Prayer: An End in Itself

An excerpt from “I Think I am Happier Than I Think I Am,” by Reverend James O’Leary

“A few years ago, on a radio talk show, the host was talking about the subject of prayer and cloistered nuns who were dedicated to prayer. The host could only think of one reason to pray: to beg God to change His mind when He was about to send evil on the world.

The host thought for people who prayed, “Thy will be done,” this was a contradictory exercise. In one breath we pray, “Thy will be done,” and in the next, “Please don’t do this. Change your mind.” The radio commentator was using deadly logic. I cannot fault that. But his starting point was wrong. To presume that the only reason we pray is to get God to change his mind is nonsense.

The lives of cloistered nuns are not spent coaxing God to send “goodies” to us instead of pain. The nuns are not professional beggars. The primary reason for prayer is to commune with God. Just to be consciously with God is the reason for prayer. When we spend time with God, we fulfill and enrich ourselves. We become who we really are and who God wants us to be.

The radio host had a cheap idea of prayer and a cheap attitude. It strikes me that we Catholics sometimes talk about prayer in such a way as though we are trying to get something God does not really want to give us. This gives a wrong impression about prayer. We speak of prayers that “really work.” It sounds so utilitarian; like magic.

Prayer is simply spending time with God. What cloistered nuns do is spend a lifetime with God. Of course, we can ask God for favors. But if that is all prayer is for us, there’s something wrong. My suggestion: we pray for God’s will and the power to carry that out. We never ask God to change His mind. We don’t have to. God only wants what is best for us.”

 

 

 

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Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we’re sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself.  I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

Fleshing Out a Flannelgraph

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

When I was a child going to Sunday school in the basement of my church they used “flannelgraphs” to tell Bible stories. A flannelgraph consisted of a flannel-covered board on an easel and cloth Bible characters. The characters stuck to the board as you placed them. Then you’d peel them off and place more characters while telling the story. There was Joseph and his brothers; Noah, the ark and the animals; and of course, Jesus.

The stories I heard about Jesus in Sunday school always made him sound larger than life. He worked miracles healing people and made a little bit of food go around to feed a multitude. He was a pretty awesome Jesus.

Then I’d go upstairs to ‘big church’ and the pastor’s message about Jesus was that he died on a cross for me. That kept Jesus in the larger than life realm. Not knowing exactly what a crucifixion entailed, I assumed it was pretty bad and that I was lucky Jesus would do such a thing for me. The pastor talked about how angry God was about sin and how much I needed his forgiveness. He was a pretty awesome God too, but for different reasons. I made a decision to ask God to forgive me and said a prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart.

God and Jesus fell into the larger-than-life category for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they are larger than life. But something was missing and it kept me from really knowing how much I could benefit from the decision I’d made about Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but what I was missing was Jesus with flesh on.

Skip ahead several years. I had become confused and disillusioned by church, leaving it to try my own way of living. I still believed in God, but he wasn’t part of my worldview. Then something happened to create in me a hunger for him and I returned to the church. Because I was hungry for God, I began to read my Bible. In fact, I devoured it. Guess what I found?

I found a Jesus with flesh on.

I don’t remember the folks in the church where I grew up talking about Jesus as a man. They must have, but I was young and mostly hearing the anger part. I never really got a glimpse of Jesus with flesh on until I read about him for myself. As I traveled through Galilee and the Judean countryside with him and his followers I watched him interact with people like a real person would. I saw him express emotions like anger, joy, and grief.

He got tired and slept. He got hungry and ate. He interacted with friends and with some Pharisees (who weren’t always counted among the friendly). He worshiped on the Sabbath. He engaged in normal human activities found easily if you look in scripture.

Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that looks for what’s hidden. I look at more than just the words, and I read between the lines. For starters, he was a carpenter. Imagine Jesus banging his finger with a hammer and getting one of those black fingernails. We know he had sisters and brothers and, though we aren’t told much about his childhood, it must have been a fairly normal one with playtime, chores, and “school”.

Then his ministry began. Look at the loaves and fishes story. After Jesus multiplied the food for the crowds, he sent his disciples on to Bethsaida “while he dismissed the crowd.” (Mark 6:45) Call me goofy, but I see Jesus talking to people as they leave as if he knows them personally. It’s not a “Hey, all of you, clear out of here now” type of dismissal. It’s the type of thing a host would do, saying goodbye to as many as possible and seeing that their needs are met. Anyway, that’s the Jesus I was getting to know.

I got to know this Jesus who was a single man all his life while many his age would have been betrothed or already married. Jesus lost a relative, John the Baptist, to a cruel death and took time to grieve alone before he was called again to minister to the crowds. Jesus’ closest relatives misunderstood him to the point that they tried to manipulate his actions, thinking they knew better what he should do. At a crucial moment, his best friends deserted him. One of his friends took his own life.

After becoming familiar with this Jesus, I realized that I need the God who’s larger than life and truly awesome. But I also need this Jesus who has been human and can understand what it’s like to be me. Many of us have no mate, have grieved the loss of a close relative, are genuinely misunderstood, and have been deserted by a friend.

Jesus with flesh on makes him able to relate to us in every problem and in every success. God wants to get up close and personal. He wants us to know he’s not just a flat personality we peel and stick to our circumstances when we need him. He’s a fleshed-out God who relates to every situation in which we find ourselves. And his desire is that we’ll get to know him as that pretty awesome Jesus.

What is Jesus Doing?

Sometimes we wonder what God must be up to. Life is getting weird and we seem to be floundering.  Ever feel that way?

If I keep my eyes open to what’s happening and keep trusting that God is doing what I cannot do for myself, the answer is usually simple.

What is Jesus doing? He’s helping me to grow in grace.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

In our relationships, we value trustworthiness in people. We want to be able to rely on them.

The Holy Spirit grows this virtue in us as we follow Jesus, being obedient to God and His purposes.

God is the One we can trust for everything. When friends and family let us down–and they will–we know God is faithful even when we and others fail to be all we could be.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Growing in the other Fruit of the Spirit, we learn to be trustworthy. We are faithful to God and begin to improve our earthly relationships because God is teaching us a better way.

 

 

 

I Can Only Imagine

This past Sunday, the Church behaved as a church should. Well, my church did anyway.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing the downward spiral that naturally and always follows mania. My diagnosis is complicated and it took years for me to understand it. True depression can be inexplicable. If someone asked me, “What’s wrong?” I could say, “Nothing” or I could say, “Everything” and both answers would be correct.

Having manic-depressive illness is something I’ve accepted, but being mentally ill sometimes always stinks.

Now about the Church being what they’re supposed to be…

I went to church under the influence of a medication I took for anxiety the night before. Sleep was eluding me, so I took the med the doctor prescribes “as needed.” It was surely needed. The anxiety was crippling and I only got about three hours of sleep because I was so agitated. I drove to church seeing double. It helped if I closed one eye, but driving one-eyed has its limitations. All through the sermon, Pastor kept splitting in two as he moved about the stage.

Between services I told our spiritual growth pastor I probably wouldn’t be able to write the sermon study because I hadn’t been able to concentrate and I had scanty notes. I gave her the lowdown. She must have moved into action right then. Brothers and Sisters began to approach me to let me know they would make sure I got home safely.

Imagine a church body that in a crisis acts like Jesus. I felt no judgements on me for being sick. The people involved treated me as if I had a “respectable” illness. They touched me just like Jesus was willing to touch the man with leprosy. They spoke to me without condescension. I was given time to just be comfortable until church was over and they could help me get home. I could almost hear them saying, “(Let’s) Go in peace.”

I wish every church body could understand––or at least try to accept––mental illness as a real sickness. Too many times we hear people tell us we could be healed if we had more faith. People suggest we pray more. I’ve been told I’m possessed.

Listen. I have faith in the healing power of Jesus. I pray. I trust God will get me through the tough times because he already has on numerous occasions. But Jesus didn’t heal every sick person he came into contact with while he lived here, walking around preaching the Good News. Maybe I’m one of the people God has decided to not heal. He hasn’t healed my good friend who’s been insulin dependent for over 30 years either and I know she prays and has faith in God.

It’s okay I’m still manic-depressive, even though, as I said, it stinks. Because I’ve experienced peace when I should have been crawling the walls. I’ve been able to read my Bible and know the words are meant for me right then, in the scattered state I’m in. Or in a funk so deep I’m reminded of King David’s “pit.” Those are the times when nothing can make me leave the house except maybe firefighters insisting upon it.

Helen Keller was an amazing woman. Read her autobiography some day. For the most part, she had a good attitude about life and didn’t let being disabled hold her back from what she wanted to accomplish. My disability isn’t the same as hers. But I find these words of hers something I relate to and am grateful for.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

What will it take for God’s people to be more accepting of the poor, the uneducated, the ‘sinners,’ the foreigners, the criminals, and anyone who’s just plain different from them? I’m not sure, but I experienced on Sunday what I believe Jesus had in mind.

Love.

The Patience of Job

When I was growing up, occasionally I’d hear my mother refer to someone as having “the patience of Job.” I went to Sunday school and then upstairs for ‘big church’ with her, but we didn’t learn about Job in Sunday school.

Our flannel graph stories revolved around stories that didn’t include Satan, for the most part. You know, Joseph and his coat; Noah in the ark; Moses with the burning bush; that little guy Zacchaeus; and the loaves and fish miracle.

Now that I know Job’s story, I still enjoy reading it even after years of study. The more I learn about patience and how God works, the more I learn not to pray for it. A friend once shared in a group which I belonged to that she had prayed for patience.

“God didn’t send me patience in a package tied up with a bow,” she said. “I got pregnant.”

That’s a funny line from my friend. But I don’t believe God was playing a joke on her. What I do believe is that God uses our circumstances – the ones he causes and the ones he allows – to help us grow in character and in virtue (among other reasons).

Job grew from his experiences of loss and from the aftermath. He also learned some things. I don’t know if it was patience he learned. But I do know he grew in his knowledge of God.

“The theme of (the book of) Job is not ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’ The theme of Job is ‘Do the righteous believe that God is worth suffering for?’” ~ Warren Weirsbe

“They (Job’s three friends) plead a poor cause well, while Job pleads a good cause poorly.” ~ John Calvin

 “Be silent about great things; let them grow inside you.” ~ Baron Friedrich von Hugel

“The book of Job is not strictly a pessimistic book. It does not despair of the universe, despite all its sorrows. What it does despair of is the adequacy of any one of man’s theories, or all of these theories united, to furnish a solution of its sorrows.” ~ George Matheson

“I had a million questions to ask God: but when I met Him, they all fled my mind, and it didn’t seem to matter.” ~ Christopher Morley (Job 23:3-4)

While we read the book of Job, we get to see what happened behind the scene. But Job had no knowledge of it. We can be assured that God works for us in unknown ways and what may look like a setback becomes the setup for a blessing if we trust God and remain faithful.

TGIF: Just Scream

This would normally be a Foodie post because it’s Foodie Friday. But my mind is elsewhere.

Yesterday a friend shared with me a text from her daughter-in-law. The poor woman was recounting every challenge which happened in just the past week alone, including a scare with her husband being hospitalized for chest pains. I told my friend, “Well, life is like a roller coaster, and it’s okay to scream.”

If you’re one of those people who is saying to yourself, “Thank God it’s Friday,” hang on to that bar in front of you. God will be your source of strength and comfort to get through any challenge. And, even though screaming may help in the moment, remember that the ride eventually evens out.

The more we get used to the roller coaster ride of life, the more we realize that the steep climbs, crashing plummets, and speedy curves are all part of it. Our approach to God in facing the roller coaster’s intensity–even while screaming–makes sense as we approach each challenge on the ride of our life.

Be a blessing to someone today.

A Peace That Transcends Everything

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7; emphasis mine).

Truthfully, the current patterns of the world are not worse than ever. Hard to believe, but it’s true.

We are in no more danger sitting at home in our living rooms than the ancients were. There has always been war. We have always seen unrest in families. Children have always, unfortunately, been neglected or abused. Economies crash. People betray us. Loved ones die.

Sin took its toll on Earth and we have never been the same. At one time, it got so bad that God flooded the earth and saved only one family.

Believe me, this is not meant to be a gloomy article or a prophecy about what God has in mind for us if we don’t obey. Today I merely point these things out because they are the reality we have always lived in.

However, for those who trust God in everything, we have hope. We also have peace because we know that, no matter how things look right now, keeping an eternal perspective presents the reality our Lord showed us.

Are you struggling today with unrest in your family? Is someone sick or have a chronic illness? Does your financial situation look sick as well? Is a loved one fighting to defend freedom in a foreign country and you wait while they come home? Are you grieving?

Whatever the situation, God will, if you ask, give you wisdom, strength to endure, and the knowledge you need to come through your struggle. You can be at peace when you understand how faithful he is.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even though he sends the rains, he has compassion on those who suffer. Because God has shown me mercy and because I finally acknowledge that, I can have compassion on people who, a few years ago, I would have shown indignation. I might have even been angry with them without knowing their individual circumstances. It’s a humbling thing for God to show me how arrogant I can be.

Our struggles are temporary like everything else in the world. To keep this in mind also helps to endure and press on. Today, know that I’m praying for you. I don’t know your struggles, but God does, and he’s there for you when you call on him.

Heavenly Father, please help those reading this to know the peace which passes all understanding. Not a peace as the world gives through temporary things, but the peace which you give. Your love for us means you are faithful to provide, to still our hearts, to heal. Thank you for giving your Son, Jesus, who is our Savior and Friend. Amen.