There is a story in the Bible about two sisters whom Jesus was visiting one day. In this story Martha is busy cooking and cleaning and complaining to Jesus about her sister Mary who just sits at Jesus’ feet, loving him. Jesus responds to Martha, “precious one, you are worried about so many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has discovered that one thing.”
As the saga of my life continues, this next episode is when I, like Mary, discover that one thing. I also discover that I need it, like I need air. I began a practice of contemplation/meditation through worshipping God with song and musical instruments. I have continued this practice, but have lately been exploring a more still and silent meditation, beyond thoughts.
After the period of full blown doubt described in chapter sixteen, I crawled back into that Christian bubble and cocooned myself deeper into a more exclusive tribe. I acquired a subtle sense of superiority because of my new found identity as one of those few who are “called” to a lifetime of fasting, prayer and worship. I’m not saying that fasting, praying and worshipping are bad or wrong at all, they are good practices. But when you see yourself as set apart from the rest of the mortals on this earth for a special elite purpose, it gives you a feeling of superiority that further isolates you and excludes everyone else.
There was a “prayer room” about thirty miles north of where we lived and I was welcomed as a worship leader there. They were combining prayer with worship music and singing. I seemingly had found my perfect niche. I could play piano, but was not especially good at following other composers’ songs. Here I could make up my own songs to my heart’s content for two hours at a time three or four days a week! The real draw though, was the connection I experienced with God. Every. Single. Time. All my years of “seeking God to know him” seemed to be culminating here. I mean, here he was! Right here in the prayer room. When I was in the prayer room, I felt the presence of God in the room and inside me. I could feel God’s presence at home too while intently praying or worshipping, but the heart knowledge that he was always fully present was elusive. I was still asking him to come and fill me fuller and deeper and longer and higher. I couldn’t yet comprehend that he had never left me in the first place.
I was so invested in this prayer room and thought, finally, I’ve arrived at the end goal. But there was a person there that they called “the prophet”. He would have visions, particularly about new permanent venues for the prayer room. Everyone would get so pumped up and excited and then a few months later it would fall through. It was disappointing, but the part that really messed me up was how the leader would say something like, “oh, God didn’t mean that, he meant something else.” What??? I didn’t get it. Why would God play such a cruel joke on us? I didn’t blame God. But I seriously wondered at the wisdom of putting so much trust in a person who claimed to be getting visions directly from God that turned out to be dead ends… and then saying God didn’t mean that?!? What did God mean? Ha, ha, fooled you!?!
I was also listening to other “prophets” on-line that were having dreams and visions. They, like our own prophet, were always declaring that something amazing and incredible was about to happen. They were having dreams that predicted who the next president of the United States would be or about other political issues and they were saying these dreams were from God directly. (PS. Their man did not become president.) There was such an atmosphere of “God is doing a new thing” and “something grand is going to happen soon”. Always anticipating what is next and praying earnestly and passionately for it to happen, only to have it not happen… yet. I was carried away with the emotional mob mentality. I was invested and ready to give up everything (again) for whatever God was going to do next.
But living in the tension of always waiting for the next big thing became intolerable for me. The proclamations of “God is doing a new thing” and not experiencing that “new thing” myself, and thinking everyone else must be experiencing it, left me in a constant state of anxiety. Besides, the “new thing” always seemed so ambiguous and undefinable. To this day, when I hear people say, “God is doing a new thing” that anxiety resurfaces like a whack-a-mole.
But it wasn’t just the prophets declarations not being fulfilled that was emotionally damaging, it was my own prayers. And that is much, much worse. I prayed so earnestly and passionately, especially for two of my children (and their friends) whom I believed were not living according to how they should if they were really Christians. Not that they were hellions or anything. But God was not doing what I wanted him to, and I was, I believed, praying according to his will. It wasn’t making sense. Why wouldn’t God do what it said in the Bible that he would do? I was praying prayers right out of the Bible…the (so called) very word of God! I would hear stories of other people’s prayers being answered, but I was not seeing the answers to my own. My hopes were dashed, over and over and over and over again; so much so that I gave up hoping at all. I slowly became hopelessly heartsick.
Let’s examine the problem here. My two children were not living the way I believed they should be living if they were really Christians. Really? What do real Christians live like? How did Jesus live? You see, I thought that belonging to a church and being active in it was a true sign of a “good Christian”.
I was praying good prayers, that they would know the love of God mostly, but I was looking for evidence of answers to those prayers that I could quantify. I thought that if God revealed himself to them like I asked him to, that their lives would look like mine. I was living the right way… so devoted and passionate. They were squandering precious time in the “world”.
The thing is, I was comparing and judging everybody without even realizing it. I was putting people in categories, the saved, the unsaved, the believers, the non-believers, the prodigals, the backslidden, the insiders, the outsiders, the included, the excluded. I thought that people like me, who believed the things I believed and were doing the things I did and lived the kind of life I was living, were insiders and included. I thought that everyone else was an outsider, was excluded and doomed to spend eternity in Hell, and I was scared to death that my children were outsiders.
I think differently now. I doubt God puts us into those categories. He doesn’t compare us to one another. Neither should I. This Being who is the definition of love never excludes anyone. I am especially counting on the Bible being true when it says that the love of God endures forever, and that forever actually means forever.
I realize now that when I was praying that God would reveal his love to my children, he was. Of course he was. He always is. Why wouldn’t he? His very nature is love. He can’t do otherwise. But he wasn’t answering my specific prayer to drag them into my exclusive, dualistic, way of living. I’m glad of that now.
PS. For those of you uncomfortable with the masculine pronoun for God, I use it only for the convenience it provides.