In Response to the Very Worst Missionary

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about why I don’t pray anymore.  And then, you know, because life and people are funny that way, I was told to read this post by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary (which you should at least go skim before you read on).  In her post, Jamie brings up some fantastic points that I’ve never heard anyone, let alone anyone in the church, voice before while still maintaining a positive attitude toward prayer.  It was extremely refreshing, to be honest, and it got me thinking.  Some of the points she made correlated strongly to my past experience with Christianity.

Initially, I was turned off by seeing so many flippant promises of prayer from people I knew wouldn’t actually follow though.

When I read this line, I just wanted to jump through my computer screen and find Jamie and look her in the eyes and say, “Yes.” Because this has been a source of discomfort for me ever since I got serious about Christianity in the 8th grade.  Although in my experience, it hasn’t been promises from other people so much as it has been my own promises that were flippant.  I have had and still have many, many friends who I know would actually, sincerely pray for any request on a regular basis if I asked.  No, it has been me who has said, “I’ll be praying for you,” and then barely followed through.  For a long time, praying for others was something I wanted to do, but it hardly ever felt sincere.  Sometimes I didn’t know enough about the situation to pray effectively, and other times I grew tired of repeating the same prayers over and over without seeing any actual change.  But telling others I was praying for them still felt like something I should do.  If I didn’t pray for others, was I really a good Christian?  So I would tell people I would pray for them in hopes that the verbal commitment would force me (read: guilt me) into actually praying for them.  It, like the rest of my Christian experience, turned into a huge cycle of guilt.

I was told to bring all my cares to God, no matter how trivial or small, because He wants to hear all of it. Right? But it felt weird to pray to God for a sunny vacation and, also? War and famine and orphans.

Again, yes.  This was another huge struggle for me.  I had so many friends whose parents were divorcing, who had terminally ill family members, who had friends with mental disorders.  I knew that there was poverty all around me and people who didn’t have heat in the winter and people who had to beg for food and shelter.  It felt so much like I should be thankful for my own trivial problems that I felt like such an asshole praying for them.  My prayers, many of which are saved forever in my journals, focused so much on myself and on my own struggles and that felt wrong.  And then, if I mentioned it to anyone, I was “given perspective” and reminded of all the other, much bigger problems in the world.

I am not trying to sound like a bitch here.  It was simply that this was another thing that made me feel guilty — I felt like I couldn’t pray for my own problems because they didn’t matter that much.  I felt like I should be happy with my life at all times because it was (and is) so much better than the lives of others.  And if I wasn’t happy, I was doing something wrong.  Again, a cycle of guilt.  Since I didn’t know how to pray for others, and I didn’t feel like I should pray for myself, I just quit.

We pray because the God who knows us and sees us also connects us.

My philosophy is that life is about people and relationships.  I’m not a people person — given the choice between a good book and a crowd of people I’ll take the book any day.  I’ve never been one to initiate friendships — all the close friendships I’ve ever had have been initiated by the other person.  However, I dearly, dearly love those I’m close to.  I really do get a lot from the times I do reach out to people, and I love to sit and discuss anything and everything with my friends.  Humans thrive on love, and to me, prayer is a tool to bring us closer.  I understand that the point is to bring us closer to God, but the few times that I have actively prayed with people, I have ended up feeling much closer to them than to Him.  For some people, growing closer to God brings them closer to other people. For me, I think it’s the opposite way around.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know whether I’ll ever make my way back into the church, or what that will look like if I do.  However, reading posts like Jamie’s and knowing that there are people in the church who aren’t completely satisfied with the “Christian” expectations makes me feel validated, and also like there’s hope.  It makes me feel like me own viewpoint isn’t so very alien, and maybe there’s a place for me where I don’t have to hide how I truly feel.  It makes me feel like I’ll actually find that place someday, rather than forever turning my back on the religion I grew up in like I thought I was going to have to do.

I remembered this song by Brandon Heath before I remembered that the Writing 101 prompt for today was “your three favorite songs.”  I’m not a huge fan of contemporary Christian music anymore (that’s a post for another day), but this song fits perfectly with my thoughts today.  I encourage you to listen through the chorus at least!

Disclaimer:  I did not respond to every single point in Jamie’s post, just the ones that spoke to me specifically.  I recommend reading her whole post even if you aren’t religious!

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Big Creek or Bust?

Two things.

First, I mailed in my writing portfolio yesterday.  Ever since September, I have been working on revising three essays and one short story to be entered in a contest held by the Alliance of Young Artists and Writers, a non-profit organization that provides recognition, publication, and awards to teenagers with “exceptional artistic and literary talent.”  These works have consumed me, and almost everything else has been put on hold.  Yesterday, one day before the deadline, I uploaded my files and mailed my fees and forms.  Come January 31 we shall see whether I have exceptional literary talent.  

bites nails 

 Now that that is done, one of the next things on my agenda was to look for a job.  I spent last summer working at a local frozen yogurt parlor (which is delish by the way – I’m glad I didn’t work there longer or I would have gained so much weight).  I really enjoyed working there; it was a great first job.  But I’ll have a bit more free time this semester, and I was considering trying something a bit different, just to have some new work experience to put on my resume.  I was thinking about maybe Target or something of the like.  Then today, only minutes after I got home from mailing in my contest forms, my mom mentioned Big Creek.

 Big Creek Missions is a non-profit organization that reaches out to families in Leslie County, Kentucky.  They hire a few staff to be there all summer, and then volunteers from churches all over the south come and work for a week at a time.  The program runs for around 11 weeks, and they do things such as holding day camps for kids, visiting nursing homes, fixing up peoples’ houses, and doing community service projects such as cleaning school buildings.  My church first got involved when I was in eighth grade.  I’ve been three times, assisting with day camps twice and visiting nursing homes once.  It was always an awesome experience. 

 So, I went to the website to check out the job opportunities.  And here is a perfect of example of my absent-mindedness:  At first I was disappointed because they only hire high school graduates.  Then I remembered that by the time summer comes, I will have graduated high school.  (Woot woot!  It still doesn’t seem real.)  Heh heh.  Maybe it’ll stick by the time I begin college. 

 Anyway.  The job looks amazing.  I had wanted to find something that would strengthen my relationship with God, and Big Creek definitely would – they do mass worship every day both morning and night, and do smaller group Bible studies before going onto the mission field.  How can you not focus completely on God?  Plus it would totally stretch me and strengthen my leadership skills.

 But I’ll admit I’m afraid.  I would be gone the whole summer – 11 weeks is the maximum one can work, and the website states that they pay more attention to applicants who can work longer.  It’s the longest I’ll have been away from home (although it may be a good transition to college) – and that’s assuming I’m accepted.

 I need to pray about it, and talk to some friends as well as my parents.  If anyone is reading this, please pray that I will see God’s guidance clearly and that He will give me boldness and courage.  My new year’s resolution was to grow my relationship with God, and this may well do it.   I feel so excited at what God may be doing in my life!  Strange that excitement and fear mix so often.

 Pardon me while I go scream.

 

 

Praying in Condensation

Prayer is an interesting thing.  It takes so many shapes and forms.  I have proof.

Today I began reading my new devotional, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young.  She writes it as if Jesus is the one talking to the reader, not her, which makes sense when you learn that the book was born out of her listening to God.  Sometime in her Christian walk, she realized that she was the one doing all the talking.  So one day she just sat and listened, and she received a message from God.  The book encompasses some of the messages that she has gotten.  I was excited to start it.

However, I couldn’t really get into it today.  My prayer seemed stale, and even though I read today’s piece over and over it wasn’t really sticking into my mind.

Part of my family went out walking even though it is gray and rainy, leaving me and my mom at home.  Somehow we got to talking about my mom’s family.  No big deal, right?  Well, without going into detail, she has described her family as dysfunctional, and from what I know, it is.  Talking about it can be somewhat emotional for my mom.

Just thinking about the lives some of her family members have led reduced her to tears.  She went outside, and I got into the shower assuming the conversation was finished.

At the risk of sounding a little weird and new-age (or maybe just weird), praying in the shower can be really cool.  There’s just something about being completely exposed while talking to the one who made you.  You can hide nothing.

I tried to pray for my mom while I was in there, but just like this morning, the words were sort of stuck.  So I used a modification of a technique I’ve never really used before.  The technique is called Praying in Color — my church introduced me to it last year when we studied prayer during Lent.  You write someone’s name on a piece of paper and then pray for them as you draw or color a design  around it.  It helps you focus while allowing you more freedom than words sometimes give you.

But you clearly can’t use paper in the shower.  (Ew — soggy paper bits.)  So I wrote my mom’s name in the condensation on the walls, drew a circle around it, and began writing.  I wrote “peace•joy•love” all around my mom’s circle while visualizing the presence of God around her.  Then I drew arrows pointing to the circle labeled “memories” and “sadness” or “pain” (I can’t remember exactly which, but it was along those lines).  Finally I wrote a big “IMPENETRABLE” above the circle.  The arrows stayed out and did not break into the circle.

Then I did another one for both of us.  I wrote “Me and Mom” and drew a square around it, then labeled the four corners “patience,” “understanding,” “communication,” and “tolerance.”

I knew I had to erase them or they would show up when the next person showered, but I didn’t want to just wipe them out.  So, feeling a little silly (I am a Baptist after all), I placed one hand on each of the drawing and said to God, “Though I erase these from the walls, I know they will not erase from your mind.”  Then I wiped off all the condensation.