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On Pages & Postscripts

August 18, 2013

journal

I finished my journal, today.

The first entry was dated just over two years ago, and today I wrote into the very bottom margin of the last page.  There is mostly at least an entry every week.  When I am feeling particularly well, they are every three days; and in some parts there are gaps of a few long and dark months.

I figured out in college that keeping a journal is a good and life-giving habit for me.  When I take the time to reflect and decompress and just sit with the questions and issues of my life, without seeking resolution, only acknowledgement, I can re-enter the world with a healthier and more balanced acceptance of them.  And although I do not want to over-spiritualize the process, I find that for my own walk, God has been very faithful to meet me in these pages.

The three pages or so that I typically write are often a meandering journey.  I may intend to inhabit one topic but find myself led to a completely different one; some new and entirely unfamiliar territory brings up rich and abundant reflection.  God reveals things to me in the wandering prose.  He gently leads.  I often collapse into spontaneous and Spirit-led written prayers at the very end, completely organic, no matter if I started with a dry account of my day or a clinical assessment of my own emotional state.

Although I do not usually do this, I decided today that it might be good to flip back through the last two years, and browse through where I’ve been.

There are some hard questions.

There are some deep and wrenching prayers, cries of my heart.

What was perhaps hardest to read was the simple earnestness with which I wrote, without even being really conscious of it, the same heart-felt needs and requests over, and over, and over again over the past two years.

I will admit, it was disappointing.

If God has been working in the past few years, it has been very quietly, and very slowly.

No, that’s not quite true.  There are a few prayers I see answered.  A few places I have grown in wisdom and hard-won peace.  But there is a lot of resounding unfulfillment, too.

Father, I want to hear from you.

Father, I pray for divine opportunities to build community.

Father, help me to order my life rightly.

Father, speak to me.

Father, help me to be satisfied in you.

I want to believe that the valleys are sanctifying, but it seems like a lot of fruitless and cyclical fist-shaking.  And yet, I believe also that prayer transforms us.  I long ago realized the posture that is all too inherent in evangelical prayers — that prayer is a tool to “get stuff” from God.  It’s not a divine wish list.  God isn’t Santa Claus.  Prayers mold us towards the will and heart of the Father because we are taking small, baby steps towards him.

And my heart whispers that I have taken my fair share of baby steps.  There it is, again — that nagging temptation to complete some spiritual checklist in order to start hearing from God.

And I do not want, and refuse to give into, the faith that reduces itself to a spiritual checklist.  Life with God, the God who adopted us fully and completely into his family, is too abundant for that.

Father, I am trying to move towards you, not that my baby steps would sway your will or impress you with my display of spirituality.  I want to know you.  I want to dwell with you.  I want life with you.

And if this is the road I need to walk to move towards God, so be it.

The Lament Psalms teach us to pray our inner conflicts and contradictions.  They allow us to shout out our forsakenness in the dark caverns of abandonment and then hear the echo return to us over and over until we bitterly recant of them, only to shout them out again.  They give us permission to shake our fist at God one moment and break into doxology the next.

Richard Foster, Prayer

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