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Sizing up Big Prayers

September 11th – I can’t draw a deep breath on my run this morning. Even the air is sullen with the anniversary of the day. I leave the house at 9:12am in a salute to its memory. Their memory. And the conversation – with God – begins.

Please, send peace. Please, don’t ever let this happen again. Please, be with those who lost someone on this day twelve years ago. Big prayers. Offered up to the universe. What good do these do for those grieving, missing, remembering? For those who have a hole they can never fill?

September 12th – Life continues for the rest of us. Oddly, I am dashing those “big prayers.” Not completely. I am sure they will return at the right time. But they are not helpful for me. In fact, I feel a bit deceptive in them. Like, I am turning over to God what really should be my responsibility. “You just go take care of those people so I can be about my business.”

Don’t get me wrong. Acknowledging the majesty of God and His sovereignty in the universe is critical. In fact, it’s imperative. Just difficult … especially…on September 11th. Can we believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing God let that happen? We don’t have to wrestle with that if we don’t get too close to it. Don’t let Him get too close to us. If we just pray big prayers.

But what about the specifics? Does God gloss over those in favor of His “all encompassing plan for mankind?” Because if He does, why would He care about me? in the sea of a humanity? I believe He does. I believe He loves me completely. In fact, when he looks at me, I am all He sees. And the same for you. We are huge in His eyes. Magnified. Close.

That means, He watched those people fall, up close. He watched those towers crumble, up close. He watched those terrorists board, up close. And did not stop it. Somehow, God’s will allowed September 11th. And God saw it more clearly than any of us.

“I see you. You there, with the gray t-shirt and Adidas shorts.” He says. “Yes, you. Look at me. Hear me. I love you.”

What would be beyond hope in that moment?

Praying with my mouthful may be an improvement

I made the mistake of taking a bite of my morning sweetbread (homemade zucchini at our house) just before diving into my Bible reading. All of a sudden I remembered the card I pray before reading my morning scripture.

I looked down to begin the prayer and there I was with my mouthful. What a great moment that was. Aha, it taunted me, can you pray with your mouth full? AKA, busy with all the rest you’re doing, can you really focus on Me? Maybe worse…is prayer really prayer if you can’t speak it? aren’t ready to respond to it? give an answer? Will the sound of my chewing drown out the prayer?

Disrespectful, yes. But, that great God of the wonderful sense of humor seemed to say, now that you’re mouth is full you’ll stop talking and listen.

Now I am not recommending the zucchini bread approach, but the close your mouth and chew quietly may be just what I was meant to hear.

The prayer I usually pray silently (mouth  normally empty) is:

“Holy Spirit, teach me what is true about these verses. What do you want me to understand? Direct my thoughts with every word I read. Protect and lead my mind.”

Some listening required.

Beats the old adage, “Open mouth, insert foot, chew quietly.” This form of humility tastes much better.

Praying in pencil

I make my prayer list in pencil.

Oh, I have my regular categories: family, friends, my vocational pursuits, the world, my enemies. Those are all written in pen. They’re there to stay. But what’s in the categories, that is the things I am praying for or about, the people I hold onto tightly and hoist high, the folks for whom I am so grateful, those are all written in pencil. Because they change.

The objectives of my prayers are changing all the time. I write them in pencil because I expect them to change, the circumstance to be resolved, an answer to become clear. And then I erase them.

Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of things have been on that list for some time. And plenty keep popping up there – especially in my “enemies” category. That’s actually, where I started the pencil thing. I resisted writing those things, those people, those inconvenient aggravations, in pen. So I, in my great wisdom and power, wrote them in pencil …so I could erase them if they talked back or got too confrontational.

But today I realize this practice has spilled out into the rest of the list. This penciling in. This temporary nature. Not because I am afraid of what I’m writing or can’t face it, but so I can replace it with the next thing. My prayer list is a revolving page of the conversation God and I are having. My eraser is my thank you.

Today I erased Justin, a friend’s 43 year old nephew, because miraculously he has pulled through a critical time when things looked very grim. I don’t know what the future holds for Justin. Actually, I have never even met him. But I penciled him in for a time and then erased him into the rest of what God has in store.

Writing things down is a funny thing. Some people don’t do it, especially the tough stuff, because it seems more real when we put it in print. I, on the other hand, write boldly in pencil – or, a bit more cautiously by cursor on a computer screen. Both are temporary. But the penciled one, I hold privately; the erasures are the only evidence a conversation ever took place. The other, this screen, is public, and I may be deceiving myself to think it’s nature is temporary. Because perhaps someone reads it or shares it and then who knows where it goes or what it becomes?

I think God’s okay with that. From the beginning He was One to share what He spoke. And people, perhaps even people something like me, wrote it down. Word processors, nah. I don’t think they even had pencils. I’m glad. What if someone had erased it?

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