There I was, a little girl standing before Jesus, with a basket in my arms. My basket of loaves and fishes. Everything I had to offer was in that basket.
As Jesus stretched out his hands for my basket, I hesitated. Dipping my chin, I took one last look at my offering. Suddenly, shame covered my small frame like a wool coat five sizes too big.
I had worked hard to fill that basket. And while I felt the weight of all my attempts to get it right, to do something good, to bring something special, my basket was filled with nothing but moldy crumbs and eyes and scales and bones. It might as well have been empty.
I wanted to run, to disappear, to make excuses – but there’s none of that nonsense when you’re face to face with Jesus. Shaking and uncertain, I looked up at him through tears. What would he say? What would he do? Would he be disappointed? Or angry? Would he yell? Or shake his head and pass me by?
Do you ever wonder, as you slog through your list of prayers, does this matter? These words – in the form of petitions and praises and pleadings – do they matter?
Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Discouraged? I do.
So much heartache. So many needs. Needs that outnumber my prayers. Needs that outweigh my weightless, colorless, tuneless words.
Discouragement is stronger than gravity and can pull us down with a force that pins us to the lowest places, the cold, hard places so that we can’t even lift our heads to look up. And in comparison, our prayers seem to drift away like vapors in the wind.
One day, not too long ago, as I sat on my bed praying, I felt an emptiness and futility pressing in on me. I found myself asking,
I can’t stand the skin I’m in. I say that often, in my mind, at least, which lies trapped behind my eyes, within this skin. Oh, to claw my way out, scratch through burning layers of anger and regret, scrape away the anxiety and worry and fear and foreboding that crawl all over my arms and legs and back and knees like a plague, a curse, a damned itch I cannot scratch, peel back the sorrow and the shame, and leave the slough behind me on the unforgiving earth. Maybe then, maybe then I would be free.
It’s a terrible thing when you can’t stand yourself. A terrible, lonely thing.
Because there’s no getting out and there’s no getting in. My mind, my soul, my spirit begin and end inside this skin. This prison-skin, this divided mind, this hermetic heart that followed the fall. We touch and tangle, flesh on flesh – handshakes, hugs, and making love – always aching, reaching to be un-alone, to be known – but even when two become one, there’s three.
Not the talking-to-God-throughout-the-day kind of prayers. I’ve reached a point in my life where talking to Him is almost automatic – so much so that NOT talking to Him would require serious effort.
I’m talking about the petitioning prayers. The God-heal-my-friend prayers. The God-fix-this-relationship prayers. The God-show-us-what-to-do prayers.
For weeks, we prayed for my brother’s healing. For weeks, hundreds of people all around the world prayed for my brother’s healing. And there were miracles along the way, days when he defied the doctors’ predictions. Like when he started breathing on his own after a week on the respirator, or when he was readmitted to ICU for internal bleeding and the bleeding miraculously stopped, or when his kidneys began to work again after weeks on dialysis. And we praised God for the miracles and for answering the prayers of many.
The last week of Derek’s life, doctors planned to discharge him. Every day for three days, we waited. And every day for three days, they said, one more day. Until the last day, when they moved him, for the third and final time, back to ICU. He never came home.
Even though I know God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want…and even though I know people suffer and die every day…that we all die some day…that eventually God stops answering our prayers for healing and calls us all home…and even though I know God is unchanging and good and that His ways are higher than our ways…and even though I know that prayer is a mystery…that somehow God invites us to participate with Him in His divine plan but the outcome does not rely on us…even though I know all that, I’m still afraid to pray.
The pain and devastation, the feeling that God abandoned us – actually tricked us with answered prayer and then pulled the rug out from under our feet – snaps at the heels of my heart and mind like an angry dog. And I can’t run away.
I often hear people say something like, “Joy is eternal. You can’t always be happy but you can always have joy.”
Lately, I feel the opposite. I can laugh with family and friends, smile to greet someone I know, enjoy a dinner out or a walk through my garden. But those happy moments drift unsupported over a dark abyss. I have no joy.
I want to believe God when He says Joy comes in the morning but there is no joy in this mourning. In this mourning, emptiness reigns, like a void that devours light and robs breath from your lungs.
Even in the midst of blessings, of sunshine and daisies and ice cream at the farm and family movies and just being an American with clean water and shelter and food in the pantry, I can be happy – grateful even – but I have no joy.
Does this make me a bad Christian? Is my faith too small? Am I far from God?
There is something so simple and humble about this poem. In this day and age, we can get so caught up in our ambitions that we forget that the heart of life is in relationships.
(Shared for Writing 201 Poetry | Poetry Potluck)
The House by the Side of the Road
by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)
There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.