Praying the Psalms

This piece was originally published at HorizonsResources.net

I find it hard to pray. This is an uncomfortable confession because, by all external standards, prayer should be easy for me by now. I grew up in a Christian home surrounded by family members who prayed and encouraged me to pray. I have been part of a church since my earliest memories, listening and learning from pastors and teachers who prayed confidently. I have read books about prayer, attended conferences, taken college courses focused on studying the Bible, and listened to countless sermons. I have all the credentials of someone who should be, at the very least, adequate at prayer. And yet it is the single most difficult and frustrating aspect of my relationship with God.

It hasn't always been this way. There have been seasons of my life, sweet and wonderful seasons, where prayer felt like an easy discipline. I would sit down to pray and find a few minutes had turned into a few hours and my notebook pages were full of my communication with God. There were times when prayer felt more urgent, but the discipline still felt natural, such as when a family member was battling cancer or my dad was in a serious car accident.

These seasons are not the norm for me, so prayer has most often felt difficult and awkward. As often as prayer is difficult, I feel like I should be better at it. I should be enjoying prayer more. I should come to prayer in awe that I can approach God at all rather than seeing prayer as a chore. I should have more to say because of what a gift it is to be able to say anything and know that I am heard and seen and loved by the Father.

Perhaps I am the only one who struggles like this. It has certainly felt that way in the past as people have shared with me how sweet their time with the Lord is. Prayer has seemed liked an inside joke I’d never understand, like something only an exclusive group of people ever fully experienced. I just didn’t get it.

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Longing for Home

A few days after we announced my pregnancy to the world, there was a For Sale sign stuck into the grass in our front yard. A man showed up to our house to take photos of the rooms, and those photos were uploaded on a house listing. Strangers I’ll never meet have stepped foot in the closet where my clothes hang, the bathroom where I first learned there was a baby in my belly, the kitchen where I learned how to bake bread.

My husband and I are renting this house, and soon we’ll pack up our things and try again to make a home somewhere else.

I shouldn’t be so sentimental about a rental house, but we made this place a home and had no intention of leaving it so quickly. There’s an unmistakable feeling of being uprooted, of having the rug pulled out from under our feet yet again.

When I imagined the next few years of my life, I always imagined them against the backdrop of this home. I planned how we would arrange the furniture to turn one of the rooms into a nursery - a comfy chair in the corner by the window, changing table against that wall, crib other there. I imagined bringing home the baby growing in my belly to the familiar white walls and beige carpet. I imagined more dinners with my husband in the kitchen, celebrating Christmas this year in the living room, and watching more movies with our friends sprawled out on the couches.

When I saw the For Sale sign stuck in our yard, I was angry, the kind of angry that makes your heart beat fast in your chest and your eyes well up with tears. I blamed my anger on the sign, an exclamation point at the end of dashed hope that maybe we could stay here a little longer. When I finally got quiet and honest with myself, I was really angry at God.

Every morning it seems I wake up with a list running through my mind full of unmet expectations. I expected more years with my husband before taking on the titles of both wife and mom. I expected my aunt and uncle to be in my life for decades longer. I expected my job to be fulfilling rather than frustrating. I expected pregnancy to be easier physically than it has turned out to be. And I expected to live in this home for years, saving pennies away to hopefully buy a home later when we felt ready.

It seems no corner of my life has been left untouched by suffering these days. And yes, I trust that the Lord is good and loving and sovereign over each of these events and yes, I know each of these things can foster a greater dependence on him, and yes, I know there are still good things, candles in the darkness. But those words are so much easier to say than to live into, and I still find myself waking up to painful reminders of unmet expectations every morning.

Last week I texted one of my best friends a long list of all the things going wrong, all the things happening and not happening, all the things I want to stop and the things I fear will never stop. At the end of it, I was expecting her to echo back to me my own shame but she didn’t. She said all the things I had mentioned were really hard, and I cried.

Every new wave of suffering kept knocking the breath out of me, but life carried on as normal. There was no break, no slowness to process all the things that were happening. There were still dishes to do and laundry to wash and hours to work and prenatal vitamins to take. I felt like I had to carry on as normal too, talking to friends the same way, working the same way, praying the same way. I never made space to acknowledge I am sad and angry and confused.

My friend acknowledged it for me, and I think the Lord’s comfort is like that too. He has been present, witnessing the pain of his children and weeping with us. He never asked me to pretend like everything was great.

Nothing has been fixed, and if I’m honest, I don’t even feel all that much better. I am still sad and angry and exhausted. Acknowledging pain doesn’t make it go away, but I think it is a step in a good direction. I found myself echoing the psalmist this morning and praying, “How long, O Lord?” because I want things to be different, easier. They’re not yet and they may never be, but it was an honest prayer and I think God is after our honesty.

I don’t know what house I will be living in in a few months. I don’t know where the crib will be set up or what door I’ll walk through when the baby inside me has made his or her entrance into the world. It’s a hard place to be. Even in that hardness, what I know is that my heart is ultimately longing for home, true home, and that longing will not go unmet.

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I'm Feeling 22

Today I turn 22. 21 was a hard year. It didn’t pull any punches. 22 has me walking in with my fists covering my eyes, trying not to make my flinching seem so obvious.

Unlike other birthdays, this one feels especially weighty. I used to cringe when people would ask me on my birthday, “So, how does it feel to be __ years old?” because it always felt exactly the same as being the age I was the day before. Nothing felt changed. This year though, I feel changed, different, older, in some good ways and some bad ways.

21 stands behind me with death and loss and pain and sadness, and this new year stands in front of me with newness and life and heartache and probably more pain because pain is constant, isn’t it? I wish I knew how to walk into the year confidently, but I’m finding myself wanting to curl up into a tiny ball and stay right where I am.

I feel older, yes. I feel more equipped to love others well and to stand in hard places where I wouldn’t have been comfortable standing a year ago. I feel too old to settle for easy answers and trite platitudes as a response to pain, though I am too young still to hear those trite platitudes and automatically respond with grace instead of anger. I feel old enough to know how much is not black-and-white, how much our intentions matter and how many different ways our words can be twisted and misunderstood. I feel weariness in my soul that seems like an older kind of weariness, the kind that starts to settle into a heart as a person experiences more of the world’s pain and more of the comfort that can only come from the Lord.

At the same time, I feel too young to do much of what 22 will require of me. I feel much too young to nurture and care for another human being. I feel much too young to faithfully care for my home and my husband. I feel much too young to respond to questions quickly and gracefully, pointing the person to Christ instead of trying to point them to myself.

I feel too old and too young to be 22, and if we’re being really honest, that angst probably adds another reason why I’m too young, too insecure, too unprepared.

And yet I am known, at 21 and 22, by the God who knows when I sit down and when I rise up, knows when I am feeling too young and too old, knows when I am unprepared and scared, knows when I am too sure of myself and not leaning in closely enough to him.

The Psalmist writes,

“You hem me in, behind and before,

   and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me…”

This is where I find myself, somehow both unsure and sure at the same time, and hemmed in, behind and before, by a Father who knows and cares for me deeply and who has laid his hand upon me and this year of being 22.

Photo Credit: The incredibly talented  Jenna Richman .

Photo Credit: The incredibly talented Jenna Richman.