Word of the Week

As a child, I was taught that prayer was talking to God, but because God was God prayer came with a lot of rules.

Rules like:

1. Always start with thanksgiving.

2. Always confess your sins after that.

3. Don't be surprised if God doesn't hear your prayers if you have unconfessed sin.

4. The best prayer you can pray is the Lord's Prayer. Learn the words. Say them often even if you don't know what the word "trustpasses" means (really that what I thought the word was as teen!)

5. Don't treat God like Santa. Consider carefully what you ask for.

I got disillusioned from all this rule keeping when it came to prayer about the time I entered seminary.

I took a break from prayer for many years in my 20s, at least serious prayer that is. I didn't know how to follow all the rules anymore. I didn't know if the rules really mattered. I didn’t see the point, especially as I walked through difficult situations and nothing about my situation seemed to change . . . Was God really listening?

But then, a  shift happened several years ago. New friends came into my life who seemed to have a whole other relationship with God than I did that had nothing to do with the rules. They loved me more than I'd ever experienced before in my life. And I loved them for it. My baby steps back toward prayer centered on praying for them.

I don’t know if you are like me or not, but when I love, I fiercely love. I love my husband. I love my dears kindred spirit friends. I love dear ones of all kinds that find a way to intersect my life in unique ways. And for me, sometimes, it is hard to know what to do with that love.

I truly wanted the best for them. I wanted to see them thrive. I wanted life to be as good to them as it possibly can.

And, so I’ve learned to pray– love by praying. To ask God, who I believe is the divine parent of us all– to watch over those I know are in need of peace, support or wisdom in their daily lives.

A funny thing happened along the way. I found myself wanting to pray more. It wasn't a  chore, but a sweetness.

While many might think, it’s shallow– to just pray for people who you love– I say, don’t judge too quickly. In getting the conversation going again, God came near to me in other ways. I’m began to get back to all the other stuff too like “Oh, God I have fallen short of your best for me in this way” or “Oh, God bless those in need in far away places” or “God bless so and so who really annoys me.”

So, I began to pray out of relationship. I prayed for relationships.

But, now sometimes such doesn't even really work anymore. I don't have that warm and fuzzy feeling about people enough to even get me to pray. So what does prayer look like for me now?

I am learning to pray all over again as I just sit. Sit in silence. Sit to remember. Sit to honor all that I was created to be. Sit and hope for the Divine to show up in a way I can't control or even predict.

I am relying on the discipline of sitting and BE-ing.

Though my more evangelical friends might tell me that I am doing it all wrong again, it's ok. I'm ok. God is most certainly ok. And I'm going to keep learning about conversing with the Holy for many years to come.

We all grow up with rules. Rules like:

Don't color outside the lines.

Don't hit your neighbor even when they bug you on the playground.

Don't leave the house without telling someone where you are going.

There are some of us who grow up liking such boundaries. They are like a blueprint that lead us to unlimited affirmation.

Then there are some of us who come out of the womb hating rules. We weren't born on our due dates and we've never been on time to anything a day in our lives. We love the joy of finding ways to do our own thing no matter what.

And there are those of us who land somewhere in between. We frequently drive above the speed limit but we wouldn't dare go against unspoken family rules of who speaks up at gatherings.

(For much of my life I've been in the rule loving group).

But, if you've been following my recent posts about vocation, you know that living a life without professional rules is something that I'm experimenting with. And in this journey, I'm realizing that I can be a happy and fulfilled minister without a church, without a retirement plan and without someone with authority providing constant praise-- imagine that?

Jesus' ministry on earth could be summed up in his relationship with the rules of the day.

In my preaching the past couple of weeks, I've noticed this: Jesus did not follow the rules. Not to the point of arrogance and not to the point of disrespect of persons, but he never was afraid to go against what was accepted or commonplace in the cultural context.

Jesus was the guy who had the audacity to submit himself to the waters of baptism (when he was God come to earth after all) and needed no affirmation by human hands.

Jesus was the guy who had the audacity to tell fishermen that they would do more with their lives than spend all their nights on smelly boats.

Jesus was the guy with the audacity to tell the crowd that gathered around him on the mount that "blessed" was not about earthly esteem but about peacemaking and meekness.

Jesus broke the rules because the rules themselves had become such a skewed parameter of what God's intentions for humanity were!

Or simply put: rules can keep discipline in and joy out. Rules can focus us on the expectations of others, not who we are as beloved children. Rules can hold us back from God wants to be in us. So Jesus showed a new way-- a way of freedom.

Don't get me wrong. Rules can be good. They can keep us safe. They can help us better live in community peacefully.

But there comes a time when all the big questions of life emerge and when we take a step back and evaluate the deeper meaning of things and we realize that rules aren't all that. They are just rules. And like the Dali Lama XIV once said: “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

What are you doing lately to break the rules?