Studying Prayer

I have always felt comfortable talking to God in private.  I speak to him as though to my own father, as we should do because He is our Father.  The bible tells us in many places that God expects us to reach out to him: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  It tells us “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6.

However, I am not as confident of my ability for public prayer, even when it’s just offering thanks at family meals.  I stand aside and leave it up to others.  I cannot imagine serving as an Elder and praying in front of the congregation.  I feel this is a weakness.  God told Moses: “Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.” Exodus 4:12.  He wants us to be able to witness for Him to others.  I feel that public prayer is one of the ways we witness. 

So, as part of my Lenten commitment, I began a study of how to pray.  As I discussed in an earlier post, I started with Lord, Teach Me to Pray by Kay Arthur.  When I had finished the book, I still was not satisfied, so I moved along to Living the Lord’s Prayer by David Timms. This one breaks down The Lord’s Prayer line by line and discusses what it meant at the time and how it relates to our world today. Timms says that our “spiritual formation must percolate through every aspect of our lives.”(p 23 of Kindle version) He explains how he feels a proper understanding of The Lord’s Prayer, as a teaching tool not a rote recital, can be a springboard toward the transformation of our lives.

While I found the book interesting, it still hadn’t helped me formulate oral prayers.  So, I went on to Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name by Bryan Chapell.  Easter has come and gone.  I am about halfway through this one.  It has been helpful.  Well, they have all been somewhat helpful, just not conclusive.  One thing that Chapell mentioned in passing, as though it were common knowledge, is using ACTS as a framework for prayer. I had never heard of this and left the book to ask Google what it was.  

Google, as usual, offered me many choices.  The one I chose is called Prayer Central, a website devoted to Prayer and Devotionals.  In case you haven’t heard of it either, ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  This is something I can work with.  The website listed several other prayer models as well.  I’ve bookmarked it and plan to make visits there part of my study.

I am still reading Praying Backwards.  I am finding it the most helpful and engaging of the books I’ve used.  If you are looking for a better prayer life, I recommend that you start with Praying Backwards.  I like the idea of making sure you put Christ first, even when praying or maybe it should be especially when praying.

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Taking Stock

Terri McCarty Jones, a friend of mine from church, recently asked a series of questions on Facebook:

“Just curious. How many of you feel that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing with your life? Do you have a career or a calling or a combination of the two? Is there something else you wish you would have done other than what you are doing now? What factors charted your course?

Working with the high school CYF and knowing they are going to be going forth into the world and making decisions that will impact their futures makes me curious as to how many of us are overall truly satisfied with what we are doing with our lives. I’m sure some of you took a circuitous route to get where you are now while others seem to have known from childhood the path to take. Any wisdom shared will be greatly appreciated!”

I found it an interesting topic for conversation and decided to present it to a wider audience.  I personally, wanted nothing except to be a wife and mother when I was a teenager.  I said no when a friend of my mother’s offered to pay for me to go to college.  My mother thought I should be a teacher, which was her dream that was interrupted by the Great Depression.  Her friend had no children and was well off.  I had always made good grades in school and they thought I should have a career.  I wasn’t the least bit interested.  Instead, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I got married.  Two years later, I graduated just one month before the birth of my first son.  

I was set on the path I had planned for myself and even the divorce that came ten years and three children later didn’t alter that goal.  I found a job, but I also started shopping for a new husband, almost immediately.  Wife and mother was what society told me I should want to be, when I was growing up, and it was all I could see then.  Why waste all that time and effort in college and building a career, to just turn it off when I got married?  Why not just get married and be done with it?

Back then, even girls who went to college were expected to be looking for husbands along the way.  We were fully indoctrinated to be wife and mother.  Things have changed somewhat since then, but we still hear a lot about “biological clocks,” the search for “the perfect mate,” and the new goal of “having it all.”  

While those of us who grew up with limited expectations may be looking around and wishing we had all the possibilities that are now available, things today are much more confusing for young people.  That includes boys as well as girls.  In those “good ole days,” young men were expected to follow in the footsteps of their elders.  If they couldn’t manage a college education, their father, uncle, or family friend would get them a low level job with their own employer, so that the youngster could “learn a trade.”  I suppose that still happens to an extent, but attitudes are much different than they used to be.

Today, young people feel a pressure to decide for themselves what career they want.  A daunting task for someone whose biggest decision to date has been what to wear to school and which movie to see on the weekend.   They are told, “You can be anything you want to be, if you are willing to work for it.”  It sounds good to those of us who had limited choices.  I’m sure, it can be scary to someone who is faced with that broader decision.   I have watched many young people try to decide which way to go and they tend to fail.  They will, mostly, give up on their “dream job” and settle for what they can find in the real world.  There just aren’t that many positions open for Rock Stars or Ballerinas.  Major league sports teams don’t have room for every child who loves to play.  Fashion designers are few in number and far away from middle America.  In the final analysis, most kids have to “settle” for something along the way and “find themselves” later.  

There came a time when I realized that I wasn’t really cut out to be “wife.”  It required a level of submission to the needs of a partner that I couldn’t accept.  I gave up that dream.  Mommy isn’t something you can resign from, but it is a temporary job.  The day comes when those precious little toddlers become rebellious teenagers who don’t want or need a “mom” hanging around all day.   You still maintain the title, but the duties become more or less honorary.  

As a single mother, I had found jobs I could do.  None of them were my “dream job.”  By the time I found what that could have been, the children were more important and the two were incompatible.  It is very difficult to become a Systems Analyst, who travels to distant parts of the country for weeks or months at a time designing and setting up new computer systems, with youngsters in school.  

I turned my attention to more sensible jobs, still within my field of interest, and went on with my life.  Eventually, my lack of formal education limited my opportunities for advancement even in those positions.  So, I retired from my “job” and went back to school.  More than 40 years after I graduated high school, I finally found a use for college.  

It was while taking basic requirement courses, that I discovered my true passion, a love of writing.  I had always loved to read and was in awe of the ability of some writers to tell a story.  While I never kept a formal journal, I knew that I sometimes needed to put my thoughts down on paper.  I always found it easier to write than to talk.  I just never considered making it a career.  My English professors were very encouraging.  Even those courses that weren’t really about writing required essays, term papers, and research.  I came to love research.  It’s still one of my favorite pastimes.  

I may never become a paid author, certainly not a well-known or “best selling” one.  But it doesn’t matter.  I am retired now.  I get by financially.  More money would be nice, but it isn’t a goal.  I just like writing.  I now spend my days between “mothering” my great grandchildren and writing: blog posts, a prayer journal, plans for a couple of novels that will probably never see the light of day.  It doesn’t matter.  The joy is in the creation of words, sentences, paragraphs, pages of text.  The telling of the story, true or imaginary, is the thing.  

So, I guess my answer to the above questions would be: Yes, I am doing exactly what I should be doing with my life.  It is a combination of a part of my original goal and what I found along the way.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been able to make different choices when I was young.  

In college, I also discovered a love of Physics.  I’m not sure I have the mental acuity to have made it a career but, if I had been exposed to it in high school, I might have accepted that opportunity to go to college.  Even if Physics didn’t work out, I might have discovered my love of writing in time to have made that a lifetime career.  Either of those possibilities would have made my life very different. Better?  There’s no way to know.  But, I can’t wish for it.  After all, that would wish away my five children, all my grandchildren and my precious greats.  I can’t even wish away my two failed marriages for the same reason.  

My life went as it should.  I didn’t know when I was 15 how it would turn out.  No one can.  All you can do is the next thing.  Expose yourself to as many paths as possible.  Take the one in front of you, but watch for side branches.  You never know what you’ll find along the way.

How about you?  Join the conversation.  Leave a comment below.  

 

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Mourning with My Privilege

I thought I was done with the Privilege topic, but then I read about the churches being attacked in Egypt.  This is Holy Week.  We’ve gone to worship every day and twice on Maundy Thursday.  Not once did any of us worry that we might be targeted.  I know that Muslims, Jews and even Black Christians in this country can’t always say the same.  I am grateful for my Privilege in knowing that I can worship in safety.  On this Good Friday, as we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, I pray the day will come when all God’s people will have such Privilege.

As part of my Lenten commitment, I’ve been reading “He Chose the Nails”  and “On Calvary’s Hill” by Max Lucado.  Lucado emphasizes the fact that Jesus knew, even before He started His ministry, how it would end.  I am wearing black today as a symbol of my mourning for the fact that I fear, if Jesus came back today, we’d kill Him again.  After all, He was a Middle Eastern religious fanatic who taught that we should all be living by God’s law.

He was executed by the method of the day because of fear and political expediency.  The fact that he expected it and was prepared to sacrifice himself doesn’t alter that fact.  For more than 250 years, His followers were also persecuted and killed by the popular methods.  In the middle ages, Europeans, professing Christianity, killed thousands to “free the holy land” from the Jews and Muslims who had always lived there.  Today, we have leaders promoting discrimination against people for their religious beliefs, just as those early Christians suffered under the Romans, the Muslims suffered during the Crusades, and the Jews suffered in Germany during World War II.  

While I may not always agree with the teaching of other religious organizations, including some Christian ones, I fanatically declaim their right to hold their beliefs in peace as long as they allow others to do the same.  Whether or not we agree with them, we have no right to judge, only God is supposed to do that.  

There is only one God, people.  The fact that others call Him by different names, doesn’t mean it’s a different being.  We have many names for Him ourselves.  In Spanish, it’s Dios; in French, it’s Dieu; in German, Gott; in Swedish, Gudaväsen; in Russian, Boga; all from Christians.  The fact that Islamic nations say Allah, doesn’t make it a different God, any more than Jews saying Jehovah or Yahweh does.  We all worship the God of Abraham.  

We adhere to different teachings, claim different prophetic voices, but we start from the same beginning and we should respect the fact that others could only take the path that was before them as they searched for a relationship with the only God that exists.  We are instructed to go forth and preach the gospel, not to condemn those who do not accept our proselytizing.  Our only concern should be our personal relationship with our Lord, not the correctness of other people’s beliefs.  

Rant over.  I cannot judge those who do not agree with me, even those whose actions are based on obvious prejudices.  God is in charge, whether the majority of people choose to believe it or not.  He gave us free choice because He wanted us to choose to love Him and live by His commandments.  I am sure He is saddened by the state of His world today.  I know I am.

This is not the post I had planned for this week.  That one got bumped to next week.  Come back then.

 

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Privilege Part 3

As Americans, we have privileges that we frequently take for granted or completely ignore.  We can complain, whine, or rant about things we dislike from politics to prices. It may not do much good, but we won’t, usually, be threatened with arrest because of it.  We can vote, but too many of us don’t bother.  We can choose what jobs we want to do, how we want to dress, who we want to have for friends, what religion we prefer to practice or not.

Most all of us have privileges of one kind or another.  Privileges that we take for granted or don’t even realize other people don’t have.  It is part of the human psyche to think our lives are the norm and everyone else has the same benefits that we do.  

We may see other people’s privilege that we don’t enjoy and feel envious.  But, other than the homeless (Who we tend to think are there because of their own faults.), we usually assume that everyone else’s life is the same as ours.   Most of the people we associate with have the same privileges we do.  We seldom think of how different it can be for those outside our circle or even some within it.

What is life like for the couple who aren’t able to have children?  How is the young mother who just got divorced coping with custody arrangements and a reduced income level?  How does the couple of mixed race or religion deal with the prejudices that they run into? What effect does that stress have on their relationship?  What is it like to need to explain to a six year old why some people don’t allow their children to play with her?  

There are so many ways that we are privileged and as many ways that we are not.  When I was younger, the majority opinion was that I was privileged to be naturally slim.  It didn’t feel like privilege to me though.  I knew that 104 pounds at 5’6″ was too skinny, but I couldn’t gain weight.  No matter how much or what I ate, I never gained a pound.  I never had to worry about getting rid of “baby weight” because I weighed exactly the same after my children were born as I did before I got pregnant.  People who have trouble controlling their weight would call that a blessing, to me, it was a curse.

Then, I quit smoking and going dancing on weekends.  I turned 50.  My natural metabolism slowed down and I gained 75 pounds in less than a year.  Ever since, I’ve been struggling to keep the weight off.  It seems there is no middle ground.  But, I call it a privilege that I was able to arrest the gain, have been at a stable size for the past 10 years, and my health is good.  At 74 years old, I take no prescription drugs, have no major health problems, and am not in daily pain.  That is privilege of the best kind.

Your privilege isn’t something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about.  It isn’t your fault that other people have problems you don’t.  They may also have privilege that you don’t.  The important things are to realize your privilege,  to know that not everyone is fortunate in the ways you are, to stop and think before judging others, to believe that your viewpoint and experience may make it difficult for you to understand their actions and reactions.  Check yourself for privilege and then give others some leeway in your expectations.

Wikipedia says that “Privilege is a social theory that special rights or advantages are available only to a particular person or group of people.”  Perhaps that is accurate as far as it goes, but I think whoever posted that page is privileged to have a narrow view of the subject.  

How privileged are you?  I took this quiz on Buzz Feed as research for these articles.  I scored 52 out of 100 possible points.  My results say that I am “quite” privileged.  I am not bragging.  I am feeling very humble.  I count myself privileged in every sense of the word and I hope that I have empathy for those who are less fortunate. 

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Privilege Part 2

As I’ve been parsing my privilege, I have realized that it starts at birth.  We won’t even consider the fact that I am a white American born citizen descended from generations of the same.  Those points of privilege are a given.  Anyone who doesn’t realize what advantages come with them just isn’t paying attention.  

My first privilege was a stable home environment.   I was born to a happily married couple of honest hardworking people.  They didn’t marry until they were 30 and 31.  They had known each other for about five years.  I was born a year later and from that day until my father died, I never heard them argue, never saw them angry with each other.  I’m not saying they never disagreed, just that they worked out their problems quietly and without letting it affect us kids.  As far as we could tell, our parents had the perfect marriage that lasted more than 35 years. 

Part of that stability was the fact that, even though we were never well off, we always had a clean, comfortable home and plenty to eat.  With five children and a limited income, it wasn’t easy but my parents saw to it that we always had what we needed and, at least, some of what we wanted.  They also instilled good values and a strong work ethic in us, mainly by setting an example.

My second privilege was being fortunate enough to be born healthy with no disabilities.  My aunt and uncle had a stillborn daughter and a son with spina bifida.  I had another aunt who had severe scoliosis.   Three of my four brothers were also born healthy and strong, but the other one was subject to seizures that eventually got so severe they had to be controlled with medication for years.  Two of them had dyslexia at a time when no one knew what it was.  They never did learn to read well which limited their employment opportunities.

Consider how many people in this country, never mind other parts of the world, are raised in broken homes or are mired in poverty.  How many have parents who fail to give them good values or the loving attention that every child needs.  Look around at the number of people who must deal with limiting handicaps all their lives.  Think of how many families are homeless or living in refugee camps.  

I have only scratched the surface of the myriad ways that my life has been filled with advantages.  Things that I, like most people, have usually taken for granted; and being able to do that is a privilege all by itself.  I’m not done yet with this subject.  Stay with me.  Part 3 next week.

 

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