Monthly Archives: November 2011

Learning My Place

Last week, I injured my back during a particularly difficult workout.  The injury wasn’t significant and, truthfully, other than a quick visit to a chiropractor, didn’t even require any medical attention.  And yet, it lingered and bothered and impeded.  Small movements were just painful enough to remind me that I wasn’t quite operating at one hundred percent.  I knew eventually it would resolve so I prepared myself for a few irritating days of discomfort.

But lying in bed a couple days later, I was having a difficult time getting comfortable and falling asleep.  So I prayed.  Simple, straightforward, direct.  “Dear God, please heal my back.”  I didn’t offer admirable reasons or arguments.  I just asked for what I needed.  The funny thing is that, as I prayed, I had absolutely no inclination to believe that God would answer my prayer.  It’s not that I didn’t believe He could.  I had no doubt that He could speak the word and I would wake up new.  But, admittedly, there was no part of me that actually believed He would.  I guess, looking back, I figured that my request was insignificant and therefore unworthy.  Furthermore, there were so many requests I had offered up in the past, so many needs much greater than this that had resulted in God’s silence.  There were far worthier supplications and petitions that had gone unanswered.  So I figured that a mildly sore back certainly wouldn’t make God’s agenda.

And then something strange happened.  I woke up the next morning and my back was completely better.  Not less sore, not reduced to a dull ache, but completely better.  And it threw me for a loop.  Suddenly, I had to answer for my disbelief, for my doubt.  But there were no answers that seemed acceptable.  The bottom line is that I had put God in a box of my own assumptions and, like He always seems to do, He shattered it.  Just when I thought I had an aspect of Him figured out, He broke through my arrogance and presumption and revealed Himself to be nothing like I thought.  God has a way of doing that and every time He does, I find myself a bit more enamored, a bit more intrigued, a bit more in love with Him.  I love that I have a God who doesn’t operate by my standards or expectations.  I love that I have a God whose ways are so far out of my realm of reason and understanding.  I love that I have a God who surprises me over and over.

But there was another lesson to be had through my experience.  Something about prayer just wouldn’t leave me alone.  I think that for most of my life, I have viewed prayer as a means to communicate with the heavenly Father.  I have seen it as a vehicle to carry my requests, my concerns, my needs.  And, without a doubt, it is that.  But I think it is also so much more.  It occurred to me that as I was laying in bed praying for healing, my prayer was an admission of my position.  Beyond an entreaty, it was a recognition that there was something I needed that I had no way of attaining.  What I needed, what I wanted, was out of my reach.  I did not possess the capacity to help myself.  But there was, there is, someone who does have the ability to give me what I need.  And so I discovered that perhaps my prayer had little to do with expressing my needs but everything to do with expressing my inability and frailty.  When we pray, we are acknowledging that we are incapable, that we are finite and limited.  When we pray, we are accepting that there are changes we long for that are beyond our reach, beyond our human achievement.  And when we pray, with head bowed, our hearts are looking up to the one who is more than capable.  By recognizing our own position, we also recognize God’s position.  In admitting what we cannot provide, we humbly accept what God can provide.

Prayer can transform, prayer can heal, prayer can alter circumstances and mold hearts.  Prayer is so much more powerful than verbalizing what we need.  Prayer has the power, with every word, to remind us of who we are and, more importantly, who God is. Prayer has the amazing ability to put us in our place.  And when we are in our place, I believe our vision is so much clearer.  When we are aware of our own inadequacies, we are free to throw off our pride, our presumptions and our misbeliefs.  And when that happens, we begin to see with clearer vision that, just as Paul says in Ephesians 3:20, the God of the universe “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…”


Falling Apart

A few weeks ago, on an early fall day, my kids and I took a walk through our neighborhood.  During our stroll, we came across a flowering tree that was just beginning to lose its blooms.  We stood beneath the tree and watched hundreds of bright pink blossoms surrender their hold and fall to the ground.  As if standing in a pink blizzard, we witnessed the flowers come floating and dancing to the ground covering it in a soft, pastel blanket.

Lately, I have felt much like those blooms.  I have felt that I am falling, or more accurately, that I am falling apart.  There are days, when despite my best efforts, my failing strength gives way and I simply cannot hold on.  Frustration, grief, anger, disillusionment, hopelessness, and fear all get the best of me and I am suddenly spinning out of control towards the ground.  And like all of us do, I fight so hard to maintain control.  Fingers clenched, knuckles white, muscles tensed, I grip the branches of this world with desperation and misplaced resolve.  I struggle to remain self-sufficient and capable.  But eventually, the struggle ends, my grip fails me and I find myself falling.  And in those moments, in those failures, I berate myself for not holding on tighter, for not having enough strength, for losing control.  And I imagine how utterly weak I must appear and wonder if God sees me as I see myself.  Thankfully, I am certain that He doesn’t.  As I thought about the floating blooms, I recalled that the sight of countless flowers dancing to the ground was absolutely beautiful.  And I was struck with the idea that perhaps when we fall, just like the blossoms on that tree floating to earth, God sees us as beautiful.  Is it possible that at the very moment we finally let go of whatever branch we are clinging to, it is in that instant that God finds us truly stunning and breathtaking?  Here we are falling hopelessly apart and God calls us beautiful.

It brought to mind the first of the beatitudes.  In Matthew 5: 3, Jesus declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  When I did some digging, as usual, the insights were profound. First of all, let’s be clear that “spirit” is referring, not to the Holy Spirit, but to our human spirit, our rational soul, or our disposition.  And when I dug deeper into the Greek word for poor, it was nothing short of enlightening.  The word, ptochos, is actually derived from the word ptosso, meaning “to crouch.”  So put together, “poor in spirit” seems to imply a condition in which our disposition causes us to crouch.  Now let me tell you that, with little exception, in my darkest and hardest moments I have found myself curled up in my bed, or huddled on the floor, or tucked up in the fetal position trying to comfort myself.  I have crouched.  My disparity, my mood, my disposition has brought about a physical posture.  For me, that changes the impact of the verse.  I have, more times than I can count, been crouched in sadness or despair.  I have been poor in spirit.  It strikes me that, rather than a pervasive existence, being poor in spirit is a pointed, specific condition.

And now, for the glorious promise that Jesus bestows to those who are poor in spirit.  Most translations state the second part of verse 3 as saying, “for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  However, in the Greek, the verse actually reads, “because of them is the kingdom of the heavens.”  It’s magnificent, isn’t it?  That the kingdom of heaven exists because of the poor in spirit.  To think that God, in His grace, foresaw the human condition with all its heartache and decided that He must create a place where such heartache would have no quarter.  And in promising such an existence, He granted such powerful hope to those of us who find ourselves, at one time or another, poor in spirit.  For it is more often than not, the very guarantee of heaven’s existence that pulls us along and lifts us from our despair.  As we are falling apart, the assurance that God has indeed seen our condition and limited its power is both thrilling and humbling.  He will only allow so much.  Our earthly anguish is just that, earthly.  It is bound to this world and is allowed no passage to the heavenly kingdom.  And suddenly, the realization that my spirit’s condition has produced such beauty, such grace, such richness is astonishing.

We are all falling apart at times.  We are falling apart and God sees.  We are falling apart and God moves.  He moves so majestically that a kingdom is created.  And until that kingdom comes, we will continue to fall apart periodically.  And as we fall, God will call us beautiful.