How To Pray When God Feels Far Away

The class discussion had been heavy, and our professor, a minister with a short blonde bob and long red sweater, surveyed the shrunken souls.  We were like raisins.  Shriveled. Dehydrated.  Burnt.  We needed refreshment and relief, so she invited us to pray.

She asked us all to stand, feet apart, eyes closed.  At her instruction, we lifted our arms high above our heads and said, “Christ above me.”  We returned our arms to our sides and said, “Christ below me.”  We continued, our arms stretching and swinging, our voices saying, “Christ before me.”  And, “Christ behind me.”  And, “Christ around me.”  And, finally, “Christ within me.”  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA               OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA               OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We repeated the prayer again and again.  Moving our arms.  Taking deep breaths. Acknowledging our God.  After a few rounds, the heaviness lifted.  My shoulders straightened.  My soul loosened up.  My mind slowed down.  The despair drifted.  The hope reappeared.

After a few more rounds, I stopped saying the words aloud and settled my hands near my heart.  For a few minutes, I stood in still silence, letting the Lord move and speak instead.

Following that class, I took the prayer practice with me.  I did it at my desk at work, after getting an angry email but before replying.  I did it during my lunch break, after eating my turkey sandwich but before returning to the office.  I did it at home, when my mind was sluggish or anxious.  I did it at the doctor’s office, while waiting to see the specialist.  I did it at the DMV, while waiting to hear my number.  I did it at gas stations, next to the pump. I did it at parties, in a bathroom.  I did it whenever I stopped feeling the presence of Christ.  I did it whenever I stopped trusting the presence of Christ.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA               OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA               OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oftentimes, this simple prayer practice revives my soul, just as it did in that classroom so many years ago.  It instantly wraps me in the divine presence.

Other times, of course, I swing my arms until they’re tired and speak the words until they’re meaningless, and Christ still seems nowhere nearer.  Even in those moments, however, the prayer disrupts and disputes those voices insisting that Christ is inaccessible.  Even when the prayer does not instantly lift the despair, it prevents the despair from taking root.

We hear echoes of this struggle and this solution even in the Letter to the Colossians.  Paul describes Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

It is a beautiful and important but dense passage.  You could dwell – or write a dissertation – on any one of its phrases.  Even the most superficial reading, however, affirms that through Christ, the Triune God is both immanent in and transcendent of all creation. Or, as the Cliff Notes version might say, it affirms that Christ is above, below, before, behind, around, and within us.

We all have experiences of Christ’s intimate presence and His seeming absence.  The spiritual journey, it seems, to include waves of both.  And, no prayer can summon the consolation of Christ’s presence immediately and always.  No experience of Christ’s absence, however, can take away the truth of God’s immanence and transcendence.  

So, I offer you this prayer, just as my professor offered it to me, just as Paul offered it to the Colossians.  For when your soul feels dehydrated.  For when God feels distant.  For when you feel at risk for forgetting that Christ is above you; Christ is below you; Christ is before you; Christ is behind you; Christ is around you; and Christ is within you.  

Amen.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy.jpgHello, dear friends!  Right now, I’m drinking a nice, big cup of coffee and staring at a very long to-do list.  My first instinct upon consulting my lengthy to-do list is to put my head down on my notebook, close my eyes, and ignore each and every task.  I know this because I texted my husband a picture of me doing just that earlier this week.  

After a few minutes of desperation, however, my spirit and my shoulders usually lift.  I look back at the to-do list and, while it hasn’t gotten any shorter, it has gotten a bit brighter.  Almost every task brings me joy in some way: I get to spend my days writing, reading, and praying.  That’s not so bad!  As for the tasks that I dread, I know that doing them will, at the very least, bring this procrastinator a sense of accomplishment and relief.  That’s not all bad!

I imagine there are lots of tasks on your to-do list, too… maybe you’ve been too busy to even write a to-do list!  I imagine you’re clutching your own big cup of coffee, wondering how it will all get done.  Fret not, friend.  I promise that there are blessings buried amidst all the chores and errands.  And, I pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal those blessings to you, especially when you feel too burdened to tackle all your to-do’s.  

Below are some of the blessings I stumbled upon this past week.  I hope they offer you a bit of refreshment and encouragement as well.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

The Book of Hosea, which I wrote about earlier this week, is a perfect scripture to spend some time with during the Lenten season.  I recently came across Irving Bible Church’s video series on Hosea on Crystal Twaddell’s site.  The thought-provoking series, which includes six 3-minute videos, imagines what Hosea’s story would look like in modern-day America.  A must-see.  Preferably with a box of tissues.

One of the most difficult things about moving to a new city is missing out on good friends’ big events.  Some of my lovely lady friends in DC and Atlanta are getting married later this spring, and I was crushed that I couldn’t attend all the various bridal showers and bachelorette parties.  Thanks to the magic of the Internet and the US Postal system, however, I was still able to send them some fun aprons (like this, this, and this) from World Market.  

I’ve read a lot about Lent over the past week, but this reflection hit me hard in the best way.  If you’re observing Lent for the first or millionth time, visit (in)courage and check out “Burying the Alleluias” from Jen Bradbury.

A few weeks ago, while Sean was at a work event, I bought myself a giant tub of popcorn and a ticket to La La Land.  Oscars controversy aside, I loved this upbeat chorus number and this melancholy solo.  Both songs, with lyrics like “when they let you down/ you’ll get up off the ground” and “here’s to the ones who dream/ foolish as they may seem” encouraged my inner struggling-artist.  I recommend singing along at the top of your lungs 🙂

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine!

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy This WeekYa’ll.  I loved Valentine’s Day this year.  Yes, my husband did surprise me with lovely tulips.  Yes, we did enjoy a steak dinner with a nice bottle of Virginia wine.  My favorite part of Valentine’s 2017, however, was the gratefulness, the tenderness, and the downright joy that flooded my social media feeds.  I loved the pictures of babies in pink onesies.  I loved the photos of couples – young and old – laughing, kissing, and cuddling.  I loved the long odes that husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends wrote to each other.  I loved that, for a blissful 24 hours, the typical anger, hostility, and hatred faded from my feeds.  Coming from DC, I appreciate and support political awareness and involvement.  The constant barrage of negative news, however, isn’t good for the soul, and much to my surprise, Valentine’s Day was just what I needed.  I hope that you also felt some love (and relief) this past week, and I hope that it continues to encourage you in the days ahead.  Here are some of the other things making me happy this week:

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

I came across Ann Voskamp’s The 1 Secret to Destroying Anxiety and Fears This Year during my own recent bout of severe anxiety.  If you’re feeling stress or sadness, please, please take a few minutes to read her reflection.  My favorite line: “the answer to anxiety is the adoration of Christ.”

I am many wonderful things, but, if I’m honest, trendsetter has never been one of them. So, I know that I am a little late to the party for the Fitbit, but I just got one, and I am obsessed.  My husband’s company is the middle of a Step Challenge (Go Team Fighting Maniscalco’s), and we’ve enjoyed some nice, long walks along the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay.

I did not have a romantic Valentine until I met my husband, so the first 25 Valentine’s Days of my life were all about my family and friends.  As a devout Parks and Rec fan, I am forever grateful to Leslie Knope for formally establishing Galentine’s Day.  (We know that it is now an official holiday, because Google Docs marked Galentine’s as misspelled until I added an apostrophe.)  The next time you feel like celebrating your female friendships, I recommend that you check out these buttons and these cards.

As you can likely tell from my recent posts, I am a big fan and advocate of sacred silence. I’m not the only one, however, who’s been craving some quiet time.  Sarah E. Frazer’s 3 Steps for Finding Quiet Time When Life is Loud offers some practical tips for establishing (and protecting) your prayer time.  While her advice is geared specifically to mothers, it truly applies to anyone on the spiritual journey.  Aliza Latta’s If The World Feels Too Noisy from (in)courage also resonated with me.  As she writes, “In the quiet, when I meet with God, He tells me who I am, not who I should be.”  Amen.

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine!

Why You Should Schedule Some Quiet Time Today

Processed with VSCO with m2 presetShe was a doer, always moving from one task to the next.  She was a caretaker, always serving others before herself.  She was a fixer, always trying to solve problems and right wrongs.  She was an inspiration but also a caution.  She was selfless but also restless.  

She loved the idea but hated the actual practice of quiet time.  When she sat in silence, she heard her own thoughts, her own fears, her own desires.  When she knelt in prayer, she heard God’s voice asking for things she did not know how to give.  In her quiet time, she was vulnerable, and in her vulnerability, she knew she could not do everything, could not fix everyone.  It was scary, and she was afraid, and so, she put it off.

Do you know this woman?  Me too.  

Are you this woman?  Me too.

***

Why You Should Schedule Quiet Time Today_2Perhaps, as with women like us, Jesus feared his quiet time.  Often unlike me, however, he prayed anyway.  Each of the Gospels shows Jesus leaving the crowds and taking time away, apart.  Even Mark, the most straightforward and succinct of the Gospel writers, describes how “in the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (1:35).

When I think of Jesus, I tend to think of all the things he did.  He taught with such wisdom!  He provided miraculous food and drink!  He healed bodies and spirits!  He resurrected the dead!  He was, in some ways, the definition of an over-achiever.  He was a doer, a caretaker, a fixer.  But, as the Gospels remind us, he was also a pray-er.  No one on earth has ever had – or will ever have – more important work to do for the world than Jesus… and even he took time away, apart to pray.

Jesus, however, is not the only one speaking to women like us.  Mark describes how Jesus’ popularity grew as traveled in and around Galilee, calling disciples, teaching in the synagogues, and performing miraculous healings.  After curing a possessed man, Jesus’ “fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” (1:28).  A little later, Jesus heals one of the disciple’s mothers and, before long, “the whole city was gathered around the door” (1:33).  When Jesus does take his quiet time, the disciples “hunt” for him.  That’s the exact word from the NRSV translation, “hunt.”  When the disciples finally find him, they say, “everyone is searching for you” (1:37).  So, Jesus continues on his tour, and by end of Mark’s first chapter, “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter” (1:45).

These crowds beg the question: do I pursue Jesus in the same way?  With the same fervor?  With the same tenacity?  Would I go so far as to hunt him, if he went away?  Would I plead with him to return, if we were apart?  

I imagine, if these crowds could speak to women like us, they would say: Jesus teaches! He provides!  He heals!  And what we would not give to sit in silence with him and him alone at any given moment of any given day.  

***

I understand the desire to act, to do.  I understand the resistance to sit in stillness and silence.  Mark, however, reminds us – implores us – to take time away, apart, anyway. Even when we don’t want to.  Even when we fear the sound of our thoughts or the voice of God.  Even when we would rather be doing and fixing than talking and listening.  Only then will we know what the crowds knew: Jesus teaches!  He provides!  He heals!  And he does it all not out of a desire for recognition or distraction.  He does it all because he loves us.  He loves women like us.

Why You Should Schedule Some Quiet Time Today (1)

Scroll To Top