Listening in Prayer

What comes to mind when you think of prayer? My first thoughts tend to be of the words I use and the act of reaching out to the Lord. I think of gratitude, and acknowledging the need for the Lord’s guidance. While these are important, I recently questioned whether I do more speaking or listening when I pray. It seems so obviously misguided to approach prayer with the mindset that I’ll do the reaching out and the Lord will do the listening, yet I find myself falling into that mentality. I often find myself praying more for the sake of talking than for the sake of listening. Prayer should be a two-way conversation though, and sometimes I forget that I have a responsibility to listen.

There are various ways to listen to the Lord. A few examples might include reading the Word, being willing to learn from others, and noticing the small blessings in our lives. During prayer however, I sometimes find listening to be much more difficult.

Perhaps being a verbal processor is part of what makes listening difficult for me. I tend to feel a need to perfectly and exhaustively articulate what I’m struggling with, or how much I want to accept guidance and to do the right thing. As if He won’t understand if I don’t. As if it won’t count if I’m not thorough. As if my words have more power than the Lord does. How silly.

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Heaven is a kingdom of usefulness. Conjugial Love 7

And the second is like unto it – you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39

Over the last six months or so, I’ve been reflecting on teamwork in the different contexts of my life. My role in my birth family (number 2 of 7 children, oldest daughter); being part of the ANC Class of ’69 and the different events and groups I took part in during high school; the varied paid jobs I’ve had; my own marriage & family; joining New Church activities while not living in a New Church community; loads of things in the village where I’ve lived for over 40 years. 

In each context, teamwork was involved – sometimes I was at the heart of things, sometimes chugging along in the middle, sometimes on the edges. But each one involved (or still involves) working with others to achieve some sort of goal. I’ve gotten to know many people: some have become firm friends, others remain no more than acquaintances. The effort of everyone involved in any given ‘team’, however big or small, did help to build a sense of community. There’s been a lot of laughter, occasional tearing-out of hair, and once in a while a sobering slice of humble pie. I’ve learned things, about others and about myself. Communities are stronger when their members get actively involved.

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The Lenten Season

Have you ever noticed that while Christmas is issued in by weeks and weeks of preparation and anticipation, Easter comes and goes in a flash?

It is curious to me that New Church culture has adopted the Old Christian season of Advent, but has ignored the season of preparation for Easter: Lent.

In the earliest years of my marriage, my husband was a proper ‘bah humbug’ when it came to Christmas. After much discussion (and references to Scrooge) I realized that my husband was frustrated with the out-of-proportion prominence that Christmas received in our culture when compared to Passover. All that fuss to commemorate the Lord’s arrival on earth but hardly a glance at the stories that explain what He actually did when He came here. My husband had a point. Rather than depriving Christmas of all its merriment and pageantry, over the years we have looked for ways to make Easter, or ‘Passover’ as many cultures call it, more special and exciting for our children. We take two weeks off of school. We give large and numerous gifts which we hide for the kids to hunt for on Easter morning. We have a fantastic feast complete with an unusual dessert– we set up a miniature mossy world tablescape where candy bugs and chocolate birdies hide. We even have an Easter story representation. In short, we have tried to add to Easter versions of many of the celebratory components of Christmas.

But the Passover story is decidedly different in tone from the Christmas story. There is a seriousness to the Easter story that the celebration of the Lord’s birth just doesn’t have. And merriment and gift-giving can’t fully capture. And that is where the observance of self-sacrifice during the Lenten season has been valuable for us.

Each year we choose some luxury we will give up as a family for the period of Lent. The idea is that whenever we desire that luxury we will stop and think about the Lord Jesus Christ and the sacrifices He made for us. This year we are giving up ‘recreational screens’–no more movies or video games.

There is, of course, no magic in sacrificing during Lent. The real value in the Lenten season is not the giving-up in itself but in the preparation and anticipation for Easter. The season need not be one solely of sacrifice—we also grow flowers to give at Easter Sunday church and create special decorations. Yet I’ve found that marking the season with a little self-sacrifice matches the tone of the Easter story and the Lord’s sacrifice and love for us. And through choosing to give up something as a part of Easter preparation, we hope to instill in our family a different kind of Christian spirit than the ‘spirit of giving’ which we foster at Christmas time. Another angle to being Christian.

A few weeks ago I got confused and told the boys that Lent began on Feb 12th. When I realized my mistake and let them know that Lent didn’t, in fact, begin for two more weeks, the littlest ones were relieved (Yay! Put Wild Kratts back on!) but one of my elder sons was curiously upset. He was disappointed, he admitted to me, he had worked hard to prepare himself for the Lenten season and was ready to make the sacrifices to remember the Lord…and now he had to wait.

That was an incredibly precious moment for me!

February Funk

I often find myself in a bit of a slump in February and I know many people experience something similar.

In my part of the world this time of year is cold and grey, accented by bitter winds. We are often blessed with dazzlingly white snowfalls, but the feathery flakes soon turn to ashen slush and I quickly forget how magical it was at first. Instead I find myself focusing on the nuisance of slippery surfaces, salt stains and soggy shoes piling up by my front door. Snow was still special last month. Now it’s old news and harder to appreciate even when it’s still nice to look at.  

But it’s not just the seasonal surroundings that can get me down in February. Maybe it’s just that it’s the second month of a new year and doesn’t stand a chance of being as exciting or important-seeming as the first. The new year’s fireworks have long since faded and perhaps our resolutions and hopes for a fresh start have already been abandoned. Maybe we’re already sighing about the things we intended to do better or differently this year and are looking to next month or even next year as the time to try again. Maybe February is when our leftover Christmas spirit feels stretched thin and stale, no matter what those popular carols say about keeping it alive year-round. 

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