On Prayer: 1 Peter 5:5-7

This is probably the first year since I could hold a pen that I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions. After recently taking the enneagram and discovering myself to be the “Reformer” (wing “Achiever”) this is rather surprising. I love goals and lists and plans and I work, practice, study, and exercise consistently. However, while I did not set any specific goals and am continuing along more or less as usual, I did realize a few areas in which I need greater consistency.

The first of these is prayer.

My morning devotions center on the reading and rereading of scripture. (I highly recommend picking an epistle or passage and reading it daily for a month.) Although I love digging into the Word and pondering its truth, I fear I sometimes err on the side of intellect rather than faith. Recently, I was accepted to pursue a master’s in “Theology and the Arts” at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, so I am thankful for my ability to read scripture as an academic. However, as I enter the final semester of my undergrad, new friendships and relationships, and look to a future that’s both terrifying and exciting, I’m confronted with things that go beyond academic analysis.

A week ago, as I tossed and turned at that dreaded hour (see “Three o’Clock in the Morning”), I realized that what I needed was (and is) prayer and, being at a loss for the words to properly express myself, I turned to the Psalms: the most honest, broken, beautiful, truth-bound poetry ever written.

I am not the best at expressing my emotions; as a generally happy person, I try to avoid showing any other side of myself. When I pray aloud with others and even in private prayer, I find myself trying to reason myself to happiness. While I am quick to worry within my own mind and heart, I am slow to present these anxieties to the One who will listen and heal. In reading the Psalms, it became so obvious that prayer, while so often comprised of and resolving in praise, is also manifested in lament.

Lamentation is a concept I’ve been turning over in my mind for several years, but ultimately it’s something that cannot be solely rationalized. It’s a deep expression of incomprehensible emotions, yet it is not all chaos. As an artist, the psalmist begins with broken materials but eventually shapes them into order through poetic exploration. Wrestling with terror and enemies and uncertainty, psalms of lamentation reorient to faith and praise, for they and their writer are upheld by truth.

Why, then, should I be afraid to pour forth even the most confusing feelings of my heart? After all, Romans 8:26 assures us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Expressing emotion is not separate from studying and living truth; when even the most anxious of feelings are anchored in truth, they may be safely explored when in conversation with God.

Recently, I purchased a new journal (see “New Year, New Journal…But how to choose?”) and am finding it the perfect place to express and explore in prayer. Immediately upon writing and praying over the words (some of which made very little sense at all when put down) I felt a rush of relief. Worries are overwhelming when swarming in a sleep-deprived brain, but often once they are written in bright-colored ink, they seem silly. And they seem even tinier when presented before a sovereign God who promises to hear and help.

Before I set to journalling, one verse presided in my thoughts, but I feared I was misapplying it like some cliché cross-stitch pillow. But when I looked it up, I was struck to find it more applicable to my situation than I could have imagined:

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

– 1 Peter 5:5-7 (ESV)

“You who are younger.” 

Hey, that’s me! I’m 22 and I have to admit that Taylor Swift had it just about right when she sang that “we’re happy free, confused and lonely at the same time / it’s miserable and magical.” But here in 1 Peter are words written not only to capture how it feels to be young, but to hold my hand through it. Indeed, it promises that the might hand of God will uphold me and provide in his perfect timing.

“Humble yourselves.” 

I do not know everything. Part of my problem with prayer is that it requires me to admit this. It requires me to beg, to acknowledge that from God all blessings flow and that I can do nothing to earn them. As I journaled through this passage of scripture, I used this command to humility to write out my uncertainties and admit my limited vision in submission to the omniscience of God. It’s amazing how kneeling relieves one’s burdens. 

“The mighty hand of God.” 

Remember his providence. I love journaling because it allows me to read back through the arc of my life. Worries that once seemed insurmountable are now laughable. Hopes I once exalted were disappointed and replaced with much better things. Reader and Friend, praise God for his faithfulness. Admit your anxieties, but never forget that an authentic prayer is not only honest to your situation, but to that of a God who is constant and caring. Prayers without acknowledgement of God’s worthiness and faithfulness are sorely one-sided. The lament Psalms decry man’s state, but ever return to the power of the Lord’s hand.

“Casting all your anxieties on him.” 

I made a list as I contemplated this line. I dumped ever single “what-if-worry” that flapped about in my brain like moths. It was a bit like a game of “Worst-case scenario” where my hypothetical fears got progressively more and more ridiculous, but by the time I was finished, I was laughing instead of worrying. With my Savior carrying my burden, I felt able again to “laugh without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25).

“He cares for you.” 

This. This is blessed assurance. I’m a logical person and need to be rationally convinced of most things. I’m not sure how to respond to compliments sometimes because of this, let alone respond to a letter that speaks so plainly of God’s providential love for me. I am overwhelmed, no longer with fear, but with awe. 

What amazing, never-failing grace. How can I keep from praying?

I will fail (over and over and over again) to go to my knees. However, I have a God who cares for me so personally and perfectly, that I am responding to that love by committing to more regular prayer. It’s difficult: I have to humble myself, admitting that I am not always in control, not always perfectly happy, and don’t always know what’s going to happen. But, as my choir director so often says, “practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make permanent.” 

That said, I am committing to practicing prayer, using study and scripture as a guide for expressing that which cannot be put into prose and turning it to praise.

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10 Going on 30

I turned twenty on November 14th, 2016. It was weird. Every day I was thinking, “one more week until I am no longer a teenager” or “three more days until I am a real adult.”

But then, when the day came, I felt the same.

This should not have been surprising, but I could not shake the feeling that I should have experienced a grand metamorphosis, shedding the hormonal teen years and entering my twenties as yet another confused college student. 

But then I realized: I had never been the typical teenager, so why should I expect to feel like a normal twenty-something?

Teenage girls are expected to be a dramatic, selfish rebels who spend too much time failing at Pinterest-inspired manicures. This is an extreme, to be sure, but still…

While my peers were dating around, I had a single boyfriend who loved Jesus and respected me. My only fights with my parents ended with me telling them that I loved them. I added straps to my senior prom dress while other girls seemed to be competing to see whose dress could cost the most money while using the least amount of fabric.

I broke curfews to study and was only told to turn my music down when I was practicing piano too intensely. While I was nominated for Homecoming court, I was happier serving as Orchestra President (or, as my mom called me, “Queen of the Nerds”). My best friends were theater geeks, music kids, and bookworms, but the cool crowd was so…ordinary.

When the time came to choose a college, I decided on a Christian school with a stellar conservatory and literature program instead of the big name universities that my teachers were pushing.

Of course, I do not mean to say that I did not face normal struggles as a teenager; I definitely did. As a perfectionist, I was always comparing myself to the girls I saw as prettier, my peers who had higher class rankings, and the choir-mates who could sing better. I fought an eating disorder for three years beginning when I was fifteen. I went through random mood swings and said things I wish I hadn’t.

The difference though, is that these trials did not define me. Faith, family, and friends helped me through the teenage tumult and kept me from becoming the self-centered rebel that I otherwise would have been; they supported me through my dangerous perfectionism and loved me for my quirkiness.

In short, while I always “marched to the beat of my own tuba” (as a Dove chocolate wrapper once said), my loving family, growing faith, and amazing friends made sure that I stayed that way.

As my twentieth birthday drew near, I did not have much time for reflection as I was busy leading a chapel at my college and performing in choir concerts. Later, though, I got the chance read through old journals, flip through Facebook albums, and talk to friends and myself (my roommate assured me that talking to oneself is a sign of creativity). As I did so, I realized; I was never really a teenager, so why would I be any different as a twenty-year-old?

I won’t lie; I love Taylor Swift’s song “22.” Maybe it’s just because I am two years younger, but I do not anticipate actually relating to the song’s lyrics. I don’t want to “fall in love with strangers” or “make fun of my exes.” (I will admit that “breakfast at midnight” sounds pretty great because, come on, who doesn’t love breakfast food?) But I guarantee I cannot make myself “forget about deadlines” and I need sleep way too much to stay out all night partying.

I know I probably sound like a grouch, but I just don’t like the idea of feeling “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.” I know what I want to do as a career. I have amazing best friends who share my weirdness and a boyfriend who likes my determination. My faith keeps me strong when I am confused and my family is always there for me. Sure, I have moments of “I can’t do this” and “adulting is the literal worst,” but I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone and nothing compels me to fit the typical 20-year-old mold.

Though I am twenty and thus expected to be tired, broke, and confused (according to the Huffington Post), I refuse to act my age. I will go on working professionally as a pianist as I have since elementary school. I will keep writing poetry and short stories because even though I have to pay taxes and vote, I do not have to stop loving fantasy. I will watch Disney movies and sing along because being a grown-up does not mean I can’t have a sense of childlike wonder. I will chat with my mom about everything because she will always be my best friend, even though new people have come into my life.

When I turned sixteen, I wrote in my journal that I felt simultaneously older and younger than my peers. Now, at twenty, it is the same; I do not feel at all like the stereotypes say.I mean, come on, I play the pipe organ for traditional worship services, but also want to bury myself in a pile of stuffed animals. I am twenty, but feel more ten and thirty than their median.