Unanswered Prayers

piano
Please, dear God, don’t let him make any mistakes.

This was my hastily whispered prayer three years ago when my eleven-year-old son sat down at the piano to perform in the spring recital.  He was playing a difficult piece – one that he had been working on for months.  I knew he was nervous.  I held my breath as he began to play.

Despite my plea to God, there were several noticeable mistakes in his performance, including one heart-stopping moment where he seemed to lose his place in the music before picking it back up again.  My heart fell.  My son is a deeply sensitive boy and a perfectionist.  I knew he would be devastated by these mistakes.  And he was.  No matter how many times my husband and I told him he did a great job and we were so proud of him, he would not hear it.  With choked back sobs and tears of frustration, he could not get past it.

He wasn’t the only one who was frustrated. I had a bone to pick with God.  “Come on!!  It was a simple request!  You can move mountains and part seas!  Was it really so impossible to help a boy get through one piano piece?!?”  I felt rejected and a little bit betrayed.  I couldn’t understand why God refused to say “yes” to this simple prayer.

Fast forward two years.  We were back at the same music studio for another piano concert.  My son had chosen an even more challenging piece to perform.  He knew it by heart and he was ready. Before he began to play, his teacher got up to say the following words about my son: “When he chose this piece to learn, as his teacher my first instinct was to talk him out of it, because I thought it would be too difficult for him. But he was determined and he worked hard. And he taught me a valuable lesson. Never again will I tell a student what they can’t do.”

The lights dimmed as my son began to play. He did a beautiful job…his fingers flying over the keys as the melody filled the room and my heart. His performance wasn’t perfect. There were some wrong notes and another prolonged pause as he tried to find his place again. I sighed deeply. So close! I guess we’re in for another rough afternoon.

When the recital was over I rushed over to my son to give him a hug. He hugged me back, smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. “Did you notice I lost my place for a few seconds there?” To my surprise, he wasn’t upset. He was ok with it. What a difference from the wrecked little boy of two years ago! My mind jumped back to that moment when I believed that God had denied my prayer. With sudden clarity, I realized how wrong I was. This was God’s answer. This year, this moment, this beautiful evidence of growth in my son. God had been holding him and shaping him and working in him all this time.

I understood. God didn’t say “yes” to my prayer that day. But he didn’t say “no” either. Instead, his answer was “grow.” A lesson in faith to be learned not just by my child, but by me.

God is always loving us and working in our lives, even if we can’t always see it in obvious ways. Think back to the “unanswered” prayers in your own life. Was God really saying no? Or was there a greater plan He had in mind for you?

Jesus’ Last Lecture

Jesus Last Lecture

A college professor is invited to give a hypothetical “last lecture” in which they answer the question: “If this is the last lecture you would ever give to your students, what would you say?” The professor is challenged with the task of packing in decades of wisdom and life lessons into one hour. In 2007, Randy Pausch, a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University was invited to do just that. What was uniquely moving about this lecture, was that Pausch was dying of pancreatic cancer. His talk, entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” was delivered to a packed house of over 400 colleagues and students. This lecture became the basis for the New York Times best-selling book, The Last Lecture, co-authored by Pausch and published in 2008. It became his legacy to his children before he died in that same year.

As we move into Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time reading Jesus’ “Last Lecture.” (John 13-17) It was the day before Passover and Jesus, knowing that the hour had come for him to leave this world, gathered his disciples one last time. He washed their feet, in a beautiful example of how they were to minister to one another after he was gone.

And then he began to speak.

“Dear children, how brief are these moments before I must go away and leave you!” (John 13:33) I imagine the sense of urgency Jesus must have felt as he tried one last time to impart everything he wanted his disciples to learn before he would leave them.

For four and a half chapters of John’s Gospel—often referred to as the “Last Supper Discourse” or the “Farewell Discourse” —Jesus gives his disciples instructions, life lessons, and final words of wisdom. There’s so much rich and wonderful content in his words, it could never be covered in one short blog post. (It reads like a “Greatest Hits” of Bible quotes!) So I’ve chosen 7 lines from Jesus’ Last Lecture—one for each day of Holy Week—for you to ponder and pray about

MONDAY

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) This is it…really. The entirety of Jesus’ ministry and message summed up in one commandment. Love one another. During this holiest week of the year, how will we choose to love one another?

TUESDAY

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) One of my favorite lines in all of Scripture! Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. Thomas replies: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?” The answer is simple and profound. Jesus is the WAY. Our guide and our bridge to God and the Promised Land. All we need to do is follow Him.

WEDNESDAY

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17) In this passage we learn about the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises his disciples that they will never be left alone, a promise that still holds for us today. The Holy Spirit is an Advocate or Helper that dwells within us forever…to comfort, guide, and lead us.

THURSDAY

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Yet another beautiful gift from our Savior. Peace, not as the world gives—based on outward circumstances—but peace from within. Peace that is rooted in absolute trust in the faithfulness of God. A gift that becomes ours only in the act of receiving. How will we receive the peace of Christ this week?

FRIDAY

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In these beautiful words we see Jesus’ message of discipleship. We are meant to bear fruit…to spread the love of Christ like branches stretching out from a vine. But we must remain connected to the source of our creation. Our dependence on God allows us to become an instrument of His love and peace.

SATURDAY

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13) After once again repeating his central commandment, Jesus foreshadows the great act of sacrifice that is to come on Good Friday. Jesus dying on the cross is an act of profound love. One that transforms the disciples to such a degree that they passionately preach his message, even to the point of their own death in martyrdom. How will we let Jesus transform us during this Easter season? How can we “die” to our own self-absorption in order to live renewed in Christ?

SUNDAY

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The sorrow of the crucifixion and death of Jesus give way to the victory and triumph of Easter morning. We are a Resurrection People, born to new life in Christ. Alleluia, He is Risen!

In My Father’s Eyes

Scale Samuel
What are some motivations that you may need to confess?

This was the question posed by my writing prompt this morning. It immediately made me think of this past Thanksgiving. After starting a new health regime in September, I had lost a bit of weight. I was feeling pretty good about myself and bought a new outfit to wear for Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house. I played the scene out in my head. I would enter the house, take off my coat, and everyone would be amazed at how great I looked. I would be showered with compliments and admiration. It was going to be a great holiday.

Imagine my surprise when no one seemed to notice at all.

It was a humbling lesson in pride and vanity. If I had kept my focus on either the real meaning of Thanksgiving—being thankful for my loved ones and all our good fortune—or the true benefits of losing weight—improved long term health—I would have felt incredibly blessed that day instead of vaguely disappointed.

I won’t beat myself up about it. It’s perfectly human to want praise and compliments. I don’t believe it’s a sin to want people to think well of you. But it’s a slippery slope when it comes to motivation. In the wise words of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation— “Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.”

When I first started giving spiritual retreats I was desperate for positive affirmation. Like Sally Field at the Oscar’s (“They like me! They really like me!”) I drank up praise like it was the most addictive drug on the market. I told myself it was affirmation from God I was searching for. If people keep telling me how good I am, then I know this is what God wants me to be doing.

I’m not sure how sound my reasoning was. The truth is, I just liked the feeling.

Again, it’s not the worst thing in the world to enjoy some praise, as long as I didn’t lose sight of the reasons I was doing this in the first place. My desire to please God by helping others had to trump my desire to please myself by helping others. Fine line of distinction but it feels important.

It’s a good idea once in a while to examine why we do the things we do. Are there motives that are preventing us from living in a real and authentic way? Is it more important for me to get a hundred “likes” on this post than to reach one person who really needs to hear God’s message, even if I never know about it? Social media leads us down this path to “madness” like nothing else. It’s all about the numbers. Followers…hits…page views…likes…friends. Everyone wants to be “famous” or “popular” in whatever platform they can. For the most part, this can be harmless fun (and I’m not suggesting that everyone uses social media in this way!) but chasing applause is a race we’ll never win, because we’ll always want more. If we measure our success by the numbers, we’ll always be left feeling dissatisfied.

What do you place at your center? Validation from outside forces? Or the love and adoration of the God who created you? “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7b). I can think of no better audience that that, and God is always going to be our biggest fan. The One who knows us best. The One who sees us for who we are and still loves us.

In the words of songwriter Francesca Battistelli, “I don’t need my name in lights, I’m famous in my Father’s eyes.”

Psalm 23 – A Psalm for the Living

dark valley Psalm 23
God is our refuge and our hope.

This was the topic I found myself writing about when preparing for a retreat several years ago. In looking for some Scripture to use, I went straight for the Psalms which contain dozens and dozens of references to this kind of loving and protective God. I was immediately drawn to Psalm 23. You know this one:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me…

After considering it for a moment, I quickly rejected it for the purposes of my talk. For most people, this Psalm is too closely associated with funerals, death, and dying. I can still remember the scene from the movie Titanic when a priest recites these lines to a group of terrified passengers as the ship sinks further and further into the ocean. As beautiful as it was, I wanted to talk about life… I didn’t need a Psalm for the dying. Continue reading

God’s Work in Progress

potter clay
Christians often refer to the season of Lent as a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions. Our broken January promises are renewed as we vow to give up unhealthy foods, to take on healthier habits, to change in some significant way. For the most part, I love this time of year because it ushers in a season of transformation and renewal, as we embrace growth and progress. But there are some “side effects” of this approach than can actually halt our progress in two significant ways if we’re not careful.

  1. A constant focus on all the many ways we need “fixing” can become a roadblock on our spiritual journey if we hold ourselves back from God because of this belief that we are not good enough.
  2. Our efforts to do it all ourselves as we choose and control our own path to change can get in the way of God’s plans for us.

On both January 1st and Ash Wednesday, I always used to say: “I’m a work in progress.   There’s a LOT of work I need to do.” Somewhere along they way I reframed this statement

I am God’s work in progress, and he is working in me. Continue reading

Prayers from a Night Worrier

digital clockAre you a night worrier? My mother has never had any trouble falling asleep at night. But once in a while, if she’s unlucky enough to wake up during the night, that’s it for sleeping. She calls them “racing thoughts.” Turning, churning, and tumbling in her mind at a pace that won’t stop.

What is it about the middle of the night that things always seem so dire? We awake with a feeling of dread. A worry that seemed small during the day seems to blow up in the dark of our bedroom. Taking on a menacing shape. Like that monster from our childhood, threatening to creep out and grab us in our sleep. Larger problems seem insurmountable, even hopeless.

In the dark we are scared children again. We’re alone and helpless. We forget everything we know about God’s love and faithfulness. We let fear take over. It becomes impossible to place our trust in God. We focus on the darkness (the metaphorical absence of God’s light) instead of the quiet.

But remember…the quiet is the best time for hearing. Listen to what God is whispering to you: Continue reading

A Woman’s Lenten Journey

woman in woods

The season of Lent is a journey.

A journey to the foot of the cross at Calvary…and to the heart of Jesus.

Years of working in retreat ministry has shown me that more than anything, women long for a daily encounter with God. Whatever form that may take, the desire to connect with the Divine is a major driver in a woman’s spiritual journey. A retreat presenter recently urged, “Don’t ever be satisfied with where you are with God at this moment. Always desire something deeper.”

Reaching for that “something deeper” can be a real challenge. Today’s woman is pulled in a million different directions. Always on the go, we are doers and nurturers. This hectic pace can make if very difficult to listen for the voice of God.   Women need TIME! We need quiet. We need a safe, sacred space, free from distraction. We need to stand still long enough to be found.  Only then can we take up our cross once again and resume the journey. Continue reading

Pray Where You Are

Prayer Therapy
For many years I’ve been collecting a book series on spirituality called “Elf-Help Books” by Abbey Press. The series contains over forty mini-books on a variety of topics, each one accompanied by charming illustrations by R.W. Alley. Titles include: Trust-in-God Therapy, Stress Therapy, Forgiveness Therapy, Keep Life Simple Therapy, Be–Good-To-Your-Marriage Therapy, and many more. The books are beautiful in their simplicity. 35 to 40 short statements to help you reflect on each topic. Click here for more information on how to order Elf-Help books.

One of my favorites is Prayer Therapy, written by Keith McClellan, O.S.B. In the foreword he writes: “Real prayer is organic—it grows out of your own life, personality, needs, and rhythms. Each day and every moment are filled with opportunities for prayer. If we seize these moments, we open ourselves to the greatest enrichment—and most effective therapy—possible. Prayer isn’t for specialists. Prayer is for you and for me.”

I love this idea that we all have access to a rich prayer life if we only embrace it. Prayer is not reserved for only the most holy. It does not take place only in churches. It does not have to consist of poetic words. Prayer is simply a connection to God in whatever form that may take for each one of us. As Fr. McClellan suggests: “Pray where you are. God is everywhere.” In line at the grocery store. In classrooms. On a busy street. Deep in the woods. High on the mountaintop. In the depths of the valley.

You can bring any emotion or thought to prayer. God loves you and knows you best, and He wants to hear it ALL. Bring your gratitude to God. Your sorrow. Your anger. Your confusion. There may be times when you can’t even find words for what you’re feeling. Let your sigh become a prayer. Or your tears. Or a shrug of your shoulders. Or a clenched and shaken fist. God knows what your heart is experiencing and is listening and loving you.

If you pray where you are often enough, you’ll find it becomes a part of you. A “second-nature” response to every situation. This living, ongoing conversation with God will enrich your life in countless ways. Answers will come. Peace will come. Contentment will remain.

Fr. McClellan closes his book with this beautiful thought: “To pray is to breathe. Do it deeply and you will be filled with life.” AMEN!


 

How Healthy is Your Spirit?

boardwalk to ocean
We hear so often about the importance of wellness of body, mind, and spirit. We visit a doctor for our annual check-up. We measure the health of our bodies through blood work, cholesterol tests, EKG’s, etc. We have assessments for measuring different aspects of our brain and intellect. But how often do we give our spirit a check-up? How often do we ask the question: “How healthy is my spirit?”

Try this little exercise. Read each statement below and say whether you agree or disagree: Continue reading

A Light in the Darkness

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

For today’s reflection, I would like to share the following story.  The author is unknown, and the story can be found in various places on the internet.

There was once a dark cave, deep down in the ground, underneath the earth and hidden away from view.  Because it was so deep in the earth, the light had never been there.  The cave had never seen light.  The word “light” meant nothing to the cave, who couldn’t imagine what “light” might be.   Then one day, the sun sent an invitation to the cave, inviting it to come up and visit. When the cave came up to visit the sun it was amazed and delighted, because the cave had never seen light before, and it was dazzled by the wonder of the experience. Feeling so grateful to the sun for inviting it to visit, the cave wanted to return the kindness, and so it invited the sun to come down to visit it sometime, because the sun had never seen darkness. So the day came, and the sun entered the cave, it looked around with great interest, wondering what “darkness” would be like.  Then it became puzzled, and asked the cave, “Where is the darkness?” (Source Unknown) Continue reading