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I’m a perfectionist at heart. I was that kid who thought living the Brady Bunch life was achievable, that if I just did things perfectly right, everything would be okay in the end. My family would be great. My marriage would be great. I’d be great. Ha! Life didn’t have a problem reminding me rather quickly of how far-fetched that notion was.
So I turned to christianity. I figured God was pretty powerful, and if I did everything right, in the end I’d have great kids, a great marriage and a great life. After all, God would be guiding me and He’s perfect, so everything would work out if I was just humble and leaned into Him. Yeah … well. That didn’t work out too well, either.
It took time for me to get it, to really understand what it means to walk with God with no agenda, but simply because I love Him. It took time for Him to pierce through my stubbornness so I could see the heavy chains of perfectionism wrapped all around me, their chunky hardness weighing me down and slowly sapping my strength. It took time for me to realize there were other heavy chains wrapped around me, too.
Yes, there are moments when I let go of every one of those chains, and the freedom I experience is heady and beautiful. God leaps me forward toward growth and healing in their midst, and I relish them. My moments of freedom continue to grow in number and length, and they bring deep joy. But yes, there are also moments when I find myself picking up those very chains yet again, so used to the weight and the feel of them I forget Jesus gave me the key to unlock them long, long ago. Even still, God helps me reach forward toward growth and healing through those times, too, reminding me every chain has a lesson it can teach me if I’m willing to listen and learn.
I wrestle with God. I yell and get angry. Fear can wash over me like a raging tsunami, ready to swallow me whole and carry me away. I get messy with Him and tell Him what I’m feeling, even when I know what I’m feeling is ugly and wrong. Even when I know it comes from yet another chain I’ve picked back up but somehow I blame Him for it. And you know what? He actually listens. He doesn’t smote me. He doesn’t banish me or vote me off the island. He listens and commiserates or gently challenges but ultimately He helps me to open back up my tightly clenched fists, the ones that are strained and red from the effort of holding onto such heavy chains, so I can once again let go.
So, here is my messy prayer, the prayer that is every bit as real and heartfelt as my prayers of gratitude and thankfulness, or my prayers for those I love. It’s my spiritual wrestling match written out with pen on paper; it shows a heart that loves God but is still broken and weak. It’s a prayer that acknowledges I always will be to one degree or another in this life, and that’s okay because God’s grace is sufficient for me. This is from my prayer journal just three days ago, written from a hotel room I had also stayed in eight years earlier.
MY MESSY PRAYER: “Dad, this is my attempt to get my true heart out with you and not stuff my emotions into a god box of my own making. It’s probably gonna get ugly.
I’m mad, Papa. I know it’s not right and I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m mad. I can’t believe I’ve been single for 8 years next month. I can’t believe I’m 51 and I’ve placed myself back into a position where everything is tight financially. Everything You showed me felt different than this somehow. And you know I didn’t need to go for any of what You’ve called me to do. You know I spent a few years fighting You because I really didn’t want to do it (build a ministry). I just wanted to build my business and be in a situation where I could help my kids, enjoy life a bit and be financially secure. Those aren’t ungodly things. They are, in fact, routine blessings I’ve seen You give my brothers and sisters, things I could’ve had if I’d ignored Your calling and kept going on the path I’d found, a path that was happy by the way! I’d be in a very different place right now and I’m angry about it I guess. I know. I’m angry because the last time I stayed in this hotel I weighed less, I was in great shape and had great energy, my business was really launching and I had nowhere to go but up. Now I feel tired a lot, I’m not in shape and my discipline seems to have gone out the window. It’s like Your mocking me for thinking I ever had it to begin with. I can’t seem to get up in the morning. And financially I’m now borrowing from my retirement, not saving. You showed me blessing and this isn’t that.
I know You are more than capable of caring for me. It’s not that I don’t want to believe in You. I do. Then I struggle with wondering if I’m being weak, if I’m being faithless, if I’ve been deceived by the evil one, if I don’t really know the voice of my Shepherd and it’s all an illusion. But You keep reinforcing that it is You, that You do reach out to us and help guide us. And there are times I’ve seen You come through in really big ways. Through it all I guess right now I feel tired, weary.
Today all of what You’ve asked of me feels like a pipe dream, like a bill of goods I was sold that led me up river and abandoned me there. I never dreamed of those things for myself, Dad. Not initially. Not at all. But now that I’ve chosen to submit to Your “plans” for me, I’m sitting here waiting. Plus I keep thinking who am I? I don’t preach like a Rob King or a Priscilla Shirer. I don’t have anything particularly spectacular to say.
I realize You have blessed me in many, many ways, Lord. I know You have allowed some amazing things to happen already. Yet those big things, the big pieces that all of this is supposed to lead up to, still feel far away and I have no idea how to get there. I know You made it clear You would do all the heavy lifting. I know You’ve placed some perfect people in my path to help boost me forward. Thank You for that! It’s not that I’m not grateful. I realize I have to pick up my end of things and work. Even writing this helps me to feel more resolve. It’s like getting out the bad so only the good remains.
My prayer, Papa, is that You’d help me to take another big leap forward—in my faith, in this ministry, in my relationships, financially, in any way, toward You. I hate when I get annoyed at what doesn’t happen and forget what has already been. I hate when I see Your providence, acknowledge it even, but can’t quite feel it. I hate when my faith flags so badly I see only the ashes of my past defeats and forget the beauty and the bounty that currently surround me. I know You hate this, too. I know You hate to see my hurting, especially when it’s a trap from the pits of hell I keep getting tangled up in. I know what triggered this – the hotel room, ministry finances, the uncertainty of what to do, how much to move forward, how to move forward, blah blah blah.
At the end of the day, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know why sometimes I sense You asking something of me and I see no result, and sometimes I do. Or why there are times I do nothing and You just pour Your abundance on me, like an underserved blessing. I don’t know why my heart can oscillate so. Well, I do but I hate that it’s the case 😉 Still, I know You do have all the answers, Papa. I know the path You have me on is marked out for me even when I don’t understand the way. I know You are bigger than my emotions, stronger than my failings and richer than my poorest moments. I know You are always faithful to me even when I feel faithless. So, I choose faith. I choose belief in You and Your call on my life. I choose to love You and to cling to You despite my stubborn heart. I choose to love You in season and out of season. Despite the darkness that sometimes grabs at my heart, I choose light. I choose life. I choose faith. I choose You. I love You, Papa, and I’m learning to love You the way You love me: unconditionally, not based on my perceptions or Your actions or lack thereof, but based on who I know You to be. I choose joy. I choose to trust in Your goodness, Your providence, Your perfect love for me. I choose You. Thank You Dad. You knew I needed this time of wrestling, and indeed I did. It’s all Yours. I lay my life in Your vast, capable hands. Amen.”
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: How did you feel reading my messy prayer? Did it make you feel uncomfortable? Nervous? Less alone? Being messy with God is hard, but it is also freeing. King David does this throughout the Psalms. We hear him cry out in Psalm 25, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely the hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.” But just a few psalms later he proclaims, “Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my hearts trusts in him, and I am helped” (Psalm 28), and in Psalm 30 he adds, “O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit … You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.” God’s not afraid of our mess. It’s a daily choice we make to let go of our burdensome chains and open up our hands with faith. Thought He doesn’t always fill them in my timing, I have found again and again that He will fill them up with good things. And He will for you, too, if you let him.