It’s In The Mail

“Usually if you pray from the heart, you get an answer—the phone rings or the mail comes, and light gets in through the cracks, so you can see the next right thing to do. That’s all you need.” ― Anne Lamott

Most people right now report having extra time on their hands. Having to get reorganized due to the quarantine, working from home, kids no longer in school,  grocery trips to a minimum, no more out of the house entertainment or eating out…

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know first hand. This is just to set the stage for today’s suggestion.

In addition to your expanding expertise in being shut up and socially isolated, some sort of suffering has probably marched through your life in some degree:

  • People are sick and some are dying
  • There are growing fears as the virus spreads across our country
  • Businesses have shut down and people are out of work
  • Small businesses are facing their own demise
  • Sometimes, necessary supplies are not available
  • Significant events are cancelled and postponed (prom, graduation, weddings)
  • Education in all forms is being remodeled and experienced in dramatically different ways – lots of stress on everyone
  • Families at home are having to strengthen their existing relationships and give so much more space to each other (how did people in log cabins do this?)

Be reminded that the normal problems of life continue even when there is a plague. Cancer, aging, heart disease, and addictions still plague us every day. There are relationship crises that were on fire before the virus came knocking. People problems don’t go away like magic just because a global catastrophe arrives. Sometimes they get even worse.

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” — Frederick Buechner

My point, you are probably wading through problems of all sorts these days. You surely know of others who are. Maybe there’s someone who’s in deeper than you.

My two-year-old grandson just dumped out baby powder and tracked it from one end of his house to the other. His mom filmed the confrontation, he admitted and backtracked the whole incident to her. He seemed to reflect in his expression, “yes, I made a mess, let’s just clean it up, what’s the problem?”

Some of the problems we all face do get better when we face them together. Others are not going to go away, at least not quickly enough. There are bitter and dark days ahead.

When you think of someone else who is suffering right now, to whatever degree, I’m suggesting you send a note or card in the mail.

  1. The postal service is still operating
  2. You can buy stamps at the grocery store (Amazon will even deliver)
  3. There are packs of cards at the grocery, Target or Wal-Mart

Sure, it’s so much more efficient to just send an email or text. Even a phone call is easier (and more personal!). Yes, yes, I agree. Please be efficient rather than not at all. But, over the years I have noticed in people’s offices and homes, cards received in the mail. They were saved and kept out – used for continued encouragement and inspiration. A card in the mail becomes an artifact that can give your gift day after day. I know that when we were fighting cancer at my house, we filled a whole wall with cards and notes. It hung there for years, building up our courage each day. It was like real people standing there holding us up.

Yes, it’s a little extra effort (what else are doing right now?)

Yes, you will have to look up a mailing address (updating your contacts instead of watching TV?)

Yes, there are multiple steps involved (actual steps, off the couch, out the door)

When we do things like sending cards in our digital age we are strengthening the ties that bind us together. This is certainly a time in history when we need that kind of strength. Now, start making your list of people in your life that need to hear from you in one way or another. Don’t put it off. Do it today. Get some stamps and send out a card (you’re allowed to buy cards at the store even when you don’t have someone to send them to!). Do something about that tug at year soul.

“I’ve always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.” ― Robert Michael Pyle

How Not To Pray

That was the night I learned how not to pray
God does what God wants to any way
And I never did tell my mother, I kept it from my sisters and all my brothers
That was the night I learned how not to pray

Chorus to song by Iris Dement

When I heard this song I took a different meaning than when my wife heard it. I’m  not sure what meaning she took away – she was always more of a concrete literalist. When I heard the song (it’s about a little girl praying for her younger brother who has fallen down the stairs and is rushed to the hospital – he doesn’t make it) I understand the lyrics to be about someone growing up and deciding that prayer isn’t about trying to tell God what to do. I think my wife thought the song was about getting mad at God and giving up on prayer. There are a lot of people I know who have gotten mad at God. Many more who have given up on praying. I’m not sure why I haven’t.

As I’ve grown up, praying has changed in many ways for me. It has become a much larger territory to explore. It has kept me alive and kicking during times when I was ready to lie down and never get up again.

During my whole life of faith has involved prayer. Here’s what prayer has never accomplished for me:

  • I never had all my problems solved (not even most of them!)
  • Financial problems always remained – although I did often get mysterious money in the mail – but it was never more than just enough for that moment
  • My difficulties and situations at the different jobs I had were never easy or solved just like that
  • My wife eventually died from cancer that had moved into her brain – countless people prayed for her to be healed

“The wise man in the storm prays God not for safety from danger but for deliverance from fear.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Prayer has always been a method of survival for me. It’s a practice that keeps my center, my sanity, a longer perspective. Praying keeps my feet on the floor and my head above the waves. Quick fixes, even long solutions are external and eventually pass away. Instead, prayer is the path I take through each obstacle. Sometimes things get fixed, sometimes they don’t. Prayer is the method of transformation that is taking place in my eternal life.

I have prayed in all kinds of ways:

  • laying on the ground with my face to the floor
  • holding hands with others
  • out loud in front of a group
  • when hearing a great song (usually in the car, alone)
  • nowadays, each time I walk out of Starbucks
  • alone on a long walk
  • in writing
  • with someone on the phone
  • while writing on the wall of a room
  • when worshiping with the church
  • laying hands on someone
  • joining with others to compose a single prayer out loud

“When I pray for another person, I am praying for God to open my eyes so that I can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward that person.”  ― Philip Yancey

Praying is a private activity. There is also a very public dimension. I pray with others all the time. I pray on behalf of others out loud. Sometimes just one or two come together and pray about personal matters. Praying is a social activity as well as an intimate relationship with God.

I know that prayer isn’t a

  • private internal meditative practice
  • a religious ritual
  • some way that I have to earn God’s love and favor

Instead, for me, prayer has always been centered around relationship. One that I have been building with God and a way I can help people I know and love. Praying for other people (intercession) is wonderful way to build relationships and to keep myself from being too stuck in my own problems.

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.” ― Corrie ten Boom

Why have I never stopped praying?

  • I have always heard words of comfort, guidance, correction and assurance when I pray
  • Because I have grown up with a lonely soul and needed someone to talk to
  • It seems the only way for me to maintain this essential relationship in my life
  • When I pray, I receive answers – I know that God is listening and responding to me

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of  the one who prays.”  ― Soren Kierkegaard

In an American society that has taught us all to want results now and to take charge of our own lives – prayer is usually a last resort. It’s not a habit that reflects how we’ve been raised to approach life. The practice of prayer demonstrates dependence, waiting, and following. Praying shapes our self into another direction, a different way of thinking.

Each crisis I have faced in life – betrayals by closest friends, the bottom falling out of my life’s work, cancer destroying the only person who loved me – so far, I have survived these only because I was able to pray. I was never alone in any of these terrors. I didn’t know how to escape, but I knew I wasn’t alone. God keeps walking me through the darkness.

“No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.”   ― Martin Luther