Daily Dependence.

It’s safe to say that the novelty of being cozy at home all the time is starting to wear thin. I must admit, when this “shelter in place” order started, my little soul was ready to checkout of regular life and hunker down with my family. The refrain running through my mind for a few weeks was, “Wow, I could do this forever!” Not so much anymore. I don’t long for weekends full of reading and relaxing now that I’ve had several of them in a row!

With my diabetes putting me in the “high risk” category, I haven’t been out in public for over two months now. The future looks like more of the same, which makes it hard to be hopeful about looking forward to summer fun. So, recently I’ve had to pray and embrace being present in a deeper, more intentional way. This has taken me back to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) basics of accepting my thoughts and feelings so I can focus my attention on connecting to the present moment.

Within this mindset, I keep encountering wonderful spiritual practices and prayers that reinforce the reliance on God daily. I wrote about this a few months ago, as God was preparing my heart and soul to rely on Him. Now, with this SIP order going on to it’s third month, I’ve found this moment-by-moment awareness of God’s provision to be vital for my spiritual and mental health.

Luther wrote two wonderful daily prayers to open and end the day. One morning this week, Mateo and I recited his morning prayer together:

I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

There’s a realistic scope to this prayer. Asking God to keep us this day from sin and evil feels honest and true, because we need his protection for the immediate moments ahead. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves by praying for things far in the future, but relying on our Heavenly Father for today’s needs. It reminds me of the verses from Matthew, Chapter 6: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matt. 6:34).

I love how Luther’s Evening Prayer beautifully echoes the Morning Prayer in both spirit and word choice:

I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

These prayers bookend the day by seeking God’s grace and protection at both the start and end of the day. In the morning, we ask that God would keep us from sin; and in the evening we ask God to forgive the sins we committed that day. This feels both hopeful and humble in receiving the grace and protection that God loving provides, daily.

When I think back to periods of my life where I opted to live independently from dependence on God, it’s like I thought that God’s grace was the safety net in life, but I could “take it from there” in managing my daily needs. Or, if I prayed faithfully for awhile and trusted God more fully, then I’d have it “all figured out” spiritually. There’s actually great liberation in recognizing that I’m never going to outgrow my dependence on Christ for my daily needs. John Kleinig explains this spiritual maturity in this way:

“In our human lives, growing up involves the gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the reverse is true for us as we grow spiritually. On our journey we become more and more dependent on Christ for everything in every situation.” (Grace Upon Grace, pg. 34).

Our growing dependence on God unfolds in our daily lives as we live out our vocations and traverse the years of our lives. Kleinig describes it this way: “Our repentance is not just an initial act or an occasional event in our journey with Christ; it is a daily event, a lifelong process. Our whole life is a process of conversion from ourselves to God, a dying to self that is complete only when we die.” (pg. 34).

Depending on and trusting in God on a daily basis for the strength to get through today brings such peace. I’ve come to know that relying on Him for my needs is how His strength is made perfect in my weakness. I love resting in His grace today rather than planning and looking ahead to the needs of tomorrow.


The Wonder of Little Souls

I love this expression: the wonder of little souls. I just came across it in Mitch Albom’s book Finding Chika: A Little Girl, An Earthquake, and the Making of a Family. It’s a sweet, poignant book that’s reinforcing the nostalgic mood I’ve had lately. Last weekend the kids and I went through my three large boxes of keepsakes in the garage: pictures, awards, yearbooks, trinkets, poems, and other assorted items from my childhood, high school and college years. Looking at all those things reminds me of my childlike wonder and enthusiasm for life.

Interacting with Sienna and Mateo, I’m constantly in awe of their imagination and wonderment. They can make up a game or imaginary world out of anything! As an adult, I have a hard time entering into that world. I can tell Sienna notices this about me. When I allow myself to be carried away by her story or engage in a silly game without reservation, she usually will say something like: “I love it when you’re silly, Mom!”

A few nights ago, the kids were playing in Teo’s room for awhile. Sienna ran to the living room and said, “Mom, come play with us!” I put down my book and joined them.

Teo has a lot of stuffed animals that all reside in his bed. They had sorted them by size. Sienna had the small set and Teo had the large set. “You get the medium sized ones!” Sienna informed me. I was then given a plastic sword and a Marine Corps dress uniform hat from an old Halloween costume. Our “troops” of stuffed animals were fighting a wicked witch and eventually the “battle” resulted in stuffed animals flying through the air. A few times the silliness caused hysterical giggles over those types of things you “had to be there” to find amusing.

The validation of my engagement in their fun came as Sienna exclaimed, “I love it when you’re silly!” I do too. But, I don’t often go there and I’ve been pondering why on and off ever since. It takes reaching a certain space of freedom and inhibition for me to join in imaginative play. Freedom from striving, accomplishing, keeping my interior world orderly. In other words, tapping into the childlike innocence and wonder that I am nostalgic for when I reminisce with old keepsakes.

The wonder of little souls is just this delightful aspect of childhood, isn’t it? The ability to create an imaginative world with your sibling that isn’t bound by the rational, realistic laws of nature or normative behavior. Stuffed bunnies can be Generals and kangaroos can dress up like Darth Vader.

Kids also bring that sense of wonder to the world around them, asking questions and exclaiming with delight when they discover something new or interesting. This just happened for Sienna and Mateo when they discovered a family of baby squirrels behind the fence in our backyard. I later found about 50 pictures on my cell phone of the squirrels!

Reflecting on his time with Chika, the Haitian little girl that became his daughter, Mitch Albom wrote to her:

“You put me on the other end of a magnifying glass or a toy telescope, and through those lenses, I could marvel at the world the way you did. You were an unfailing antidote to adult preoccupation.

All you had to say was, “Look!”

Look. It’s one of the shortest sentences in the English language. But we don’t really look, Chika. Not as adults. We look over. We glance. We move on.

You looked. Your eyes flickered with curiosity. You caught fireflies and asked if they had batteries. You unearthed a penny and asked if it was “treasure.” And without prompting, you knew discovery should be shared.” (pg. 90).

The adult world is a little boring these days. Being isolated as we continue to shelter in place, there is only so much we can do to be productive or relax within the confines of our homes. But, children can find things to marvel at on a walk around the block, in the backyard, in their bedrooms, or in the pages of a story. Engaging in their worlds of wonder can bring a little more innocence and fun to our adult experiences.

Albom’s words struck me as so true: “Children wonder at the world. Parents wonder at their children’s wonder. In so doing, we are all young together.” (pg. 91).


My Own Devices

I don’t know about you, but I find myself resolving to pray more consistently and then failing, time and time again.  I mean to pray first thing in the morning, before meals, and throughout the day as life unfolds, but many times I simply forget.  Left to my own devices, I tend to rely on my own (ineffective) devices! 

In Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, John W. Kleinig explains that prayer is a gift of the Holy Spirit and not something we do.  By way of a contrast, he explains: “Much of the popular Christian literature and current Protestant teaching on prayer reinforces the notion that improvement in prayer depends on us – our knowledge, faith, discipline, attitude, and expertise.  These teachings are popular for many reasons.  They are practical, helpful, and superficially empowering.  They feed on our guilt and, for a while, seems to allay our since of spiritual dissatisfaction.  Because they concentrate on what we need to do to become prayer warriors and victors in prayer, they boost our self-confidence and overlook our spiritual impotence.  The basic assumption… is that prayer is something that we do by ourselves. So success in prayer depends on our willpower and our performance.  These teachings, then, disconnect prayer from Jesus and His atonement.  They seldom teach that prayer is God’s doing, something that the triune God produces in us,” (pg. 161).

Kleinig describes in detail how Jesus gave his disciples the Lord’s Prayer in order to teach them how to pray and states: “The point of prayer is to receive from God the Father.  Jesus gives us His own prayer so that we can use it and our faith in Him to receive the good things that He has promised to give us.  We cash in on His promises in prayer. So Jesus teaches us how to pray by promising that God will give us what we ask for when we pray His prayer for ourselves and for others. He is not reluctant to give.  The problem lies with us; we are reluctant to ask for what He wants to give to us,” (pg. 165).

What does God want to give us?  Himself and the gift of His Word. He wants to bless us with his gracious will for our lives.  We often pray for what we want, which may or may not be in accordance with what God wants for us.  It’s not unlike children when they ask for things they desire but aren’t healthy or good for them.  Loving parents will say no to those requests, as God will to his children.  The Lord’s Prayer asks for God’s will to be done, not ours.

How then do we pray?  Kleinig recounts St. Paul’s teaching in Romans, chapter 8: “He teaches us that even though we do not know how to pray, or what to pray for, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us deep inside us in accordance with God’s good and gracious will.  The Spirit helps to articulate our hidden needs and prompts us in what we say.  Since we don’t know how to pray, He takes over from us and intercedes within us by getting us to pour out our hearts to God. When we pray, we can follow His urging, even if it is evident only in sighing and groaning and deep distress.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prayer,” (pg. 167). 

Prayer then, is a gift that we receive.  It’s not dependent on our strength or piety, instead “when we pray, we engage with the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  We pray to the Father; we pray together with the Son; and we pray by the power of the Holy Spirit. What we do when we pray depends entirely on what the Son gives us in His Word and on what the Spirit does with us through faith in Christ. Our ability to pray does not come from us, but from faith in Jesus Christ and His Word, faith that receives the gift of prayer,” (pg. 167).

What a relief that I’m not left to my own devices in prayer.