Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Year's Thing (NOT Resolution)

Welcome, hi, Happy New Year.  I hope you spent last night eating some pigs in blankets and sparkling grape juice, because that is what I did and I want to impose my lifestyle on you. (sarcasm, but real talk pigs in a blanket are a seriously underrated appetizer.) Sometimes I think that when I write, my real self comes out.  Or I just get really bold because I am hiding behind a screen (#21stcenturyprobs? #millenialprobs? #allielangeprobs?)

It's January first.  Time to resolve to do things. I don't think New Year's resolutions are a joke, even though they often fail. There's definitely something to be said for a calendar change that brings extra motivation & the feeling of a fresh start, even if it is technically just a calendar change. The only beef I have with New Year's resolutions is the extra traffic at the gym for the first few weeks of January.  Or maybe that's what it's always like . . . I'm only ever at the gym for the first few weeks of January, so not really sure on that one.

I almost always resolve something on January 1.  Usually I create a comprehensive list of things that I could be doing better and resolve to fix all of them.  I can be kind of idealistic, and man can that kill in the New Year's resolution department.  Talk about impossible.

This year, my New Year's / January 1 thing (I'm refusing to call it a "resolution" because I feel like resolutions have a higher change of failure than unnamed "things.") looks a little different than it has in past years, due to an enlightening conversation with my mom.

I grew up going to church, but for someone who has logged a decent amount of Sunday School hours, there's a lot about Jesus and the Bible that I don't completely get.  One thing that's always stumped me is prayer.  Growing up, I'd learned that prayer is talking to God, that God likes it when we pray and that it's a privilege that he does because God is in charge of the universe and he doesn't have to let us talk to him.  I'd experienced times of feeling really close to God through prayer, and I get that it's an important part of having a relationship with God, like talking to a friend is an important part of a friendship.  The conversational, I-love-you-God kind of prayers make sense to me: God loves me and wants me to talk to him, I love him back so I do, and we get to know each other better.  That's really cool.

But then there are the asking for stuff prayers - and whether you come from a Christian background or not, you know these ones. I'd become kind of jaded toward asking for stuff prayers.  People get sick or have a test coming up or run into relationship problems and we respond with, "I'm praying for you!"  I don't doubt that, occasionally, the promised prayers are actually said.  But I think that in a lot of cases, "praying" has become a way of saying "I feel bad for you and I hope your situation improves."  I might send up a quick "God, help _______", but I often don't really expect him to do anything, or I don't think to follow up with the person to see if God answered my prayer.  And so, assuming that I'm not the only person who this is true of, praying for people (or saying we're going to) has become an item of social decorum rather than genuine requests made to a God who can do anything. That frustrated me.

Then I'd see another, radically different kind of asking for stuff prayer scattered throughout the Bible. The Israelites, who are slaves in Egypt, cry out to God for help, and he gets them out of slavery, which includes making a path through a sea for them to walk through.* Moses asks for clean water for the same nation of people, now traveling in the desert, and God makes clean water out of bitter water.*  Joshua asks God to make the sun stand still in the sky, and it does.* IT DOES. What even.  And how bold is it to ask God to make the sun stop in the sky?

All of those asking for stuff prayers resulted in God doing something that displayed his power and his willingness to give people what they need. But something nagged at me as I thought about those stories - why did people even have to ask? If God knows everything and wants to give us what we need, why didn't He just let Israel out of slavery before they asked him to?  Add to that the numerous examples in the Bible of asking whatever we ask for according to God's will. What would prayer look like, then? Let's say I need a mountain moved.  I'd pray, "Hey God, please move that mountain!  I believe you can.  But only if it's your will."  But God already knew that I needed the mountain moved, plus He was going to do his will anyway.  So why did my prayer matter? That frustrated me.

So, after a while (and by a while, I mean a possible range of a few months to a few years) of not understanding and being frustrated about prayer, I asked my mom about it. I think my question was, more or less, "I don't get prayer.  If God already knows everything, and he's going to do things according to his will anyway, shouldn't I just let God do his thing and accept it?"

She explained it to me this way:

Think of God's relationship to us as a parent's to their child. (Jesus uses this same analogy when describing prayer in Luke 11, so it's legit.) My mom told me about a day when my little sister was struggling to put her coat on before preschool.  She was getting progressively more distressed, starting with quiet complaining that built up into tears and screaming and a losing battle with the impossibly twisted jacket.  Things were not going well.  My mom couldn't step in to help at that point - my sister was hysterical and intent on getting the jacket on all by herself despite how things were going (relatable, am I right?) My mom could try to talk her out of the course of action, but as long as my sister was trying to get the jacket on her way, my mom's help would be useless.

That's us and God. God's given humans the right to do what we want; in doing so, he's relinquished his right to step in and control what we're doing without our asking him to.  If we're not ready to receive God's help, we will continue to try to get what we need on our own, by our own means. When we ask God for stuff, we're showing him that we're ready for Him to provide things. It's a heart adjustment on our part, a shift from "I'm going to try to provide this for myself, but if God would intervene and provide it for me, that would be great" to "I am going to ask God to provide for me in this area, and I am ready to receive what he gives me."

Her explanation made sense.  I still don't know everything about how praying works, but I get it a little more. So, this year, I'm excited to start asking God for stuff and expecting him to answer.  I've got a list in my journal titled, "prayers going into 2017."  My goal is to keep returning to this list consistently, like, multiple times a day, asking God for the things on it, and checking myself to make sure I'm prepared to accept the things I'm asking God for. I want to persist in asking God for stuff until he's answered those requests clearly. I also want to be open to changing my requests - as God makes me wiser, I think it's likely that I will realize that some of my requests were self-seeking, or not good for me right now.  (I.e., dog. I cannot support a dog right now. Acquiring a dog at this stage of life could only end in heartbreak.)

In addition to "prayers going into 2017", I have also vowed to eat more vegetables, do homework on time, become an earlier-rising, more cheerful morning person, etc., etc. (When you use "et cetera" twice, does that just indicate a really long implied list?) The idealism has not gone away, friends. But, above all, I am so ready to pray for stuff and watch God work.  Let's go.

*Exodus 3:7-9, Exodus 15:24-25, Joshua 10:12-13, respectively

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