prayer

Exit 164. Prayers.

God, our Father in Heaven,

I pray for our world.  I pray for my country.  I pray that all of us will pay attention and engage with those who are different from us for whatever reason.  I pray that we will seek to understand why they feel, believe, and vote the way they do, rather than ignore them or belittle them as wrong for whatever reason in whatever way.

I pray for all of those who feel oppressed, marginalized, ignored, and patronized.  I pray that we will understand why they feel this way, that we will understand their lives and their history and their reactions that may differ from ours.  I pray that we might see each other as fellow human beings, not antagonists.

Forgive us, Lord.  Forgive our sins as a people.  Heal our broken nation.  I pray that we may remember our Constitution and the ideals of freedom and liberty that led to the founding of this nation.  I pray that we may heal from the sins of our history and move forward.

I pray that you will be at work in the hearts and minds of those who are angry, and those who feel hate toward others who are different.  I pray that they will be softened and broken, and that they will see the people that they hate as human beings, as beloved children of God.  I pray that bridges will be built.

I pray for my good friends who live in and around Charlottesville.  I pray that you will keep them safe as protesters and the news media descend on their region.  I pray that they will be good examples to the world at large, so that the rest of the country will know that central Virginia is a beautiful place full of friendly people who are not white supremacists.

And I pray for my own heart.  God, I pray that you will expose the biases I have, and help me practice what I preach and heal the anger I sometimes feel toward certain groups.

In the name of Jesus, who died to forgive our sins, and bring us to everlasting life with him,

Amen.

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Exit 136. Run.

Something kind of unusual and interesting happened at church today.  After the message, we were told to find someone and pray with them for a few minutes, to just pray and ask for God to speak something into our hearts that he might be wanting to say to the person we were praying for.  This is a bit unusual for me.  As my regular readers and real life friends may know, I’ve been at this church for a little over a year.  Speaking prophetic words from God is not something that the other churches I’ve attended in the past have put a lot of emphasis on, and so far I’ve never been asked to do this here like I was today.  However, I don’t necessarily see a reason to believe that God can’t give prophetic words to someone in this way.

Anyway, a woman who I didn’t know was sitting near me, and she prayed with me.  Something she said, not a specific word or vision but the words she used to describe a more general blessing from God, stood out to me and made me wonder if that was the specific word that God was speaking to me.  But I’ll come back to that later.

After the service ended, someone else came up to me and told me that she felt that God had given her one word that he wanted her to say to me, and a vision of what that might look like in my life.  She asked, “Does the word ‘run’ mean anything for you right now?  Are you a runner?”

I’m not.  But I used to be.  And, as far as I know, she had no way of knowing this.

I hated running growing up.  I wasn’t good at it, and when I had to run the mile in school, I never finished it without stopping to walk at least twice.  I often had PE in the morning, and I couldn’t breathe when I had to run in the cold damp air.  Once I was done with PE, I did very little running for about a decade, and I had no plans to do any running unless I was playing a pickup game of some sport that involved running (which happened maybe once a year on average) or something was chasing me (which hasn’t really happened at all; there was the time I was traveling the country, and a bear saw me in Shenandoah National Park, but I ran for about a minute and stopped when I noticed I wasn’t being followed… but this was after I had started running for recreation again).  If I was going to get recreational exercise, it was going to be a bike ride.  I picked that up in my young adult years, during my seven years of living in the most bicycle-friendly city in California, and never really stopped.

In 2003, I was visiting my Virginia friends, and they brought me to the gym.  I was surprised at how well I was able to keep up running that I started running for recreation when I got home.  It didn’t take long for me to be able to run a mile without stopping, and I kept it up until a few years later I could run without stopping for well over an hour, on one occasion even running eight miles without stopping.

The year 2016 is ending soon, and it looks like it will be the first calendar year in which I have done no running since 2002, probably.  A little over a year ago, my foot started hurting and pretty much never stopped.  The doctor said it was probably plantar fasciitis, and he recommended some high-quality shoe inserts (which haven’t helped) and some stretches I could do (which I’ve been doing very, very irregularly and sporadically).  (And I should admit I didn’t seek professional help for this until two months ago, after it had been going on for almost a year.)  I really, really miss running.  I have friends who are hard core runners, and whenever they post a picture of themselves after having finished running, whether it be a 5K or a marathon, I always think about how much I miss running.  Granted, I never did any organized running like that, I always just ran alone through the neighborhood (and for free), but still, it reminds me that I haven’t run in a long time, and that I’m in too much pain to run.

As I said, my friend from church had no way of knowing all this.  The foot pain started right around the same time I started going to that church.  But she told me that God told her to tell me, “Run.”  She asked if I had ever been part of a running group.  I said no; running and cycling have always been primarily solitary activities for me, just me, the open road, the sky, the trees, and a kick-ass playlist (but only in one ear if I’m on my bike, because covering both ears is illegal and unsafe).  But that doesn’t mean I never will be part of a group.  I need to try new things, remember.  With this conversation about running, and something that the other woman who prayed for me said (which I started to mention earlier) making me think about my foot pain, I wondered if I was suddenly going to get up and feel no pain.  I wondered if this was going to be one of those miraculous healing stories that those in Christian circles tend to hear about every now and then.

But it wasn’t.  I’m still in pain.  But at least now I have some direction. I’m going to be praying for healing.  I’m going to be extra careful.  I’m going to go find what the doctor said about stretching.  Any of my friends who have particular personal or professional knowledge regarding plantar fasciitis, please feel free to add your suggestions; I just haven’t gotten around to asking most of you because I’m overwhelmed with so many things right now.  I’ll probably have to take it easy dancing for a while too.  Because I will heal from this.  And I will run again.  Because God has something planned for my life that involves running.

Exit 117. But what will I fill the void with?

I’ve said before that my time off work this summer seemed way too short.  I feel like the last year has been emotionally draining, for a number of reasons, most of which are not related to work, and many of which I have not shared here.  I was hoping that having seven weeks off work would give me time to clear my head, so that life would feel normal again.  But this has not happened.

I’m starting to wonder if it might be time for a more drastic step, and the message I heard at church this morning tied in with this.  Maybe it’s time to become a bit more isolated.  I’m starting to wonder if some of the things I do and people I see might be causing more harm than good.  I feel conflicted about this for a number of reasons, though.  For one thing, most of these things aren’t harmful 100% of the time.  And, for the most part, no one is actively trying to hurt me.  This is not a situation where I’m being bullied, or threatened, or anything like that.  I’m just realizing that certain parts of my life that used to make me happy in the past aren’t making me feel that way so much anymore.

But what will I fill the void with?  Part of the reason I haven’t cut things out of my life is because I have nothing with which to replace them.  That means more time spent at home moping and being alone, and that seems just as unhealthy to me.  But maybe I should be filling that void with God, spending that extra time in prayer and Scripture and meditation, to get some real direction on life.  And this doesn’t have to be forever.  When I feel ready, I can gradually add things back into my life provisionally, so I can better discern who and what are and aren’t worth my time.

I haven’t decided for sure that I will be doing this, but it’s something I’m thinking about.  We’ll see.

Exit 106. It’s only holding you back.

During the course of my life, I seem to find myself getting rejected by women, in both platonic and romantic situations, in progressively more unbelievable and outlandish ways.  Whenever I think I’ve been rejected in a particularly shocking way, a few months later someone comes along and rejects me in an even worse manner.  By the way, I’m not being sexist here.  I’m sure that other combinations of genders have just as many outrageous rejection stories.

The other day, I was having a conversation on Facebook with a close female friend, regarding a guy she likes, and whether or not it would work.  I said, attempting to be snarky, “Well hopefully he won’t do this,” and then proceeded to describe a scenario in which he behaves toward her in the same hurtful way that a former love interest once behaved toward me.  My friend knew exactly what I was trying to do; she replied, “Did you just put me into one of your past situations again?”  I said yes, of course.  She replied, “You’ve got to stop doing that.  It’s only holding you back.”

She’s right.  It’s a harsh truth to hear, but she’s right.

Why is it so hard for me to let go of past hurts?  I think it comes down to the lack of justice.  The people who have treated me wrong (men, women, friends, love interests, acquaintances, strangers, everyone in general) get to move on with their perfect happy little lives, leaving me bruised and wounded, lying on the side of the road like a piece of trash.  What they did was wrong, and it’s not fair that they can get away with it.  I know this is a vastly oversimplified perspective, but on the gut reaction level, it feels like I’m doing everything right, and I’m miserable, whereas those who do everything wrong reap all the rewards of life.  I told something like this to someone else recently, not the same friend I mentioned above, and she pointed out that those people who do everything wrong probably aren’t as happy as I think they are.  I just don’t see the consequences of their decisions.  However, even if I did, that would not change the fact that I’m miserable.

Life isn’t fair.  Some people are jerks.  And there is nothing I can do to change that.  If I am going to interact with other human beings in any way, I am going to leave myself vulnerable to being hurt.  There are times when I have seriously questioned if it was worth it, or if I should just go become a hermit and live in a cabin in the forest.  But I don’t think that is the best solution either.  I just have to find a way to let go, a way to stop allowing these past hurts to continue to destroy me from within.  Everyone walks a different path, and it is up to God to deal with those who, from my limited human perspective, appear to be rewarded for doing everything wrong.  And it isn’t like I’m claiming to be perfect either.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the past, even if they aren’t the same kind of mistakes as the others in my circle.

It will take a lot of hard work to change almost forty years of this kind of thinking.  A big part of it will involve prayer and Scripture.  I will need to place myself in more positive situations.  I may have to have some difficult conversations with people still in my life who have hurt me, and I may have to cut others out of my life entirely.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  All I can do is keep taking steps in the right direction.

Exit 95. God is not sitting on a cloud with a stopwatch.

Recently I was talking on Facebook with a friend whom I’ll call Enif.  I’ve only met Enif a few times in person, through swing dancing, but we know quite a few of the same people.  I had asked her about something that she had written about, something personal going on in her life that I thought may have had some similarities to some thoughts that had been on my mind.  She explained more of what had happened with her recently, including some things she had been praying about and gotten a clear message from God in response.  I explained what was on my mind, and I added that I need to spend more time praying in general.

Twenty years ago, when I was a student at UC Davis and a brand new Christian, one thing I heard frequently from those around me, leaders and friends at church and in my college group, was the importance of spending time in prayer and reading Scripture.  Many students would share testimonies of how they would spend every morning, or every evening, reading the Bible and praying, because that is how one truly knows God.  One wouldn’t have a friendship without spending time with the friend in question, so how is a relationship with Jesus Christ any different?  I tried for a while waking up extra early and finding a quiet spot at home to start every morning with God, but my concentration that early in the morning wasn’t what it could be.  I eventually started using time between classes for prayer and Scripture.  Typically, my schedules would end up so that I had an hour or two between classes mid-morning.  The UC Davis campus has a creek running through it, along the south end of the core campus area; along both sides of the creek runs the UC Davis Arboretum, featuring plants from all over the world.  During my break between classes, I would walk to the Arboretum, sit on a bench, read a few chapters of Scripture, and pray for a while.  It worked for me, but I still felt a little guilty that I only did this four or five times a week, not every day.  As an adult, my prayer times have been even fewer and farther between, as the hectic stresses of life take over.

Enif’s reply to my statement about needing to spend more time praying surprised me.  She said that I don’t necessarily need to be praying more, and that making such a statement sounds more like the kind of works-based belief system that Jesus saves us from.  I should be doing things because I want to do them for God, not because I feel pressured that I need to, and that in living a Christian life, I am praying throughout the day.

I stand by my statement that spending more time in prayer and Scripture would be good for me.  Yet I think Enif is right.

Probably the greatest misconception about Christianity, particularly because it is still held by many who consider themselves Christians, is that we are saved by good works.  This position incorrectly views God as a sort of omnipotent Santa Claus, rewarding the good little boys and girls and punishing the bad ones.  That is exactly what the Bible does not say.  Jesus Christ shed his blood on the cross to save us from our sins, and nothing we can do can earn salvation from our sins.  Our acceptance of Jesus’ salvation shows through a changed life, with Jesus Christ as Lord, and it is out of this changed life that the good works happen, not out of obligation.

I forget sometimes that some of the other Christians I knew when I was in college may not have been very mature in their faith at the time.  Many people who call themselves Christians are really just looking for rules to follow to feel self-righteous, much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.  Just because someone I knew in the ’90s self-righteously pointed out that they spent two hours every day reading Scripture and praying doesn’t make them a better Christian than I am.  God is not sitting on a cloud with a stopwatch, checking to see who spends the most time in prayer every day.

But, on the other hand, if my life has really been transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ, shouldn’t I want to pray, to read his word, to listen to his guidance in my life?  I should.  And that can happen when I sit in a quiet place and open the Bible.  But it can happen in so many other ways too.  God is bigger than our human routines and rituals.  The important thing here is that I am not letting the worries of this life choke out spiritual matters.