Prayers as a Quest

  
Last week, I talked about life as a quest and how this analogy reminds me of how easily I can become unintentionally condescending.  This week, I want to talk more about how the quest can help move me towards greater connection in my community and to see other options that will move me away from condescension.
Non-condescending prayers and grace are a promise that the quest will not be taken alone.  The best stories with the best quests always include friends, family, a villain or two or three or four (or more), moments of success and learning, and a slew of emotions (joy, envy, heart-ache, deep sorrow, longing, fear, revelation, and insert whatever emotions you can think of here).

Prayers are inherently a promise that we are not alone.  Non-condescending prayers are a promise that God is present and that the one who is praying is a partner in the quest that the prayer is setting you out on.

What that partnership will look like will vary with each prayer.  Maybe that partner will be that friend who, just as the cup, Chip (from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), pops up where you least expect him to because he’s secretly been traveling with you. Maybe that partner will be the friend who stays at the “home base” and makes sure that everyone at home is taken care of while you’re out on the quest.  Maybe they’ll be Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, at your side throughout the whole quest and whose love pulls you through the darkest of times.

The prayer is a call to action because it is the start of the quest.  The quest starts because something is being sought.  The prayer as a quest is a recognition that even if we have a very specific answer being sought, what we find as the answer will most likely look nothing like what we anticipated it would when the quest started.

When I discuss prayers in this way, I find that my mind is of two natures.  On the one hand I love the open ended nature of the prayer that the quest requires.  I love the opening of possibility and the togetherness that is inherent in the prayer as a quest.  One the other hand, I catch myself almost daily saying “if I could only know the whys of life or know for sure what my purpose in life is I would be happier.”  If I dig a little deeper I realize that I am searching for confirmation of what I already believe, I am searching for something that will tell me I am right.  Therefore, I am so uncomfortable with the quest because it is inherently telling me that I am probably not right and I should embrace that.  (I can’t even delete the word “probably” in that sentence, that is how much I really want to be right.  Ha!)

What I’ve learned as I’ve explored prayer, grace and condescension is that the power of the prayer lies in the quest.  When we say “I’ll pray for you,” we WILL be put on a quest.  If I say “I’ll pray for you” in a condescending way, I will still be put on quest. By praying, the quest is started and my connection solidified. If my prayer was condescending, quite likely then, I may end up as one of the villains on the quest of the one for whom the prayer was said.  

I stated in the first paragraph that viewing prayer as a quest helped me see other options that move me away from condescension.  One way it has done this has been to remind me of the beauty and excitement in the unknown.  If I can embrace that I may be wrong about what I or another person needs, then my prayer will no longer be condescending.  The second way it has done this is that I have learned that I don’t have to say “I will pray for you”.  If I think my prayer may be condescending, then I can choose to do or say something else.  For instance, it may be best to just state what I hope for that person.  Another option is to say nothing at all.

Life as a Quest: The Problem with Preconceived Directions

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Last week I talked about the way that the Christian community can come off as condescending.  It essentially boiled down to whether or not a preconceived notion of what you should be doing to find God was inherent in the exchange.

I want to talk about why that is so problematic.

The problem with preconceived notions is that they cut off other options. When someone says they will pray for you or they ask you to have more grace and they have a specific idea in mind, it is as though they are sending you on an errand to go and find that specific thing.

Instead of sending people on errands, I want to think of prayers and grace as sending people on quests.

Here’s a quote from The Sharing Knife trilogy by Lois McMaster Bujold to explain the beauty in the quest:

“The most important thing about quests, he decided, was not in finding what you went looking for, but in finding what you never could have imagined before you ventured forth.”

To send someone on an errand is to send them to look for a specific thing, in a specific way.  This becomes severely problematic if someone is essentially being set up for failure because that specific thing cannot be found.

To send someone on a quest is to send them on a course where the destination is not specified.  It is to send them “Into the Woods” or on an adventure.  It is an open ended invitation.

Let’s go back to the discussion of the errand.  Sometimes an errand may turn into a quest.  When this happens, you can almost forgive the condescending person for their condescension.  However, while you may find that there is beauty in the errand becoming a quest, that beauty is often lost on the one who sent you on the errand.

Here’s an example of how this exchange may work:

Let’s say that a family member or a friend is in the kitchen baking cookies.  Uh oh, they’re in need of sugar.  They send you on an errand to go to the store down the street and buy sugar.  You run down to the grocery and, darn it, the grocery is out of sugar.  Therefore, you run around the block to the closest convenience store and purchase the sugar.  On the way, you meet a friend who you haven’t seen in ages.  You chat and exchange phone numbers.  You’re all excited about seeing your old friend and can’t wait to tell the baker all about your adventure.  However, when you get home, the baker is cranky and annoyed because it took you too long to get the sugar.

This same thing happens when a condescending “prayer or grace” which is really an errand turns into a quest. The person who was (unintentionally) condescending is unable to see the beauty of the quest because the errand was not fulfilled as anticipated (or at all).

This specificity and rigidness is why those statements feel condescending.  Hidden in these prayers and calls for grace is a foregone conclusion.  All of a sudden, these words (IE grace or prayer) that usually carry a meaning full of grandeur, or beauty, or creativity are limited in their scope and are being used to mean something very specific and limiting.

Before we start to judge the baker, imagine yourself as the baker.   Can you empathize with the baker?  The goal is to complete the baking ASAP.  The length of time of the errand is directly impacting this goal. You have nothing against old friends reconnecting, the problem is only in the timing.  You were probably baking the cookies for the person who was sent on the errand.  The least that person could do is help you complete the project.

The baker isn’t a bad person.  Does anyone really want to be the cranky baker?  Nah.  Which is why I believe so often this condescension is unintentional.

When prayers and grace are offered and they are not condescending, it is as though they are providing another person the opportunity to go on a quest.  It’s a way of saying that an answer exists, but the details/path to that answer are not crystal clear.  I believe the Biblical expression would be “looking into the mirror dimly”.  The answer is in the mirror, but the details are hazy at best.

Next week, I will continue this discussion on prayer and grace.  Next week I will discuss how non-condescending prayers and grace are also a promise that the quest will not be taken alone.  The best stories with the best quests always include friends, family, and maybe a villain or two.

Until then, I’d love to hear from you.  What do you think of the idea of a prayer as a quest?  What is the best quest you’ve been sent on to date? Comment below or email me.

Well Meaning Condescension

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The Christian community has created a very unique language. We use that language to lift up the community and members of the community.  However, all too often, we use that same language to express our discontent with others in our community in ways that, intentionally or not, are condescending.

The most common occurrence of this condescension can be found in the phrase, “I’ll pray for you.”

When this phrase is used well, it can convey a love and depth of understanding that few phrases can portray.  For example, I think of those times when I have experienced a significant loss and someone has told me that they are keeping/holding me in their prayers.  Through this phrase the person is expressing the understanding that the emotion(s) I am feeling may be so deep, so strong, so overwhelming that I will need the presence of God in my life to find healing.  They are saying to me that I am not alone, they are giving me permission to experience my emotions, and they are conveying to me a reminder that I am a beloved child of God.

When this phrase is used in other ways, it can become associated with ideas such as “Pray away the gay.”  In this case, instead of the phrase conveying a deep love and understanding, this phrase now means “I hope that God will enter your life and change it in a way that I think would make your life better,” or “I hope that God will enter your life and show you that the way I see this situation is the right way.”

Another form that this condescension comes in is with the use of the word “grace”.

Grace is one of those beautiful theological words that has a specific meaning that is very difficult to define using language.  When you’re in the presence of grace, though, you know it, you feel it, you want more of it, you want to share it, you want for nothing else in the world to exist except for grace.  Grace is found in those moments when the will of an individual and God’s will have become one.  In that instance, grace exudes.  Sometimes it is associated with forgiveness – being able to forgive someone or something when you were sure you would never be able to find forgiveness.  Sometimes it’s associated with forgiveness when you are able to not even get mad at someone for something that would have previously caused a rift.  Sometimes grace is associated with allowing people to just “be”, be themselves, in a given situation or space or place.

Calls for grace can be a beautiful thing.  As Christians, we call on each other to show grace to one another.  We need to show grace to our conservative or liberal brothers and sisters in Christianity.  We need to show grace to the oppressed because we live in a society that blames the oppressed for being oppressed.  Inherent in these examples is a call to work on being aware of God’s presence in your life.  It’s a call to find new ways to work together with God in your life.

Calls for grace can be truly condescending though.  What I’ve realized in the situations where I caught myself being the condescending one was that I was using the term “more grace” to highlight two thoughts:  (1)  an understanding that more of God is needed in the situation because true raw pain or other strong emotion exists and (2) that I have a specific way in which I would like to see this situation resolved (AKA I’m sure you’ll find that same conclusion if you just find the grace in your life.)  It is the second thought that causes the condescension.  This is implicitly saying that the way the person is currently choosing to handle the situation is not a path of grace.

I honestly believe most of us are well meaning when we use the term grace in a condescending way.  In these situations we feel real pain and we want to see the situation “righted” or the pain to go away and we reach out and say that “more grace” would be an answer.  More Grace, more God.  Sometimes, however, we let the way we would like to see an answer be found dictate our use of the word grace.  This specificity leads to condescension.

Today, I ask you to think about the ways that you use the words prayer and grace.  Do you use them to talk about or inspire a greater understanding or insight into the amazing, intricate, and often surprising ways God works in our lives, or are you trying to influence or dictate another to have an action in a specific preconceived direction?

Journal Prompt: Loving yourself

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It can be very overwhelming to be told to “love yourself”.  I mean, where do you start?  Do you stop eating junk food, start reading more, go the gym every day, meditate, start yoga, journal every day, and confront everything that is holding you back?

What it means to love yourself will look different for everyone.  Here is a prompt to help you determine your “top 5” focuses for loving yourself.

Write down as many traits, values, talents, strengths, skills, etc that you currently embody or want to embody.  Write down at least 20, but don’t feel like once you hit 20 you need to stop.  If you can write down 40, 60, 1000s of different words to describe you (which have a positive connotation), that is fabulous!

Examples could include, but are not limited to: joyous, adventurous, family/friend oriented, supportive, ethical, authentic, connective, creative, action-oriented, big picture oriented, detail oriented, inclusion, driven, service, loving, silly, beautiful, balanced, teacher, compassionate …

Once you have your list, think about how you want to be defined.  If you had to summarize yourself in five words, what would those five words be?  What is your brand?  What do you hope that your friends and family associate with you?

Review your list, add more words, if you need.  Now, narrow that list down to just 5 words.  Eliminate words from your list until you are left with just 5 words.

Post those five words in a place you can see them every day.

Now answer this question:  What have I done today that exemplifies those 5 words?  What could I have done better to exemplify those words?  What can I do tomorrow to highlight those 5 words in my life?

P.S. I got the idea for this journal prompt from the daily planner, “Day Designer: The Strategic Planner & Daily Agenda for living a Well-Designed Life” by Whitney English and my good friend Dawn (www.mentalitywod.com).

 

Journaling: An Action Step

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In the Christian church, we often struggle with the debate of “faith verses works”.  For those who are not sure what this debate is about, I will very quickly try to summarize it and simplify it.  Due to the fact that I am summarizing and simplifying, I do ask for a certain amount of grace as I am bound to miss some key components of the arguments for both sides of this debate.

In short:

One side: Faith without works isn’t really faith.

This side argues that a faith that does not manifest in a person making changes in their lives that reflect their Christian values is not really faith.

The other side:  Faith alone is all that is needed.

This is argues that because in all situations and at all times we will not act according to the way our faith will tell us we should act, this does not negate our faith.

For those of you who are wondering, I almost always take a both/and position on these types of debates.  We need a faith in the knowledge that it is okay to fail and we need a faith that motivates us to action.

Today I want to relate this debate to my understanding of what it means to love yourself.

Many people will say that they love themselves.

There are actions we can take which exemplify our love for ourselves.

Maybe journaling is an action step that you can do to love yourself.  It can be the 10 minutes a day you take to reflect upon your day through the lens of loving yourself.

Maybe journaling is a step towards determining what you can do to love yourself.  Maybe through journaling (the writing and the rereading of what you have written) you can learn what you do when you’re by yourself that you truly love, that you find life-giving, that restores your soul.

There will be times where the biggest breakthrough you can have is simply to say “I love myself, I am a person of value who is deserving of love”.  I equate this to those times where there is value is just having faith.

There will be other times where you will need to prove your self-love to yourself, or to others, through actions.  I equate this to works.

The beautiful thing is that faith and works are highly interrelated.  Sometimes, you’ll have faith and that will lead to good works.  Other times, you may complete the works first and then find that you have faith.  The same thing works for loving yourself.

Maybe today you just need to remind yourself that you are a person of value who is deserving of love.  See what you are inspired to do for yourself and others.

Maybe you’re experiencing one of those times where you’re not sure how to love yourself or if you even love the person you are right now.  If this speaks to you then take action.  Journal, yoga, work out, nap, go for a run, paint, cry, hug your dog, pet your cat, daydream, do something, do anything that you can and call it an action step towards loving yourself.  Take these action steps enough and love will follow.

Journal Prompt: Self Validation

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Journal Prompt #1:

For those who are already journaling:  If you’ve been journaling recently, take some time today to read what you’ve been journaling about.  Is there a person or a group of people who seem to be the focus of your stress, anxiety, worry?  If so, journal about what would it look like to take a step back from that stress and love yourself.  What avenues for action are available for you now that you’ve taken this step away from the stress?

Journal Prompt #2:

For those who have not been journaling lately or who do not want to do the first prompt:  Write yourself a letter explaining why you like who you are.  If it helps, imagine that you are writing a note to your best friend about your new found love: yourself.   What makes you amazing?  What do you see through the rose colored glasses that you have for yourself?  What potential do you know you have?  Why do want a future with this person (yourself)?

Loving Yourself: A Perceptual Shift

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One major inspiration for this blog is my desire to explain the depth, difficulty, and beauty that is wrapped into the Biblical Imperative:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Do you love yourself?

How do you love yourself?

How do you know how to love yourself?

One of the major goals of journaling is to help you know yourself so that you can love yourself better.  By learning how to love yourself, you can love your neighbor.

One aspect of learning how to love yourself is to learn how to find validation from within.

Do you like yourself?

Are you hungry for a friend, a family member, a boss, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend to validate you? To tell you that you have done well?  That you are a good person?

I am a huge proponent of leaning on your community, so I’m never going to tell you not to reach out to others.  However, the validation you receive from others is amplified when it is combined with an internal validation of the self.

Finding internal validation allows for a slight perceptual shift, which can lead to a greater sense of control in your life.  Here’s how I think this works:

When we’re looking for external validation, we can unintentionally allow the person/people we are looking for that validation from to become a controlling factor in the our life.  When we reach out to this person for validation and he/she is unable to provide that validation, we feel hurt/mad/angry/sad/etc.  We will often “act out” from this emotional state and “spin our wheels” working harder and harder to receive validation from this person/these people – often to no avail.

When we focus on our internal validation, a perceptual shift occurs and we feel empowered to do something about that missing validation.  That action could be to speak with the person and explain how you were hurt.  That action could be to find other people to seek validation from.  We stop “acting out”, we stop “spinning our wheels” and we try something different.

The internal validation does not erase the pain.  However, it provides a new lens which highlights other options and, hopefully, leads to action.

 

Knowing yourself well

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On Monday I shared with you the questions that I ask myself to motivate myself to journal.  I shared that I want to be someone who doesn’t avoid hard emotions.

I want to be very clear about one thing:  there is no shame in knowing yourself well enough to know that you’re not ready to face something.  The point is that you know there’s something you’re not facing and you know you’re not ready to face it.  You know.  This knowledge lets you ask and answer the important question of: “What do I need to be able to face it?”  Do I just need a good night’s sleep?  Do I need to see a clinician?  Maybe I need the support of my friends and family?  If so, how can I get what I need or who can I ask for support and how can I ask for?

What do you need that will help you face the tough stuff in life?