Prayer stars

Paper prayer stars (Photo: CKirgiss, Folding: LTenBrink)
Paper prayer stars (Photo: CKirgiss, Folding: LTenBrink)

At some point, every pray-er — no matter how devout — struggles to pray, sometimes for surprisingly pathetic reasons. One would think that shutting oneself up in a dark and quiet closet in order to listen to the Almighty would be a delightful gift to oneself, especially in a world that is spilling over with glaring and blaring distractions.

But it turns out that sometimes the dark and quiet closet is its own distraction. So much darkness. So much silence. So much closeness. The simplicity and sparseness can be quite overwhelming.

And then instead of praying, we end up thinking in spirals and worrying along rivulets and wandering through mists.

So we pinch our arms, reprimand our souls, nag our chattering minds, and get back to it. Diligently. Mercilessly. Stoically. Because, well, we should; we must; we ought; even though it’s so much work and requires such sternly disciplined singleness of mind. (And by “sternly disciplined singleness of mind” I mean “something that looks quite a bit like joyless self-martyrdom”.)

But – if you are very fortunate and very willing to listen and very emptied of self – something might break through the joyless self-martyrdom. You read a book that helps you understand prayer in a new way. You have an experience that peels back all the false layers of piety. You sense the Spirit gently whispering within the holy breath of life.

Or maybe even this: you receive a box of 8 small folded stars (that are beyond comprehension) and a note that says,

When I prayed for you I made these.

What manner of miraculous friendship is this, that someone not only prays for us but at the same time creates anew (from the old) something that reflects not just us but also the very One who made us?

In that moment – and everyone should have such a moment as this – prayer becomes something much sweeter and larger and more miraculous and divine and beautifully disciplined and creatively focused.

To the star-making pray-er: thank you for making prayer and creativity and friendship even sweeter and more brilliant than they already were.

To the rest of us pray-ers, including myself: what could be more unspeakably amazing than that we are invited to converse with the Almighty Creator (of the individually named and intentionally placed Stars), who is also Abba Father (of the undeserving and helpless flock known as humanity)?

Let us all find our own manner of star-making so that we will joyfully and often enter that sacred space to utter sacred words in the presence of the Sacred itself.

Oh boy (Michindoh Post 2)

[This post is the second in a series in which I reflect on spending a month at camp for Wyldlife (middle schoolers) and YoungLives (teen moms). You can follow the series by subscribing to this blog. All posts will be categorized as ‘Michindoh 2013’.]

Announcement: I love middle school boys.

(I considered opening with Confession instead of Announcement because it carries a certain amount of sophisticated narrative weight, especially in today’s memoir-crazed literary culture. But it also has certain pejorative implications that would be both unfair to and untrue of middle school boys. They already get enough bad press. Hence I will announce.)

I am living in the midst of 150-ish middle school boys this week. And while I do feel a certain genetic affinity for the 200-ish middle school girls in whose midst I am also currently living, I am most definitely drawn to the boys in greater measure for reasons quite beyond my comprehension.

It might be because at this age they are (for the most part) not yet entirely caught up in the swagger that looms just over the horizon.

It might be because at this age they are (at least some of them) seriously trying to engage in the whole confident-solid-handshake thing.

It might be because at this age they are (in some cases) still willing to try things that will be considered totally lame in another year or so.

Or it might be because underneath all of the nascent manhood that they are tentatively donning in various forms there still exists a boy who is not beyond needing – and often accepting – love, comfort, and protection.

One of the 7th-grade boys here is homesick. Seriously homesick. To such an extent that his body aches, his stomach churns, and his head throbs. This afternoon, while his cabin mates enjoyed the lake, he lay on the bank, knees drawn up, arm over his face, desperately missing his family.

I love that he wasn’t afraid to cry about it. That he didn’t feel the need to swagger and sway in falsely tough skin. That he didn’t worry what his friends and cabin mates would think of him. Not every middle school boy would be so transparently honest about his feelings. And not every group of friends would be wise enough to realize that the true issue was sadness rather than weakness.

But these friends were. They neither mocked him for being a baby (he isn’t) nor assumed that a barrage of encouraging words — or well-placed punches, which are sometimes the same thing in middle-school-boy-world — would eliminate the issue (they wouldn’t). Instead, they simply sat by him in turns, first one, then another, letting him know they noticed, they cared, and they weren’t leaving him to deal alone.

If only we would all be so vulnerable with the Lord as that 7th-grade boy was with his friends. If only we would let Him see our tears, would reject disingenuous swagger, and would cast aside the fear of being perceived as too weak. Or too broken. Or too hopeless. Or too lost.

If only we would all be so discerning with those who hurt as that group of boys was with their friend. If only we would offer first and foremost our presence, rejecting the desire to fix, casting aside the need of being perceived as very spiritual. Or very wise. Or very wonderful. Or very awesome.

I thought about these things today only because of what I saw happen in a group of middle school boys hanging out by the lake.

That might be one reason why I love them so much.