Tuesday, May 29, 2007

God's Answers for Sale?

I saw an advertisement today from an individual stating that she has a way to get prayers answered. Wait. What?

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm going to hazard a guess and say that no matter how much money I spend on a "system" or how much I beg God for something, He will answer my prayers in His own way and in His own time.

I pray a lot. Some prayers are for things that I think I need or want, but mostly, I pray for the health and safety of my family and myself. I have to say, I think God does a great job of answering those prayers. And as for my prayer about finding a new job, I think He is answering that prayer, too. It may not be the answer I want, but it's still an answer.

I remind myself often that when I think God isn't answering a prayer, there is an answer. And the answer is, "Not yet, Martha. Not yet." I may not always understand it or like it, but I know God is listening. So, keep praying.

Friday, May 25, 2007

God's Whispers

I remember almost seventeen years ago, right at the beginning of seventh grade, Sister Otilie gave us an in-class assignment to complete that had to do with what we wanted to be when we grew up, what we wanted to do in life. I sat there staring at my blank sheet of looseleaf paper for about fifteen minutes before I took a deep breath and wrote:

I think I want to be a nun.

I turned it in, just like that. No explanation, no elaboration, nothing. Later that afternoon, she pulled me aside to inquire about it.

S.O.: "Do you really want to be a nun?"

Me: "Um, maybe." (I was thinking that so far, life hadn't thrown too much my way. I was tall and gawky, not pretty in any traditional sense of the word and didn't think that I wanted to get married and have kids.)

S.O.: "Well, it's something you need to give serious thought to. You're very young and you don't want to rush into a decision."

Me: "Um, yeah. It was just a thought."

S.O, smiling: "I hope you weren't just trying to get extra points. It was only worth five, you know."

Me, blushing: "Um, no. No. I just, I mean, I don't know what I want to be. I'm only thirteen. Right now, a nun seems like as a good an option as anything else. I don't know if my parents would like it, though."

S.O.: "It's fine that you want to make your parents happy, but what do you want to do?"

Me: "I don't know. Probably something helping other people."

S.O.: "What's God telling you to do?"

Me: "I don't think God is really telling me anything. It's not like He calls me up and says, 'Hey Martha, you really need to tie your shoes before you fall.'

S.O.: "God speaks to all of us. We just have to pay attention when He speaks. God doesn't usually shout. It's usually more of a whisper."

Me: "Well, I guess I better start paying closer attention."

It was an interesting conversation, to say the least. It's stuck with me all these years.

Eleven years after that conversation, I got married.

Three years after I got married, I got pregnant.

Obviously, I didn't become a nun. I did, however, end up in a profession where I help others. A lot. Every single day. It's fulfilling, and yet, I've never quite felt like I'm on the right path. I always feel like I'm sort of walking parallel to the path that God had in mind for me.

I'm doing a lot, and doing it well, but something is still missing. There are days when I feel empty and alone and confused and scared...and I try to push that away, because I know that those feelings aren't God working within me.

For years now, I've been doing what I think I'm supposed to be doing, doing what I think others think I'm supposed to be doing. I'm pretty sure God has been talking to me, but I haven't been wearing my "listening ears."

Tonight, as I rocked my daughter in my lap and read her a chapter from Charlotte's Web, I heard God. I'm not crazy. It was a firm and commanding whisper--like a voice, but not really a voice, maybe more of a feeling--telling me that in that moment, I was doing exactly what He intended for me to be doing. It didn't matter that I didn't clean up the mess we made when we were coloring or that I hadn't gotten to the dishes yet or that I'm discouraged in my job and really unhappy with the doctorate program I enrolled in a few months ago...

God told me that it's all okay. I'm doing what He wants me to do and in the long run, that's all that matters. What an enormous sense of relief and peace.

Too bad I didn't get it back in seventh grade.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Four Seasons of Faith

Last year, I read a book by Dr. Gary Chapman titled The Four Seasons of Marriage. As the title of the book indicates, most, if not all marriages go through phases that resemble the seasons: Hope and growth in the spring; blooming happiness in the summer; a slight chill in the fall as things begin to dry up and begin a period of dormancy or death; and darkness and bitter cold in the winter. It’s an inspiring book and I read it for both personal and professional reasons. I set aside a little time each evening when I could quietly absorb the words and reflect on them. I found myself thinking about how most things in my life can be characteristically described using the traits of the seasons.

Most recently, I’ve been thinking about God, religion and my faith in general. In the past two years, my faith has undergone many transformations. Looking back on it now, I see that what was going on in the “seasons” of my life had a direct impact on the “seasons” of my faith.

During my pregnancy, I was in the throes of spring—hoping and waiting for good things, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the child that I’d wanted and prayed for. People would see me waddling into church, my belly enormous, having to get up twice to go to the bathroom. I would pray for the save arrival of my child and thank God for the blessings in my life. After my daughter’s birth, there was a brief summer, where life was amazing and beautiful. We went to church as a family week after week, and I would hold her close, swaying with her resting against my chest and softly sing hymns in her ear. Soon, fall took over as my marriage slowly disintegrated, my work took on a life of its own and my daughter’s health faltered. I spent hours in church alone, praying for things to change. In the darkest days of winter, I thought that I couldn’t cope for another second and briefly stopped attending. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t God’s fault that things were going wrong in my life. So, I went back to His house and forgot why I stopped visiting in the first place.

God knows what’s in my heart. He knows that I still carry hurt and sadness, occasional bitterness…but He also knows that my heart is leading me in the direction of healing and that I spend more days feeling good than feeling bad.

That being said, I’ve spent much time praying for Baby Z, who I wrote about in my last post. She’s almost a month old and has yet to go home from the hospital. The prognosis isn’t good, and yet, all her parents can talk about is how amazing and beautiful she is. In some of my darker moments, I get angry with God, not being able to understand why God would do this to an innocent child. Then, I have to remind myself that this tiny baby is making progress—she can breathe on her own and recently started taking partial feedings from a bottle instead of a feeding tube. I kick myself for feeling sad and seeing that there’s such a long road ahead…and all her parents see is the miracle in front of them.

Sometimes I think that the road to Heaven is too long to travel. I worry that I may take the wrong road and end up somewhere other than where God intended. I worry that my human nature will keep me caught up in things that are far beyond my control.

And then, just like always, I saw a sign that I modified into the following prayer:

Dear God, When I feel like my road is fraught with difficulties and darkness and I wonder if I’ll ever make it to where You are, help me to remember that You sent Your Son to this earth so that He could build everyone a bridge to Heaven…and He did it using only two boards and three nails. Amen.