The catharsis of unravelling my self

The day before I started these writings, I suffered a great personal loss. I won’t pretend that that loss was unique to me, or that others would not understand or empathize, or even that others have not felt that same pain even more acutely. I am not special in this way.

I will also not pretend that I am okay, or that it was not the most painful loss of my life. I was completely destroyed, and whether or not that’s justified in this case is irrelevant. The heart of the matter is that my destruction has led to introspection, which I hope will lead to personal growth through exploring my relationship with God, and his Son Jesus Christ.

One of the hardest questions to answer in life is “Who am I?” I know my name, and my family, and I know about the things I enjoy. I know what I do to make a living at the moment. I know the answers to the rote questions people ask about how I define myself. But I’m not really sure that I understand the totality of my self.

I used to think the truth wouldn’t come because I was still working out the answer. Now I wonder if the answer eluded me because I wasn’t ready to admit the truth. I am working on it, but I don’t really like myself very much–more precisely, I don’t like the person I’ve become over the last few years. Selfish, ego-centric (and self-impressed and egotistical), stubbornly opinionated, intellectually righteous, occasionally contrary, sometimes condescending. I do not like that I’ve justified morally ambiguous behavior, because I always considered myself to be above that. I do not like that I’ve hurt people, even without meaning to. I should have been striving for better.

So lately, through this writing space, and through my reading and understanding of scripture, I’ve begun to deconstruct who I am.

They say that the first step to recovery and improvement is admitting that you have a problem. It is not an accident that much of this writing is largely confessional about my flaws. I don’t like the way I was seeing the world, and so a large part of understanding how to change that was to admit my failures and shortcomings. I’ve always been fairly self-aware, and I have always understood intellectually that I am not perfect. But this deep self-reflection in the context of scripture has humbled me, and I have taken that understanding to heart. What I once knew only in my mind, I think I now understand in my soul. Today, I believe I understand myself better than I have at any point in my 33 years here on earth.

I also understand that I am human, and I will never be perfect. I can only strive to be my best self. Part of that is changing the way I see the world, and part of changing the way I see the world is completely changing my relationship with faith. Every day is a new challenge in faith, and a new opportunity to grow closer to God. I’ve written before that faith takes practice, and I believe that. Every day, through prayer and scripture and worship and treating people with respect and love, I must endeavor to practice faith.

I also know what else faith requires: faith. It sounds ridiculous and redundant and circular, but really that’s all there is. I just have to do it. Let go of my inhibitions, release my grip on what has been holding me back, and just believe. Trust.

This writing stated with “Day 1.” Day zero was the most difficult day of my life, and at first the only thing that moved me was muscle memory. Every day since then has been a little easier, a little lighter, a little less painful. Part of this is time. But I will not discount the comfort that I’ve been graced from God. I am heartened that my trust does not feel misplaced. I am inspired by how easy it has felt to grow towards Him in his light and love.

Although there will never be an end to my seeking, and I cannot yet see a time when I stop writing in this space, I do trust that there will come a time when I am healed. For now, I have trust that I am on the right path. Part of that trust comes from knowing that the question has shifted: what was once “Who am I?” is now “What is the best version of myself? What is the plan for me that God has in mind?” In that way, I know that my mind and heart have changed. I trust that God has great things in mind for me. I have faith.

Prayer:

Father above us, Father among us, Father in our hearts, I glorify your name. I am grateful beyond words for you love and forgiveness and sacrifice. I ask today only that you continue to lead, and know that I will follow.

On Love and Happiness

I want to write about the difference between being rejoiceful-slash-joyful, and being happy.

This idea has been rattling around in my brain for a couple of days.  Unlike so many of the others I’ve posted here, it has been a struggle to wrap my brain around. The concept of being joyful–and rejoicing in the Lord’s love and hope–is simple. There is so much for which to be grateful, and God’s love, hope, and forgiveness are boundless. These are reasons to be joyful!

My difficulty is defining what I’ve identified as “happiness” thus far, and putting to words why it has been so elusive.

I think that materialism and objectification, both of which I’ve written about before, play a significant role. We live in a consumer society, and it is so easy to fall prey to the consumptive mindset. Buy the thing, possess it, and then buy the next thing. This dangers in thinking this way are many-fold, but I’ll try to describe in words how I think they’ve affected me most.

Firstly, I don’t think the problem necessarily lies with the thing we buy, but with the concept of the next thing. The better thing. The “upgrade.” When we start to think about what could be better, we lose sight of gratitude for what we have been given. We start to chase the ghost of perfection. have chased that ghost, and for far too long. There is no satisfaction in that, and no contentedness, because we’re trying to capture and bottle an ether, and finish a race with a moving finish line. We will never be finished, and we will always feel that pang, that yen, for whatever comes next.

Secondly, I think when we start to feel that way about the world, and the inanimate objects of our desires, that thinking can start to leak into how we treat people. While it may be financially expensive to do so, it is relatively easy to temporarily sate the thirst for the material. I can simply trade some of my time and money for the thing I want, and that urge is satisfied (for now). When we consider people that same way, as objects to fulfill our desires, that is when true objectification occurs. Our friends and family can become disposable in our mind’s eye.

Ultimately, I think this thirst for the material has handicapped my ability to understand what it means to be loved, and to receive love as it was intended. Love–God’s love, the love of a friend, love from family, romantic love–should be a graceful gift, given freely, and accepted with gratitude. I have been guilty of considering love as I consider any other material object: as something that I could possess and hoard. I have accepted it when convenient, and I’ve been willfully ignorant of it’s value instead of cherishing it. It was simply something that I “had,” like I have a stereo or a computer. Feeling this way–even accidentally–is perhaps my life’s greatest folly: along with attributing the disposability of worldly objects to love, I also associated the same replaceability to love. I have squandered time and love that cannot be replaced.

Another aspect to this conversation is our society’s emphasis on possessing the things we want, instead of being grateful for having been provided what we really need. There’s a reason that the Lord’s Prayer asks “Give us this day our daily bread.” Others have even argued that in the original Aramaic that Jesus spoke, the phrase played on words in a way that the intended meaning was actually something more akin to “Give us that which is necessary.” You can read about that here; I’m not going to get into it in this space, because that’s not my area of expertise. I think there’s an argument to be made that we have far, far more than we need, and that the excess we enjoy breeds pressure and greed, which begets more excess, and so on. I believe it factors greatly into our dissatisfaction.

The Gospel of John teaches us not to love worldly things, and it’s a lesson I wish I’d learned sooner. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (John 2:15-17). On the surface, the passage is simply saying not to hold up with love the things that man has wrought. Dig deeper, though, and I think this passage points out the foolishness of loving transient things over those that will last forever. Love, for example. Hope. Forgiveness.

This passage is also apropos: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26). This is deeper than I thought at first glance, as well. Originally, I thought that it was saying that my soul and God’s salvation were simply more important than worldly pursuits.  That is certainly true, but I can also read it another way. Loving the worldly, the made-by-man, and the desires of the flesh actually impairs my heart-and-soul’s ability to love and be loved. By aligning my thoughts and desires with the worldly, I cripple my ability to see beyond into the otherwordly, and to love God and my fellows.

Again this bears repeating: by chasing the ghost of worldly happiness, I have been making true joy impossible to catch. This is because it cannot be caught, it can only be accepted as a gift of grace.

I will wrap this up with a Psalm:

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:4-7).

Ultimately, I think a big part of the reason why I have been so unhappy and dissatisfied is that I’ve been chasing the wrong things. Even further, I think I’ve wanted to be happy about the wrong things. I wanted to be satisfied with my place in the world and within society, when I should have wanted to be rejoiceful and joyful of the Lord’s grace. If I trust in God with a heart full of gratitude, everything I need will be provided.

On criticism

“When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:7).

The “her” in reference is a woman guilty of adultery, and Jesus is speaking to a group of law-teachers and Pharisees who mean to stone her to death for her sin. This verse is, in my mind, one of the most important passages in the entire Bible, and I think it may be one of the most important teachings that any resource has to teach us about what it means to be a sheep in Christ’s flock.

Firstly, it teaches me that because we are all human (and fallibly so), that we must be mindful that our fellows under God are likewise human, and that our humanity makes us susceptible to failure. With these words, Jesus reminds the mob that next to God, we are all in the same sinking boat of frailty and fallibility.

Secondly, it teaches that our province as humans is not to judge sin. Judgement, and forgiveness, are the sole province of the Lord. It is neither my responsibility, nor my responsibility, to judge others.

Today is a different time, and we live in a very different place than Judea. Thankfully, people here aren’t stoned in the streets these days. (We leave it to our criminal-justice system to dole out ultimate punishment, and that is a conversation for another day.) The question is: what does this lesson mean to my own insulated life, and how can I use this to become closer to God and to my fellows?

One of the things I am particularly guilty of is criticism. It can feel good, even righteous, to be critical. I’ve written before about how addictive rage and outrage can be–pundits (comedian and otherwise) like Sean Hannity and John Oliver have made a living off of that principle. Criticism is no different. I often read a review every day: of a movie or television show or car or restaurant. And because I read in a language of criticism, I believe I’ve started to think in a language of criticism.

I don’t necessarily tend to be vocally critical of people close to me; I’m mostly tactful, and often gentle. But I do tend to be be a perfectionist. When I write or build something, I tinker and toy and fidget until it is as good as I can possibly make it, and if the results are substandard, I will often trash that thing before it ever sees the day’s light. In that way, I am my own harshest critic. Perhaps that is good, perhaps not. But, because I see myself that way, I tend to hold others to the same standard. If something isn’t absolutely perfect, wonderful though it may be, I find it all too easy to pick it apart. That song could have used a different key for the bridge. This language of this book is too simplistic. This movie was 20 minutes too long. I have never written a song or a book, nor have I made a movie, but I still have been guilty of considering myself an expert in those arenas, if only by virtue of being a consumer.

I feel as though I’m at my worst when I am critical of someone close to me. It’s so easy to cherry-pick bad decisions in hindsight, or to point out where something went wrong. What I sometimes lose sight of is the effort that went into creating something, or making that decision. I can’t see the different viewpoint from which the author of that thing, whatever it is, viewed that moment.

Being critical makes us feel smarter than our peers, more evolved than our fellows, and better than the average person. Am I actually any of those things? I make mistakes every day. I give partial efforts where full effort is due. I commit sins. My results, such as they are, are no better than those of whom I’m being critical. This comes back to humility, and seeing myself as equal to my fellows, both in my ability to achieve, and my ability to fail.

So, who am I to criticize? Who am I to pass judgement?

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, please help me walk humbly among my fellows. Let me see their efforts and intents rather than imperfect results, and help me see that next to you, we are all imperfect.

Everything is Kung Fu

The 2010 remake of “The Karate Kid” has myriad flaws, but it also does some things right. Like its source material, it has two climactic moments. The obvious one is the end, when the tournament is won on one leg and an enemy is turned into a begrudgingly respectful friend. The true climax, however, occurs when ‘Dre (or Daniel in the original) realizes that Mr. Han (or Mr. Miyagi) has been teaching him martial arts during the entire course of what the former thought to be menial tasks and labor. This is the most important moment in both films. The 1984 original is a better film overall, but during this moment, the remake actually wins out.

Once Mr. Han sees the “Kung Fu” that Dre’s antagonists are being taught, he pledges to teach the young American “real” Kung Fu. Then he spends weeks forcing Dre to pick up, put on, take off, and hang up his jacket. Dre believes that Mr. Han is teaching him a lesson about being respectful. In the end, he’s not wrong, but there’s more to it than that. Mr. Han is teaching Dre to internalize movements until they’re second nature. He’s also setting up the most important philosophical lesson Dre can learn about Kung Fu (or himself). Watch below.

This moment is chilling to me. First, I love Kung Fu and Kung Fu movies. Second, Mr. Han’s words to Dre resonate with me: “Kung Fu lives in everything we do, Xaio Dre. It lives in how we put on the jacket; how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.”

On the bare surface, Mr. Han is telling Dre that if he looks around him and pays attention, he will see the art of Kung Fu everywhere.  Dig a little deeper, and he’s saying that Kung Fu is not an art at all (martial or otherwise), but is instead a philosophy and outlook on life. The students that have been antagonizing Dre do not know real Kung Fu, because all they know is how to use their martial art for violence and anger. Mr. Han is teaching Dre that the true purpose of Kung Fu is to change the way you see the world, and make peace with your enemies.

What’s remarkable to me is that if I change the lens through which I hear that lesson, and replace the words “Kung Fu” with the word “Christianity,” the lesson resonates just as truly. Try just re-reading that passage, for example: “Christianity lives in everything we do. It lives in how we put on the jacket; how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is Christianity.” You could also read the previous paragraph I wrote through that same lens, and I think it would still make perfect sense.

The book of Peter has a passage that summarizes this, I think. It’s just a corollary to the Golden Rule I’ve been thinking and writing so much about, but I think it really points to the heart of what it means to be a Christian:

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called . . .” (Peter 3:8-10).

My lesson for today is to try to see a Christian opportunity everywhere I look. An opportunity to be humble. An opportunity for gratitude, compassion, sympathy and friendship.

Prayer for this morning:

Heavenly Father, please help me see the world through a lens of humility and service, and bring me closer to you today, if even by only an inch.

A corollary to insecurity – objectification

This post will not be for the faint of heart, and is questionable for children to read. It will not be explicit, but it will be difficult to explain and understand without context.

As an early-thirty-something male, I’ve found myself trying to fill voids I didn’t know I was trying to plug. In fact, I have tried to fill voids that didn’t even exist, particularly in terms of my own sexuality.  I am certain I am not alone in this regard. I am not sexually promiscuous by nature, but that does not mean that I have not objectified women in my heart.

I am speaking, of course, about sexual imagery, up to and including pornography. In today’s world, sex is absolutely everywhere. Television, print and internet are virtually inextricable from our lives, and pornography and other sexual content is inextricable from those media. It is ubiquitous, much of it is free, and it is varied and multitudinous. My previous post was partly about standards of beauty, and how they are bullies in our lives. Now, I’d like to make a point against the sexual nature of much of this imagery. I find it condemnable, but perhaps not for the reasons I expected.  There are plenty of verses about committing these acts, and this is only a smattering of the most obvious ones:

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (John 2:16).

Yes, of course the Bible warns us about adulterous thoughts and actions, and particular about adulterous women–as though being an adulterous man is any better–saying that they are sinful.  That may well be, but my objection to lustful, sexual imagery (explicit or otherwise) is that it is hurtful, and in ways to which I never really thought I was susceptible.

Firstly, if sex surrounds a person, and sex is everywhere all the time, it perverts expectations about what is actually “sexy.”  This is particularly true of pornography, but is also true of Victoria’s Secret commercials, of daytime soap-operas, and even of prime-time dancing competitions. We see what society tells us “sexy” looks like, and what sex looks like, and the bar is set impossibly high. Instead of valuing things like independence, self-confidence, and good humor, we look at someone’s shape, height, and the amount of skin they’re willing to show us.

Secondly, when we see sex everywhere, it becomes difficult to blur the line between what is meant to be sexualized, and what should be humanized. I feel like I’ve been conditioned to see sexual context everywhere I look. This has put tremendous strain on my personal relationships, even if I haven’t been able to see it in the moment. It also puts strain on my worldview, friendships, and courtships.

Thirdly, when we see other people each other as objects, even when that “object’s” beauty is revered, we lose sight of that person’s humanity. When we see a man treat a woman like his plaything in a video, or see a woman prettied and made to look like a doll in a photograph while she sexualizes herself with a pouting face, we start to see them as playthings and dolls. When women fawn over a well-muscled man with a pretty face, that man is likewise reduced to a piece of flesh, and he is treated with similar disrespect. Ultimately, this hearkens back to the golden rule, which I’ve written about before.  If I am not loving my neighbors as I love myself, then I am being disrespectful of them.

Finally, and in relation to my previous post, these sexual images amplify my own insecurities. Like I said, I’m not a bad-looking guy, but if I compare myself to models and adult stars, of course I will find shortcomings. Worse, I will start to think that everyone else sees those same shortcomings in me.

In the end, the person I have hurt most by partaking in these indulgences is myself.  Perhaps the most poignant verse I could find was from Proverbs, Chapter 6, verses 31 and 33, where it is written “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor . . .” As the verse says, these wounds are self-inflicted.

For this reason, I have made a conscious decision to abstain from pornography and lustful imagery. Some of it is easy to avoid, but some of it is decidedly more difficult; in some cases I must make a conscious decision to turn away. Do I really believe that looking at a woman lustfully would condemn me? The point is irrelevant. My true aim–my deepest desire–is to love others as I want to be loved, and to treat them how I would want to be treated. I am greater than what I look like, even on my best days, and I should endeavor to see others that same way.

As a great teacher of mine (Yoda) once said: “Luminous beings are we! Not this crude matter.” We must see that luminosity.

On Insecurity

One of the darkest, most sinister aspects of my personality is insecurity. Even when I am at my most confident, there is a nagging feeling in my mind that I am simply faking it, and that the people around me will eventually see through my guise and understand me for what I really am: inadequate.

The world is full of bullies. Some of them will push you down, some of them will make fun of you, and some of them will name your shortcomings to your face. These are the obvious bullies, and while they are hurtful, they are in plain sight.

The more dangerous bullies are the ones we don’t see until they’ve wormed their way into our subconscious minds. Society bullies us with advertising. Our peers and friends and family bully us with immodest bravado and boastfulness, even when they don’t mean to do so. Women are constantly bombarded with an unachievable, unattainable moving target of what our society’s “standard” of beauty should look like, and they drive themselves to extreme measures to make themselves more like that standard. Men are likewise shamed into achieving Adonis-like musculature, fretting over their hairline, and wondering about the relative size of their fifth appendage. I am as guilty of feeling shame about my body as the next person. I know intellectually that I am that I am taller than average, thin, and generally not an ugly man. But emotionally, I still feel inadequate.

Once you move beyond the simple body-shaming aspects of the bullies that surround us, there are other, just-as-nefarious messages. We are taught what success looks like: what kind of house to live in, what kind of car to drive, how much money to make, how attractive one’s spouse should be, et cetera. I am similarly guilty of finding myself wanting in these areas. I feel constantly behind where I should be, and constantly comparing myself to my peers.

In the end, this is all folly. I’d like to call out three verses that are teaching me today to understand the nature of that foolishness:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (Samuel 16:7).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Ephesians 4:6-8).

The first verse is particularly poignant with regards to this writing, and I hope to my own life. Paul writes that we should not transform ourselves to be more in line with the concerns of this world–fiscally, physically, emotionally–but should strive to transform our minds (and hearts and spirits). Once I am at peace with myself and mindful of God’s will, I will be able to see and achieve God’s plan for me.

The second verse may seem intuitive and obvious, but it still bears repeating. The Lord does not see us the way our peers see us, or even how we see ourselves.  God sees only our heart and spirit, and because we are of Him, that is what He loves most about us. As it pertains to my own life, I must strive only to compare myself to my younger self.  Am I closer to God today than I was yesterday?

The third verse is the most action oriented. Paul writes that we should be grateful and give thanks, and that our hearts should not be anxious. Once we understand that “attitude of gratitude,” the peace God imparts will act as a shield against anxiety and insecurity. Then, we can more fully appreciate the beauty in the world around us? Here again, I must endeavor to transform myself every day, and ask myself: am I celebrating and appreciating beauty in His world more than I have previously?

These things are easy to say, and difficult to practice. My insecurities are deep-rooted, and I have not done much to help myself. But I must take into my heart that God’s love is not contingent on what I look like, or what I achieve in my career. God’s love is of my heart, and I should be mindful to see myself that same way.

Prayer for the morning:

Father above us, Father among us, Father in our hearts, in your splendor please grant me the peace that comes from knowing you love my heart.  Please also grant me the peace of knowing that there are people who see me the same way you do. Thank you for loving me.

There will be rest

When I started this blog, a little over a week ago, I needed a title.  I want to share why I chose “There will be rest.”

In music, particularly choral music (sacred or otherwise), the most transformative moments of a piece are major chord resolutions.  These are the moments where dissonance becomes Harmony. These are the moments where the direction of the piece becomes clear, and a hundred voices point in a single direction.

At the University, one of my favorite pieces I ever sang was called “There Will Be Rest,” by Frank Ticheli. The piece is slightly sacred, in the sense that there’s an overall arc of spirituality, and a general “Holiness” about the lyrics and sound. It’s not really about God per say, though. It’s about stillness, quiet, and peace–and rest, of course. The themes of the song are only partly why I chose the name, though.  In truth, I wish it was a little more on the spiritual side.

But, as I said, the real magic of the song lies in the resolutions. The song starts out dissonant and uncomfortable, in a key that simply doesn’t sound warm to our western ears.  Then, it slowly weaves in and out of a major key over the course of the first minute and a half. It becomes warmer, and even though the volume slowly builds, it somehow also becomes more gentle. Then, at the 1:40 mark, it gracefully sets a chord resolution down, as though the notes are made of the finest, most fragile crystal ever conceived, and for just a split second, there is complete serenity and peace until the tenors repeat the line and the song blooms into a beautiful garden.

There are several resolutions like that over the course of the song, and I have always held a special place in my heart. A poetic romance of the soul exists in moments like that, where the sound of gentleness and peace wash over the listeners (and singers). Your shoulders relax, your heart swells, and a content of the spirit takes all the fight out of you. That is what I’ve been seeking: resolution, love, peace, and gentleness. I pray that God’s grace grants me a serene, gentle heart, and that the discord in my soul can find that perfect harmony and quiet.

Below is a recording from a University choir from 2011.  The recording isn’t perfect, but it is very, very good, and certainly better than the most popular recording available on YouTube. The choir is mostly careful with their sibilants, they are well balanced, the tempo is perfect. This is how I remember the song feeling when I was the one in the penguin suit.

Looking back on prayer

Retrospectively, I don’t think I ever believed when I was a child. This is at odds with the traditional expression “faith like a child,” but as a youth, I can’t ever remember really taking it to heart that God took stock in my soul, and that Christ could be my salvation. There are several possible explanations:

  1. Perhaps I’m mis-remembering, and I truly did blindly believe what I was being taught.
  2. Perhaps my newfound belief has simply paled my previous iterations of faith in my memory.
  3. Perhaps I did not truly believe, but simply went along with it, blindly saying the words and going through the motions.

I wonder if I treated Church like school. Learn the lesson, memorize the lines, pass the test, and move on to the next lesson. Just do the things.

What brings this question to mind today is the thought of prayer.  I’ve written before that because this is a newly renewed aspect of my life, I sometimes struggle to find words that adequately express my heart to the Lord. Last week, when I picked up the Book for the first time in a long while, I started with the Gospel of Matthew. I came across this portion of scripture in Chapter 6 (Forgive me, but I’m going to mix translations here, and I’ll explain why later):

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
‘Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our tresspasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.’

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:8-15)

I find this passage interesting, and simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. As a Lutheran, I memorized this prayer and recited it . . . more times than I can possibly count. That is why I mixed translations. The framing verses at the beginning and end are from the NIV Bible. The prayer itself I transcribed as I remember it. We called it the Lord’s Prayer, but as I understand it many Catholics refer to it as an “Our Father.” Same same.

What discourages me is that I find it very difficult to repeat those words without simply regurgitating them. Because it was drilled into me, it serves as a mantra, but this prayer itself is very difficult to take to heart. I try repeating the prayer and pausing in order to consider each line of the prayer individually. I hope that if I parse the phrases and internalize them, the Spirit will move me to give my heart to the Lord, but mostly it’s just words. I may just as well be doing a layup drill on a basketball court, or sawing a board in the workshop. It’s an action, but a passive one that starts to unravel if I think about it too hard.

But, I think the point is that the prayer is supposed to be a template for how to pray to the Lord. That first verse reminds me that God already knows what is in my heart, and so this prayer is meant as a verbal affirmation of what Christ teaches should be a part of every prayer. 1) Address God. 2) Revere his glory and name. 3) Accept God’s role as the grace by which we–and all things–exist. 4) Ask only for what you need, and give thanks. 5) Ask for forgiveness and deliverance. 6) Acknowledge the infinite and eternal nature of God and His kingdom.

These things are simple and intuitive. I find that when I kneel to pray before bed–or any other time–I almost tend to naturally do these things. If I pray with an attitude of gratitude, humility and reverence, these aspects of prayer almost naturally spill out of my mouth without consideration. Prayer is still something that I must practice every day (or more often), but through that passage I think I understand what ought to be said. Besides, God already knows my own heart.

On Trust

One of my most recurrent thoughts when considering my relationship with God is trust. Because I am feeling a great deal of turmoil in my own life right now, I think that trust is hard to come by. I feel very confident that it will get easier, once my heart heals.  For now, I just pray to God for comfort, love and peace, and try to take each hour as it comes. Get through this hour without breaking down, and when this hour is up, get through the next one.  Some are easier than others. Some are brutal. I must keep telling myself that God would not send this pain to me unless I was meant to have it and grow from it.

As I went to bed last night, I was internalizing the chapter I’d read from the Gospel of John, and there are a few verses I want to write about in particular.  I’ll start with verse 35: “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Contextually, this happens right after Christ performs the miracle of feeding the five thousand on the banks of the sea of Galilee, and then walks on water.  With only five loaves and two small fishes, Christ gave thanks for the bread and broke it, dividing it and spreading it among the crowd of five thousand. So the most literal interpretation is that he performed these miracles to convince the crowd, and in order to set up this next teaching moment. To my understanding, the “bread of life” is one of the most lengthy records of Christ’s speech, and also ranks among the most important.

In the context of multiplying the loaves, Christ is speaking literally about food. The followers who have gathered there have eaten, against all reason, “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). The obvious subtext here being that what gave them their fill was not only the bread and fish, but also Christ himself. They were sated both because they’d eaten, and because their spirits were full. In terms of my own life, I take heart from this lesson. One of the reasons I am seeking Christ in my life is because of an emptiness I feel spiritually, and I have great hope that he will fill my heart and soul with his love and grace.

The next portion of the Gospel is also of great interest to me right now. “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (verse 37). Similarly, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up on the last day” (verse 44).

One of my fears about my young faith is that I am seeking Him for selfish reasons, and that I am doomed to backslide once my pain subsides. I don’t want to lose my way, and I don’t want my faith to be for the wrong reasons, because then it would truly be doomed to fail. What I think Jesus is saying here is that there is no wrong reason for seeking God, and that if I feel a calling, it is not because I made it up in my head, but because the Father put it there in my heart. God is drawing me near, and from that I take great comfort. According to the Gospel, it is God’s will that I seek him, and that he draws me nearer to Himself with great purpose.

Prayer:

Father above us, Father among us, Father in our hearts, I ask that you draw me nearer to you with every passing hour. Thank you for being my bread.

The Bread of Life

Tonight’s reading came from John, and I would like to drift into sleep thinking about chapter 6, verses 35-51:

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’

At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?’

‘Stop grumbling among yourselves,’ Jesus answered. ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.'”

I’ll mull these over in my sleep, and discuss in the morning.

Prayer for tonight:

Heavenly Father, Son, and Spirit, please leave me tonight with a feeling of gratitude in my hearts, so that I am reminded of your grace, and everything that flows from it. Be my bread, and I will partake of your light and love.