Monday, January 4, 2016

Uncentered Prayer

Spend time with God. That's all I'd planned to do. Read my Bible, meditate on it, and begin a centered prayer. For those who don't know what that means, it is focusing on a word (such as grace or mercy) or a passage from the Bible in silence (usually for ten minutes), with my eyes closed, followed by closing with another reading of scripture. All good, right? I thought so. 

So I finished my coffee, told the boys that I was not to be disturbed and why, closed my bedroom door to begin. Opened my Bible to my favorite book, Psalms, and read, "Lord, make me know your ways. Lord teach me your paths. Make me walk in your truth, and teach me: for you are God my savior" (Psalm 25). All good and very appropos for what I was doing. I agree with Dorothy Day that, "My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms."

As I began to take deep, calming breaths and I closed my eyes to begin my silent prayer. And that's when the fun started.  Having two boys and two dogs and living on a busy street, making silence can be a challenge. That morning would be no different. I would like to say we have one of those fairy-tale families where everyone gets along all of the time, no arguments, children behave, they clean their rooms without fussing, and always use good manners. I would be thrilled if we could even hit 25% on this, but such is not the case. There are times when I look at my kids and see the reality of them being a blessing from the Lord and then there are many others where I have to remind myself of this - over and over and over again. 

I had just finished praying a prayer to love as Christ as loved. Should've known this would immediately be tested . . .

My eyes are closed.

I'm trying to ignore the sound of the dogs barking at whoever is walking past our house. Close out the sound of the television that is too loud or the fact that Cava gets pentecostal in his watching of whatever superhero show he is watching at the moment. Or the sound of Benjamin playing Minecraft on the family computer right outside the door.

I begin to focus on my word for today "forgiveness." 

No sooner do I begin to contemplate on the forgiveness of God when Cava comes in to tell me about something that happened in whatever show he's watching. 

I open my eyes, listen, and then remind him that I was in the middle of praying.

"It didn't look like you were praying," he replied, "looked like you were sleeping sitting up."

"No, I was praying."

"You weren't saying anything."

"I was praying silently."

"Is that for real?" (There would have been a time when he not only asked if that were real, but would follow it up with the queston, "But mermaids aren't real, right?" He would ask that after any question about whether or not something really existed).

"Yes, yes it is," I told him and gently ushered him out.

Close the door, return to sitting position, take a deep breath, close my eyes . . . 

No sooner do I begin to return to forgiveness when Benjamin opens the door and begins to tell me about something he's created in Minecraft. I remind him that I'm praying and he says, "But you weren't saying anything."

"It's silent prayer."

He then proceeds to go back to talking about Minecraft. I escort him out. 

One interruption after another. After another. After another.

The harder I tried to return to my silent prayer, the more I find myself becoming agitated, frustrated, and irritated. That's a lot of "ateds."

I began to feel a lot less like this  . . . 

And a lot more like this . . . 

Finally I blurted out, "God, do you not want me to pray???"  

As much as my boys wanted my attention, you would have thought I was trying to talk on the phone. In fact, I began to believe the boys had planned this and that they were taking turns to see who could push me off the crazy cliff first. At different times they argued, Cava ran through the room being chased by our barking dogs, and Benjamin kept asking, "Are you done yet?" 

What should have been thirty minutes of Bible study and prayer, turned into an hour of my mind unfocused and feeling like this was all a bust. And all I was trying to do was "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).  Isn't that what we'er supposed to do, Lord? So why was so hard?

Now our family has never had much success with the whole nightly Bible study or prayer time. My kids view me calling them into our living room to do it with the same joy they would being forced to eat their least favorite healty vegetable (Kale, you know I'm talking about you) followed by taking away all media time (computer, video games, TV, cell phones) to make them read a long, classic Russian novel. Never has our devotional time brought them closer to God. Instead, it tends to contain squabbling, me demanding their attention, bickering, complaining and essentially becoming the Israelites wandering in the desert. I end up feeling like Moses who gets so tired of it all that he takes his staff to hit the rock to make water gush forth, though, I would've used it to take swings at whining Hebrews or, in this case, children. 

Of course, even our family "fun" nights can be far more work than fun and, in the end, feel more like punishment. "You will stay in this room with us and finish this game of Clue or it will be me, in the kitchen, with a candlestick!" Yeah, godly parenting at its best, I know. Don't judge! Like Planet Fitness, this is a judgment free zone.

So, on this day, "Be still and know that I am God" did not mean being in one place in silence. It literally meant for me to be present amidst the craziness and messiness of family. He was God and He was teaching me that even disruptions were part of His plan and a gift of grace.  


Because I was learning not to view my kids as obstacles to spending time with God but as moments to model His love to them. This was a moment where I could teach them about all of those words I had been focusing on in my prayers (grace, love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness). This is especially important with Benjamin, who will only be living in our house for two more years before he goes off to college (Don't want to think about it. No tears. Not going to cry. Not now. Move on). This time is precious. And was I imprinting Christ on him in words and actions? Since he's a teenage boy it's especially important that I do it with actions, as listening and hearing are not high priorities. 

This was a teachable gospel moment. Where instead of me blowing up and demanding their compliance, I could stop what I was doing, be with them, and model the love of their heavenly Father. 

It was a moment that showed me that I should work harder to have a spirit of gratitude that God has entrusted me with these two amazing boys to shepherd them into growing up to be godly men. Men of character. But to do that, I had to be that.

I stopped, got up, got Benjamin off the computer, and Cava out from in front of the TV and spent time with them. I found myself close to God by being close to my kids. By listening to them. By sharing with them. By laughing with them. We even played Uno Attack without anybody arguing. 

"Be still and know that I am God." 

This can also be translasted as "Cease striving and know that I am God." 

"Be in awe and know that I am God." 

"Let go and know that I am God." 

And I did. 

All of them.

At least for that day. 

For that day, instead of saying a prayer, I lived one out. 

And, as I did, I silently prayed, "Thank you God, for teachable moments - for them - and myself."

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