“Lord, save me from the sins of my tongue and the flaws of my character that fuel them. Make my words honest (by taking away my fear), few (by taking away my self-importance), wise (by taking away my thoughtlessness), and kind (by taking away my indifference and irritability). Amen.”
When I was in the 1st or 2nd grade I heard the mother of my friend tell all of us in her Sunday school class that prayer was simply talking to God. She went on to tell us that each morning while getting ready in the bathroom, she would talk to God. So of course, I imagined a women putting on her makeup, brushing her hair, and having a two-way conversation with God. Great right?
Few weeks later, I’m spending the night with my friend, whose mother was our Sunday school teacher. Early that morning, I hear her in the bathroom so I sneak down the hall to give a listen. Guess what I heard. A woman talking to herself. She was praying, but my little 8-year-old heart was so disappointed to think that God didn’t talk to her every morning so I could hear too!
Now I’m much older, and I’ve learned that prayer is indeed something we do much more for our own hearts than it is something we do to inform God of exactly what we need.
But what is my challenge now? Now it’s learning to see prayer as something I do continually and not something that serves as a distraction to my already full day. 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, Paul says two words in the midst of a short letter. He says we should, “Pray Continually.” What does this even mean? The only thing I do continually is breathe. Should prayer be as constant as breathing? Well the answer is yes…and no, but really yes.
Prayer should serve as continual interruption. It sits as a line of communication that is always open, always ready for us to engage with our Heavenly Father in a way that keeps us with him. Abiding with him. In his presence. I like that word, interruption. There’s some baggage there, let’s unpack it.
Last year I spent a long weekend with some Trappist Monks in the mountains of Georgia. Strange sentence, right? Let’s just say that I was in a place of my life that both allowed the margin to do such a thing and the curiosity to meet some very new and different friends.
In my time there I tried my best to observe the 7 set-in-stone prayer times throughout the day. I’d arise at 4:30am, then head back to bed while they ate breakfast, then come back at 7am for morning mass. We’d meet again for mid-day prayers at 12:15pm, gather for prayers before dinner at 5:20pm and finally compline, the last prayers of the day at 7:30pm.
In my few days with the monks I learned that prayer served as not the interruption to their lives, but as the life itself. The tasks of the day, the meals, the sleep (albeit very small quantities of it) served as the distractions to their real ambition. Prayer.
Sure, I could have walked away concerned with my own shallowness and lack of time or awareness to pray 7 times a day. Instead, I walked away with a great appreciation for the act of stopping. Our brothers and sister in Christ have called this the Divine Office, or the Daily Office for centuries. That moment when we stop, we listen, we engage, we read his Word aloud, we write what He impresses on our hearts, and we pray.
If we don’t make this Daily Office, this stop, happen; then God has a way of forcing us to. Almost 10 years ago I sat at the foot of my newborn daughters hospital bed praying for her health. It did not look good, things had been terrible. Easily the worst day of my life was watching my 5-day-old daughter stop breathing. I sat in that uncomfortable hospital rocker and prayed. I repeated the words to the song, “Mighty is the Power of the Cross.” Over and over the words to this song played in my heart.
In that moment, in that hospital room I watched my daughter struggle to make it in the world. I prayed myself to a point, where my prayers begin to change. The prayer of what the power of the cross meant for the physical well being of my daughter, began to be prayers of thankfulness for what the Cross meant to myself. Those prayers for my daughter begin to be prayers to God for what he had already done.
The interruption in my life changed me. My daughter she would recover, it would be a miracle that just a few days later we would walk out with that kid. Yes, God moved in her body, he healed her symptoms, and we are thankful. But this Father… I’m thankful for the interruption. Today I dare you to let yourself be interrupted. Learn to see the moments where you can stop, listen, and engage with a Father God that has pursued you even when you didn’t deserve it.
Praying Continually. He wants you with him always. It is my prayer that you let God interrupt you enough to remind you that he wants to know you, He wants you abiding with Him, He wants to see you changed through your knowledge of Him.
BY: Starr Cliff
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. -Colossians 3:12
Some thoughts, of late, on kindness.
To “be nice” is a very different thing that showing great kindness. Excerpt from a post exploring this idea: “…kindness emerges from someone who’s confident, compassionate and comfortable with themselves…..At the root of extreme niceness, however, are feelings of inadequacy and the need to get approval and validation from others.” So much worth for me in exploring the true intent of the energy I spend in my words and interactions with others. More thoughts here.
People won’t always know what to do with your acts of kindness. They might mistrust your motives, or think you are being weird. That’s okay. Do kind acts anyway. Say kind words anyway.
An easy practice: If you think something nice about someone, SAY IT. Both to them, and to others. If you think something unkind/unflattering/ugly about someone, don’t. Don’t say it. To them or to others.
I so want to raise kind, caring children. It starts by figuring out how to teach them to be kind to one another, and frankly, we can use some work there. It’s always hardest to be kind to those under the same roof it seems.
I was cleaning out a file cabinet this week, and was reminded of a handwritten note I got from a hard-nosed history teacher when I was in 11th grade. It was short but heartfelt, congratulating me on a performance in a high school play. In retrospect, that little note really mattered to me. (Duh. It’s been 20 years and I can still practically recite it.) I had thought in high school that maybe I was “sorta becoming okay at this drama thing”, but that simple note made me feel like I was really good at something. How easy would it have been for him to leave that note unwritten or those kind thoughts unshared? WRITE THE NOTE PEOPLE. You can’t know how it might matter to someone.
By: Starr Cliff
It has hit me in a new way recently, that of the four people in that photo right there, I can only modify the behavior of exactly one of them. Me. I can shape, nudge, model, correct and discipline those other three, but ultimately it’s up to each of those human hearts how they will act and what words they will say.
I’m trying to be ever mindful of the following: When I start to feel like there is not enough gentleness in this house, rather than trying to figure out how to make my kids lose a bad attitude… maybe I just need to spend that energy on myself. On the self-control and prayer and consistency that it takes to be gentle in the midst of harshness. When I worry my kids are being selfish, with their time, their energy, their stuff – maybe instead of discussions and lectures about self sacrifice, maybe they just need to see me get up off the couch and serve with a happy heart. Choose a game with them over Facebook. Read a book with them instead of watch TV. That’s so much harder for me than just having a conversation (let’s be honest, lecture) about behavior, but so much more effective.
To teach my children kindness, I must use kind words. Not lectures about being kind. To teach them gentleness, I must actually be gentle. Not nag them to stop being hard on each other. And some days that seems like an impossibility. With a day full of “that’s my spot”, “you took my glass “, “it’s my turn”……… I finally explode “ENOUGH! WE WILL NOT YELL AT EACH OTHER IN THIS HOUSE!”
Modeling behavior really is everything, isn’t it? I know, intellectually I mean, that to speak harshly and loudly to my kids when they are being disrespectful to each other makes zero sense.To rant and rail at how horrified I am at the level of disrespect in our home does not bring down the tension level. Not even a teeny bit.And yet…. Sigh.
I’m grateful that my kids are quick to forgive, and we can even laugh about those ironic outbursts later, but I’m ready for them to happen a whole lot less.
Woah, the past 12 months have been a blur. Much of what I’ve had on my heart to write, my brain has smartly kept me from posting publicly. Much of where my mind has been in this season of transition, has been written with ink on paper in a journal that I’ll treasure for the memory of God’s changing work done in my life.
In the spirit of what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced over the past few months; here is a working list of things that matter less to me than they did a year ago. Not that they aren’t still important to me as an employee, father, or husband, but I’m learning that I don’t share the enthusiasm for perfection in these areas that I used to.
Written words that people read.
High maintenance relationships.
My reflection in a mirror.
My internal criticism of myself.
What new people think of me.
Traveling without my family.
Email. Facebook. Twitter.
Overthinking the past.
My internal criticism of others.
Organizing too far in advance.