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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Do I Really Want to Blog This?

Last night, Bruce and I attended a prayer meeting at church. Our church is going through some “growing pains” right now – divisiveness, wounded relationships, struggling – things typical of any close-knit group. Pastor Jeff felt moved that the church attendees commit to a time of corporate prayer one night a week for six weeks. There is no agenda, no specific goal, just availing ourselves to God, opening ourselves to hear His voice as a group.

Now, as I general rule, I hate (is that too strong a word? – no, I don’t think so, if I’m honest) corporate prayer. I am a very awkward pray-er – I don’t do the “lingo” very well, and I kind of stumble on my words, sounding like a fourth grader writing to a non-English-speaking pen pal: “Dear God. How are you? I am good. You are cool. Thanks for being my Friend.”

There are also the issues of drawing attention to myself and my short-comings. Yes, this is definitely the worst part. So, then I sound like: “Hi there, Lord. I really screwed up this time.” Hey everyone! Look at me! I’m about to outline 101 more reasons to shun me! Listen close, and you’ll realize why I may not be your first choice of confidant! “Lord, I confess: I am secretly jealous of my friends, and wish they would fall off the monkey bars every once in awhile. Just like me. Then I wouldn’t feel so stupid all the time.”

There’s also the problem of really being able to concentrate on God when you’re in a group. I can’t help but be hyper-aware of every little rustle, sniffle and scraping chair. I am constantly opening my eyes to check out the action.

When I pray alone, which is when I do most all of my real praying, I can get very, um, into it. By that, I mean, I am loud, crying, singing, prostrate, and yes, sometimes even dancing. It’s very embarrassing behavior even when alone, but in a crowd – forget it. I mean, I don’t even like talking in front of other people.

In a nutshell, I refuse to let down my guard in the presence of others. Not a good way to be a part of a praying group.

In the past, at the end of corporate prayer, others would talk about what a profound time they’d had, how God’s Spirit had moved among them, making them of one mind, and I would be thinking to myself, Hmmmm. At least I got my shopping list written.

Okay, so back to last night. Didn’t want to be there. We started at 7pm, which is bedtime for Ellie and Evan, who, with Jack and Sabrina, were in the Sunday School classroom with a sitter. I was a little anxious that God might actually try and speak to me. I was a little anxious that the “prayer warriors” in the group, as they are often called, would get all emotional, and carry on, and then I would be really distracted.

So, at the beginning, after a couple songs, one of which I didn’t know, we started praying and I tried very hard to ignore the rustles, sniffles, and chair-scrapings of the 20-odd other people that were there.

Dear God, I am very sleepy, and distracted, and worried about my kids upstairs there, and I wish I were at home reading a book. Help me be open to hearing from You tonight. It would be really cool, but if not, that’s okay too. If I’m the only one here who doesn’t feel all “spiritual” at the end, it’s okay. You and I know it won’t be the first time.

So we’re sitting there, and we’re all kind of tense and closed up, but little by little very general “safe” prayers are floating about. I’m working very hard to ignore the exterior noises and just get comfortable enough on my chair that twitchy legs and an aching back don’t become a distraction as well. Other people were already on the floor, but I was a little too self-conscious of my butt sticking out, so I stayed seated. I was wearing a low cut sweater (bad choice) so I had to be careful about bending over at the waist.

Suddenly, I got this picture in my head of a dog cowering in a corner. It reminded me of all the people I know who are hurt and wounded and weak, but are so accustomed to those wounds that they don’t even know they’re there anymore. I thought about people who have lots of dysfunction in their lives and how not only do they not know how to behave outside of those dysfunctions, but that after awhile the dysfunction and the hurt becomes comforting in its own pathetic way.

We fuss at our sore spots, closely examining them and poking at them. They don’t necessarily get worse, but they don’t heal either, and we carry them around, favoring them, using them as excuses to avoid climbing a little higher or pushing on a little further. It is easy to see this tendency in deeply hurting people, but even the most “together” people I know are prone to this, myself included.

So, I didn’t want to share this “vision” with the group, because it seemed incomplete and possibly accusatory. It seemed negative, pessimistic, and I didn’t want to be discouraging. So I kept my mouth shut.

And I thought about myself as this dog, afraid and cowering. I thought of my friend Lisa challenging me the other night, commenting that I seem to “worry a lot.” I thought about how fear has often crippled me in life. But then I thought about my response to Lisa: that actually, I think I’m doing pretty good in the fear department; I’ve come a long way. I relocated to a foreign place, I’m writing, I do (sort of) public-speaking, I’m learning a new job (art sales), I got my nose pierced, I helped start a ministry at church (M.I.L.K.), I am trying to raise four kids. Most of those things I would not have done a few years ago. Though I am still fearful of certain things – airplanes, sick kids, bird flu, bears – I commend myself for the strides I’ve made. So, I continued to discount the dog-image and tried to think about other things.

But the picture kept coming back.

Prayer went on for awhile, it was getting progressively more open and vulnerable. Tissues were being pulled from the strategically placed boxes. I was slightly less distracted, though increasingly sleepy. I hope I don’t doze off and fall out of my chair.

Then I said a silent little prayer: God, is there something more you want to tell me about this dog-thing? Is there more to it than that? What’s the deal?

Another image grew slowly in my mind. This time it was of a man walking, though I could only see the hem of his tunic and his sandaled feet, and crawling behind it was the same cowering dog, following behind the man, but cringing and shaking as it went.

And then I knew. The dog is me. The dog is afraid. But it isn’t cowering because of bears, flying, or death, it’s cowering from Jesus, even while it follows Him. And I realized that this is an absolute, complete truth about me. I love God, I have experienced His reality and profess to want to follow Him, but I am terrified of Him – who He is and what He might ask me to do. I have struggled with this for years, and have again and again, despite deliberate effort, have been unable to overcome it.

I had a very strong sense that this fear of surrendering fully God is affecting all the other areas of fear I grapple with. Being afraid of God is the root of the issue. This was a gentle though convicting epiphany for me.

Wow, God, that’s, uh, kinda cool. You actually were able to speak to me in a group, in spite of the distractions and fatigue. It’s a first. Thanks. But, let’s talk the implications of all this when I get home. This is very personal.

God wasn’t done with me yet. He sort of impressed on me, very distinctly, “You need to share this with the group.”

But I don’t want to share it with the group. I’ll stumble over my words, expose my weakness, and maybe even cry.

“I can’t help you unless you speak it.”

Why not? You’re God! You can do anything! What difference does it make? I can surrender my pride in private! Pleeeease!

“I can’t help you unless you speak it.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake!

So, I spoke it. And I didn’t stumble, and no one laughed, and though I did cry a bit, it wasn’t too embarrassing. I told it like it happened, just like I described it above, and then I was done. Bruce put his hand on my knee, and the lady beside me rubbed my back. A few people prayed for me, and that felt both good and awful. They thanked me for my courage, but I kept thinking, But I wasn’t courageous. God told me to. Jiminy Christmas! What else was I going to do?

So, that’s my story from last night. I think I will post this on my blog for all the world to see. I don’t feel like I shouldn’t. Maybe it will encourage someone. But it does feel a little vulnerable and scary.

Yesterday morning, I went to the High Places to see if I could find God (see previous posting). Last night, He brought the High Places down to me.

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