of it, all the other spiritual disciplines falter.
  • Walk. For me motionless prayer so often lapses into sleeping, so I pace around my house to keep myself awake and focused. If you’re able, quit the house for a prayer walk outside.

How to Kick the Worry Habit

Photo by Francesco via Creative Commons, Flickr

Photo by Francesco via Creative Commons, Flickr

I did something crazy last month—I decided to start my annual health kick one month early. Cutting sugar from my diet was my health decision du jour.

I passed up holiday cookie exchanges and even pumpkin cheesecake, a minor miracle in itself. I kicked my sweets habit pretty quickly. In a week or so the cravings vanished.

I lost a few pounds, but what I learned about worry and how it relates to sugar addiction proved more important.

A 2013 study showed Oreos more addictive than heroine or cocaine. I’ve never experimented with drugs, but I do have a 30-year sugar addiction.

Maybe I should blame Little Debbie snacks in my lunchbox, but I once lived for that sugary fix. It satisfied in the moment, but gut-punched me with a new craving once the sugar wore off.

While driving one morning, I saw the similarity between sugar addiction and the destructive habit of worry. If I give in to the temptation to fret in one area of my life, it’s not long before fretting becomes an hourly fixation.

I wondered if I could stop the cycle of worry the same way I had broken the sugar cycle?

While my car engine idled at a stoplight, I imagined Jesus sitting in the passenger seat. Somehow the holiday hustle that prods the joy right out of my heart began to cease.

Backseat arguments over toys couldn’t invade my peace. In that moment, I shared exhaustion with him. I somehow knew Jesus sat beside me sharing in my anxieties and daily frustrations.

He sat with me. Or maybe better said, I sat with him, united with him.

This picture of him wanting to be with me during all my unlovely moments changed my mood and allowed his love to flow through me.

I’ve enjoyed Brother-Lawrence style prayer before. Practicing the presence of God while peeling potatoes or cleaning my house has never been difficult.

The real challenge is dwelling with the Lord during the chaos.

How do I unite my worried mind to Peace in the middle of toddler tantrums? These days, friends, I don’t have Brother Lawrence’s solitude or a quiet monastery to hide away in seeking God.

But I do have Someone to run to. Or better said, I have Someone who runs to me.

When I stopped consuming sugar this month, I marveled at how much better food tasted. Vegetables opened on my palate in a new way. Sweet red peppers tasted like candy.

New flavors and nuances in coffee and wine popped on my taste buds. I couldn’t believe what I had missed.

The same rings true when we stop the cycle of worry. Life opens up as a feast for us to enjoy. When fear addles our minds, we miss the opportunity to see God everywhere.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words sum up the reality of abiding in Christ.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

As the new year begins, would you consider joining me to break the cycle of fear and worry in your life? Would you consider focusing your attention in a new way upon Christ and his finished work?

I’m looking forward to posting more about this journey. I hope you join me as we “turn our eyes upon Jesus.” And if I could sing on key, I would belt the rest of that old song to you.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

The Real Work of Rest

 

Photo by Seabimarium via Creative Commons Flickr

Photo by Seabimarium via Creative Commons Flickr

Rest has always eluded me. I’m an achiever, a veritable list maker. If I can pen a goal on paper with the hope of crossing it off, I know I can make it happen.

“Make it happen,” became the theme of my late teens and early twenties when I attended a discipleship training program where this statement was mantra. We had more than 100 students, who like me, were eager to know God and receive ministry training.

Like an army, we received marching orders from leaders along with those three words. And we accomplished huge tasks for the church, but the real work of union with Christ and rest in Christ was lost on us. 

We worked 15-hour days building the Halloween attraction, “House of Horrors,” which would pull thousands through a hell house designed to preach the gospel. The intention was good, but the tactics pandered to people’s fear of death and only hinted at the crux of the gospel–utter connectedness to a loving God.

We worked for the church like we were working to keep ourselves out of hell—hard and with pure devotion. We—or at least I—approached chapel and daily quiet times with the same make-it-happen attitude.

It’s laughable now. I really thought a relationship with Christ could be initiated and maintained by me. I might actually laugh if I didn’t see so many people chasing that rabbit down the same hole that left me physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted.

I must have really believed I could sanctify myself. I had little concept of grace or biblical rest, nor an inkling that I might have a gaping need for both.

When I think about my time spent in Master’s Commission, I see the same heart the older son had in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal. I worked for God like a slave serving a master, not a dearly loved child.

And when love isn’t the core of your theology fear will be.

Until I read Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, I had little understanding of God’s grace beyond the theological.

Ten years later, grace still boggles my mind, and I have a daily need to preach the gospel to myself. If I don’t, my default posture of trying to earn God’s love always returns.

Even after a decade of living in grace, I still prefer a spiritual do-do list that doesn’t include much rest. I want to work at prayer and Bible study, but I’m learning true understanding takes place in restful meditation.

Union with Christ doesn’t happen when we’re on the go all the time.

Photo by Vladimer Shioshvili via Creative Commons Flickr

Photo by Vladimer Shioshvili via Creative Commons Flickr

Photo by Donnie Ray Jones via Creative Commons Flickr

Photo by Donnie Ray Jones via Creative Commons Flickr

More and more I notice how truth sneaks into my heart best when I go for a walk or lie down to put the kids to a nap. It’s during these times the metaphors of the Bible make the most sense to me.

It’s at the park with my sons that I see how we’re all just children that God constantly picks up and dusts off.

If you’re in need of rest for your spiritual life, hear the words of Christ today. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS” (Matthew 11:28-29).

How Stillness Leads Us to Worship

 

Photo by Jimmy Brown via Creative Commons

Photo by Jimmy Brown via Creative Commons

I feel the space heater warm my nose while I tug the blanket ever closer. Today, cold air is the price I pay for half an hour of stillness.

I sneak away to the part of our house where the thermostat reads 60. I lay open my Bible along with my anxious mind and discouraged mama heart.

It’s worth the frigid toes—this rendezvous with Jesus.

And always in these moments I ask myself why I don’t purpose this quiet more.

Most days Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know I am God,” feels like an accusation. I want to be still and know. So I work harder to create rest time, but rest never comes.

But always when I work from a posture of rest, I’m amazed at what I accomplish.

There’s a type of prayer we yell in frustration. And another we whisper to ourselves, but the best prayer of all is the prayer when we stop to listen.

Photo via Creative Commons

Photo via Creative Commons

Photo by Vinoth Chandar via Creative Commons

Photo by Vinoth Chandar via Creative Commons

This God of ours longs to speak life to us. He pines to abide in us—to spill his life out of us.

It’s easiest to listen in the stillness, and I seem to only find these tranquil places out of desperation.

When my heart breaks, I come. When fears ransack, I seek out this solitude. “Here I am,” I whisper Isaiah’s ancient words. “Send me.”

So much of my time I spend searching for my calling “out there somewhere” I can never seem to reach. All the while taking for granted this greater calling that’s much closer to home.

Stillness helps me embrace motherhood, to rest into this calling of diapers and dishes. The practice of quiet grounds me with God’s purposes for me in the present.

Waiting on God helps give birth to the fruit of the Spirit in me. Show me a home that can function without love, joy and peace?

I’m learning to rest in this calling of motherhood. I’m learning to look past the work and the exhaustion of a job that never ends, because in the serving I catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

You know the one that appears sideways to us turned-around sinners? The one where the humble are exalted and the foolish teach the wise.

In the bowing low of motherhood I see how we’re most alive when we’re dead to self. I see how the real work is not in the doing, but in the quietness of believing.

Do you remember what Jesus told the over-zealous disciples who were eager to find out how to do the “greater works?”

“Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent’” (John 6:29 NLT).

Stillness can give birth to a beautiful belief.

And when we purpose to listen somehow we carry the stillness with us back into our chaos.

Bench photo credit

Grass photo credit

Rain photo credit

The Dark Side of Idealism

Photo by David Woo via Creative Commons

Photo by David Woo via Creative Commons

I came undone there on the floor of the downstairs bathroom, all sobs and chest heaving for air.

“Did someone die?” my husband asks through the crack in the door.

No death except the quiet passing away of my idealism. Those cruel visions of my better self melted right there on the tile floor.

It was the kind of weeping that had been building up for months, maybe even years, and it erupted like Mt. St. Helen.

“You’re scaring the kids,” he says about 15 minutes later.

“Just keep them upstairs,” I muster. “I’ll be up to put them to bed in a minute.”

One minute turned into another 15 as I realized I couldn’t hold back the tears, nor should I.

I wept for my inability to be a better mother, a more accomplished writer, a better equipped tutor or more caring friend.

I wept for my lack.

Like Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse I surrendered my idealism. I waved my white flag to God right there beside the toilet.

Some days our biggest enemy doesn’t prowl around like a roaring lion, it stares at us in the mirror.

It’s in the giving up of our goals and plans and our self-imposed deadlines that we can embrace God’s plans for us.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

When we receive His grace each day, we take in His power, His perplexing strength to overcome our weaknesses.

I know these God paradoxes well.

It’s in the bending down to serve when we are lifted high.

It’s the open, empty hands God fills.

When we are weak, we’re really strong because His strength is made perfect in OUR weakness.

But these upside-down kingdom principles are only beautiful to a mind that’s been renewed. To all else, God’s ways are nonsensical, utter foolishness.

Despite knowing God’s grace is sufficient for me, I often try to perfect myself.

I want to be strong and flawless. I tire of being that earthen vessel the glory of God shines through. How about you? Do you long for God remove your weaknesses?

Asking for help is not my strong suit, but I’m learning to ask for help from people—and God.

But I’m relearning how to surrender each hour, each moment to God. And it’s in this place where our lives intersect with the abundant life Christ died to give us.

Giving up is the first step to abiding with Christ. Walking in the Spirit happens when we trade our comfortable pace to keep step with His Spirit.

Matthew Henry’s words I read earlier this week keep coming back, reminding me to keep seeking the Living Water.

“Sometimes He keeps the cistern empty; that He may bring us to Himself, the Fountain.”

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On Making Altars, Prayer and C.S. Lewis

I grew up in a church that gave altar calls every service.

The pastor called it an “old-fashioned altar,” and I practically ran to it three times a week. My tears soaked the burnt orange upholstery, and boy did I cry. I wept like only a teenage girl can.

That plush bench held all my melancholy, angst and shame. That altar gave birth to so much striving and sin-consciousness, and my thoughts about God were based in fear, not rooted in love. Still, the time I spent on my knees at the front of that church sings in my memories.

That time at the altar forged intimacy in a way only full submission does.

I came to the altar empty and left complete, knelt depraved only to stand in righteousness. When hungry, there Jesus fed me food that brings soul-deep satisfaction I can only find at His feet.

More than a decade has flashed by since I huddled over that prayer bench, but I realize how I miss that prayer time, how I need it more than ever.

Neck-deep in mom hood, I can’t even pee by myself, let alone crawl onto the floor to pray without a little boy hopping on my back wanting a ride.

How you pray or the posture you take matters little, but kneeling or lying prone seems to nudge my heart toward full surrender.

Today, praying comes in quick spurts while washing dishes. I seize another few minutes while folding laundry. But sadly, I have fewer and fewer of these altar moments my life so desperately needs.

Recently we watched Prince Caspian, and one scene speaks to me about prayer. When Susan asks Lucy why she didn’t see Aslan as Lucy had, Lucy responds with the frankness and simplicity of a child.

“Maybe you don’t want to see him,” she says.

Isn’t this true of prayer? If I wanted to see Jesus—to talk to Him and commune with Him—I would pray more. Lucy was telling Susan she saw Aslan because she was looking for him.

She spent time watching and waiting and not half-heartedly the way we often do.

My heart longs to adore Christ the way Lucy loves Aslan. Where is the passion and the ardor that once sent me running to the altar? My heart more closely resembles Susan’s as she sheds her child-like faith in Aslan. It seems clear her year apart from Narnia has wrought doubt.

Earlier in the movie Susan confesses that she was just getting used to London. She seems disappointed they hadn’t returned sooner or on her own terms.

How often are we too caught up in our lives to hear Jesus calling us? How often do our daily pursuits and pleasures blind us from seeing Christ the way he wants us to see Him, in full adoration with the brazen faith of a child?

In another scene from the movie, it takes Lucy only one glimpse of Aslan in a dream to begin a wild chase after him through the forest.

I can’t help draw the parallel further. Is Jesus beckoning us on those nights we can’t sleep to follow Him and chase Him the way Lucy chased Aslan? But instead of trodding over branches and jumping over bushes, could this chase involve our Bible, wide open hearts and our full attention?

The church I attend now doesn’t have an altar. Instead, we’re encouraged to pray often—to make little altars in our hearts.

Repentance seems to get harder the older I become. It seems a little more humiliating to keep looking up and asking for help. But I’m learning humility doesn’t have to be humiliating.

Consider what would happen if we all made little altars—times of focused prayer and adoration—multiple times a day? What if we stopped multitasking our prayer lives? What if we turned our sofas into altars?

The following verse speaks to me about my prayer procrastination.

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he may be found.” (Isaiah 55:6 NIV)

What if we chose to stop procrastinating prayer?