on praying the wrong prayer
I leave for my Belize adventure in three days and have no classes or obligations until then, so I am literally just hanging out in my apartment all day errday. You know, kickin’ it. The only time I left today was to take the trash out, and that was just a walk down the hall. I ate yesterday’s dinner leftovers for dinner today, I got dressed in real people clothes but never went on the errands I should have done today, made no real contributions to humanity, didn’t watch the kardashians, and didn’t go to the basketball game. Today I just wanted to sit and absorb and learn and think freely and be and fill up some pages of my journal with prayers and thankful thoughts and things to ponder while I’m away on my deserted island, cave swimming, night hiking adventure.
I’ve been very concerned about myself lately, that I am losing my ability to sit and think on things, to be contemplative and reflect on things that matter, like what I’m learning and what I should be learning and how I should be growing and what I’m actually focused on instead so that I can check myself and get back to what matters. Instead, I’ve been really focused on what I’m accomplishing and doing and crossing off my to-do list. And it’s having side-effects. I’m supposed to be slow to speak. And I’ve found that I’m not lately. I’m quick to respond and quick to defend myself and quick to get angry. That’s really not good. Maybe it’s the grad school applications, maybe it’s the essays about significant things I’ve done or maybe it’s just that my prayer life is more of a list of demands and requests that I half-heartedly send off to God every now and then, when I think of it, when I come across something that’sreally important, like getting into Wake Forest or being able to get a good parking spot or that my scrambled eggs won’t burn while I’m running around getting ready in the morning. That’s not very good. I’m not too proud of that.
A few weeks ago I had to write a scholarship essay about the most significant things I’ve done in the past year. And I really struggled with that. I ended up talking about my internship and how it shaped my character, but that sort of brought to my attention that I haven’t really been concerned with my character in the meantime. This summer, I was being mentored and had a lot of outstanding role models and peers to hang out with and eat McDonald’s with and stuff, but now I’m in an environment where I can just sort of cling to my accomplishments and get by on how much stuff I can cram into 24 hours. What are my goals? I don’t know, this past semester it was to survive until my current paper assignment was due so that I could get a few hours of sleep and move on to the next one or to not snap at people when I was stressed out or to care about how my hair looked after I hadn’t washed it in three days. Pretty dumb, near-sighted things.
And so today, in light of the fact that the most strenuous thing I had to do was decide what time to get out of bed, I thought about real goals that aren’t so…trivial. And I made lists and I thought about what kind of woman I want to be, what kind of wife and mother I want to be (even though I’m in major denial about filling those roles one day, I’m trying to suck it up), and what kind of Christian I want to be and what kind of prayer life I want to have, things like that. None of those are about things I want to achieve, they’re about the type of character I want to have. Because you know what? I have a closet full of trophies back home, and I’m about to throw them out, because while it’s nice that I was the most-improved member of my high school choir in 9th grade (I took it as a compliment, thank you very much), things like that just don’t matter so much anymore.
This past year I’ve gotten so caught up in what I want to accomplish and how I can be impressive and what kind of fabulous desserts I can make to take to meetings and impress people and how to paint up my life so it looks all neat and aligned and easy to be living, but I’ve totally put my character on the backburner. I snapped at people a lot, I said a lot of things I’m not proud of that I wish I could un-say, I was short and efficient and I missed a lot of good things. Or my motto became “Well, I’m good enough at loving people, I’m doing better than that guy over there, so I’m going to focus on stuff I need to do.“ And that was a mistake, because it kept me from being a reliable friend and from being present in peoples’ lives and using my gifts well and doing what I think and know and feel in my heart and very being that God created me to do, which is to counsel people and listen to their stories and pray for them and help them any way I can. I skipped all that stuff, and I’m sorry for it.
Which leads me ask myself: Am I being the kind of woman and person and friend that God wants me to be? Or am I just trying to get a lot of stuff done?
It was mostly the second one, if I’m being honest. I was either trying to finish or perfect or do something to my thesis or hoping that someone else would take care of my friends who were struggling with things, or I was trying to talk God into getting rid of my depression. I mean, that’s been going on for the past three years. I’ve asked God over and over to heal me from it or make it easier or to help me find a better medicine or at least a therapist who knows what to do (which He did), but today I discovered a problem with that, which is that I’ve been praying the wrong prayer. In essence, I’ve been praying for God to change my circumstances. But you know, it really hit me today that maybe God’s more concerned about changing my heart than my circumstances, and relying more on Him than on how perfect my little life is, or maybe he’s keeping me in my current circumstances because He wants to change me and my character. Maybe He wants me to go from asking him to fix this thing and that thing to asking him to fix me, to fix my heart and my perspective and the way I pray about everything. Maybe he wants me to see my potential to be a really loving, kind-hearted, steadfast, persevering person whose life is wholly filled with a love and delight for other people.
But are loving and kind-hearted and steadfast really words I would use to describe myself? I had to look up what “steadfastness” is to really understand what it is, and it means that you have pressure or a weight on you and you just keep holding it up longer and longer and longer even though you feel like quitting and giving up. That’s not what I’ve been praying for. I’ve been praying for God to take the weight away. And He hasn’t done that, and that’s been frustrating, because I cared more about comfort than my character. Most days I don’t even think about my character; I just want to be happy or I want my problems to go away. But what if I did the opposite? Instead of being frustrated with hardship, we should be able to say, “Oh good, trials. An opportunity to get stronger. I’m gonna hold this weight up and God’s gonna get me through it and He’s going to make me more of a steadfast woman. Keep ‘em coming.”
I have to believe that this is the best way to look at things, that this is the way that works because I’ve tried everything else that “works” and have been pretty disappointed. I have to believe that God has a goal for me, too, a type of woman He wants me to be, and that when I’m seeking that, all these other things will just fall into place. I really think that. Because I’ve been so focused on the other things that it’s wrecked my character, and so I think I’ve been doing it backwards. And I don’t want to do that anymore, I want to be able to love people when they say they hate me and I want to be able to listen to someone talk without pre-planning an answer in my head that’ll sound really great.
In sum, I’d like a fresh start. I’d like to ask for a clean slate and for forgiveness from a lot of people. I’m thankful for all the things that were broken and for the way I had to fall down to rock bottom and fight my way back up again to see what I am seeing now, because now I think that I have nothing to lose. And to my great surprise, I am happy with all of that. That phrase, “I am happy,” — I don’t use it much. So know that this is all a shocking and great moment for me. I feel very lucky and very well-loved, and very humbled. And free. Very free in a very new way that I didn’t see coming at all, because I didn’t feel that way this morning. Sort of like an, “Oh yeah…” moment, but so much better than that, too. It’s been a dark season but it’s been a beautiful season, and I’m trying to think how else I could have been awakened to all of these things that I feel like I could talk about forever. I don’t think there’s another way, I think this is the way that He intended all along. I don’t think it matters to Him one bit how much time I spend perfecting my Roasted Tuscan baked chicken recipe or what my semester GPA is, but I do think it matters to God how much time I spend in His presence and how much of my daily energy I spend on what, like whining about what I want vs. actually following his lead on this whole unconditional love deal. I know I need to try it, because I think it might work. Everything is okay, I don’t need to keep trying to fix it all, the Lord’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, and yeah, I’ve taken a few wrong turns but I’m getting some good new directions and I’ll still get where I’m supposed to be.
“Thank you God for the things you heal, for the things you redeem, the things you refuse to leave just as they have been for what seems like forever.” (Shauna Niequist)