Last Sunday in worship, we wrote down what we needed to leave behind, let go of, before we could take the next step Jesus is calling us to. I wrote “anger.” There has been resentment wearing away at my heart, for a couple months, and I know I can’t keep letting it rot in there.
Of course, several times this week — while thinking, while cooking, while showering, while driving — I picked the anger back up again. I told myself, “You left that on the altar. Don’t pick it back up.” But old habits die hard, and thought grooves get worn down in our brain, ’til those neural pathways are hardened arteries.
One thing that helps is doing a breath prayer, which I started right around the time the resentment began. I breathe the word “mer-cy,” one syllable per inhale, the other for ex. So when I tense up in anger, I remember I’ve already left it behind, and breathe through the prayer word instead.
The sermon is based on John 9:1-7. The title is “Everything Happens for a Reason.” If you, too, are done with that saying, click here to listen to the person who inspired me to delete that phrase from my vocabulary.
The darkest prayer I prayed was alone in a darkened bedroom. I was afraid I was crazy and they’d have to lock me in a mental institution. I’d be abandoned by my family. No one would see me. No one would want me.
This was also the prayer that made me more of a Christian than I’d ever been before, because in that dark cave came this truth: I would not be abandoned. God would not leave me. God’s love was bigger than death, demons, darkness — God’s love would always win.
That was eight years ago this month.
Last weekend I was in a community musical. Someone told me, “I wish I could do that. I wish I had your abandon.”
I’d never thought about that word in any way other than my greatest fear. But for her, it was her greatest envy.
A moment later, she made me laugh.
“See? You even laugh with abandon.”
This is a new word now. I want to pin it on the board above my writing desk. Maybe above my office desk, too. And in my car. And on my mirror.
…because you won’t abandon my life to the grave; you won’t let your follower see the pit.
don’t eat meat unless it came from a local farm where the animals were really and truly pasture-raised, not just “grass-fed” ***
give to everyone who begs from you §
pray in the contemplative way that achieves union with God ****
* The March 2018 issue of Oprah says people look at their phones, on average, 47 times a day. This seems low.
** The documentary Fed Up helps with this.
† I’m in a community musical and we have dress rehearsal the first Friday of Lent, then opening night the second Friday. I’m already a little worried about fainting. So never mind.
° Have actually done this for 121 days and counting. What helped was thinking of it not as a journal but as a logbook.
‡ Wondrous Encounters, by Richard Rohr
*** (At least, that’s the latest self-righteous designation I’ve bothered to learn.) The documentary Food, Inc. helps with this.
§ Matthew 5:42.
**** To say “achieves” probably betrays just how far I am from contemplative prayer.
Every Sunday in worship, the pastor prays, but leaves a silence where you can say the name of someone on your heart. Like popping kernels the names jump up and die down.
For years I’ve been saying the name Kate Bowler. She was my professor. Before I moved away, I went to her office and asked how I’m supposed to lead as a woman — how I’m supposed to be taken seriously. She said, “You don’t need to wear business suits with shoulder pads.” I said, “Does that mean I should get rid of all the suits I just bought from Goodwill?”
Only months later, word got out that Dr. Bowler had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer – at the age of 35. I never knew how young that was until I reached my thirties. It’s young. It’s when you should be flourishing, finding yourself, falling in love with life.
So every Sunday morning I said, “Kate.” Because what else can you do? And she lived, and still lives. She’s, what, 37 now? Maybe 38? She’s still with her high school sweetheart, still watching their toddler boy grow up.
My church family prayed for Kate without knowing her. When I put her name on a prayer card, they mailed their heartfelt prayers. They surrounded someone they’d never met. They let me say her name out loud.
I’m beyond ready to read Kate’s new memoir, which I guess she wrote in between traveling to another state for chemotherapy treatments and trying to spot Jimmy Carter down the hall. But anyway. Just the title of her book says it all: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. It officially releases on Feb. 5. Order your copy here.
Or if you can’t wait, get a preview of her voice by reading her New York Times op-ed here.