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Pray for Today
By Barb Rogers
Red Wheel / Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2005 Barb Rogers
All rights reserved.
Is Anyone Out There?
God, that elusive being, with many faces and names, is not that hard to find. He's not the one who has been lost.
"Do you believe? Do you really believe?" I've heard ministers yell that out to their audience. Perhaps what they need to ask is, "Do you wonder?"
If life flows like a river, with each of us in our own canoe, and you are paddling upstream as hard as you can and getting nowhere, or your canoe is swamped and sinking, you might wonder what it would be like to turn it around. Well, the choice is yours—and wondering is the first tug in the other direction. It might be a struggle, but it can be done.
Now that you've begun to question, to wonder if there might be a better way, it's time to consider faith. Faith is a sense of knowing without understanding. When you think about it, we practice faith every day without even realizing it. When we walk into a room and flip the light switch, we have faith that the bulb will light up. There is no need to understand the mechanics of electricity for the light to enhance our life. What if spirituality could be that simple? And what if the light switch is prayer?
One of the most potent prayers ever uttered is, "God, help me!" It doesn't matter whether you're standing at the altar of a cathedral, in your house, on a beach, or in your canoe. If you have spoken those heartfelt words, you've opened the lines of communication. You've opened your heart to the possibility that there is something out there greater than yourself. You've acknowledged that you need guidance.
I've heard many people tell stories about having a spiritual awakening. They speak of a light shining through their window in the darkness, of seeing angels, of hearing a voice, but that was not my experience. My spiritual awakening was more of a feeling, a feeling I'd never experienced before. It was as if someone had engulfed me in a warm embrace, and I just knew everything would be okay—no matter what happened, it would be okay. I knew I was not alone and would never have to be again—as long as I kept that connection.
If the best you can do on a daily basis is say those three words, "God, help me," that's enough. Those three words are a kind of prayer, and you will be amazed at the difference it can make in your life. You might not be in control of many things in your life, but you are in control of the light switch, of staying connected through prayer to a God of your choosing.
With practice and prayer, wonder turns to faith. Some might take their newfound faith to a church, to pray in groups; others will hold a personal relationship with God in the privacy of their home. It doesn't matter how eloquently we pray or where we pray; what matters is the feeling behind the words.
As a matter of course, faith will be put into action. Prayer is the same as deed. If we give with one hand and take with the other, what good is our giving? If we pray and ask for help and then do the opposite of what we know is right, it's the same problem. What is the point of asking our guide for direction if we are going to go our own way anyway? When we pray, we are asking for direction and guidance, not an opinion. We can get opinions from other people who probably don't know much more about life than we do. After all, how can another person, even one who knows us well, guide us when they can see no farther down the road than we can?
If there is a plan, and if we are part of that plan, then I don't believe any human can show us the way to faith. They might share with us their own experience—how they were brought to prayer, how they made the connection, had a spiritual awakening—but we are all unique, with different life experiences, with our own beliefs. We are all seeking the same thing, but we will each get there in our own way, when the time is right for us. It takes what it takes—every life experience good and bad, other people who pass through our lives, all the highs and lows—until in our need for relief, we utter that very potent prayer, "God, help me!"
Can You Hear Me, God?
As a child, I prayed. I prayed for those things I wanted, whatever it was at the moment that I thought would fill my needs. When I didn't get what I wanted, the way I wanted it, when I wanted it, I told myself either that I was doing it wrong—that God didn't care about some stupid little nothing person—or that there was no God.
As I got older, I still attempted to pray. But here again, I insisted that God do what I wanted. Yes, I thought I was the director of my life, I knew what was best for me, and I couldn't understand what God's problem was. Maybe he just didn't like me. Maybe he didn't hear me.
In a story I heard years ago, a man was on vacation near the sea. Early one morning, he rose and walked to the cliffs to enjoy the view. As he edged closer, his feet hit loose ground and he slipped over the edge. Halfway down, he grabbed a branch and held on for dear life. He yelled at the top of his lungs, "God, help me!"
A booming voice from the sky said, "Let go of the branch."
The man hesitated, looked into the sky and said, "Is there anyone else up there?"
Like me, he asked for help, but then denied that God knew what was best for him. One must wonder why he bothered to ask.
In my own life I began to wonder too. I never seemed to get what I wanted. And I was convinced if I could just get those things I desired in life, I would be happy.
After all, isn't that what we are all seeking in life? We strive for happiness, we pray for happiness, we do all manner of things to make ourselves happy. Perhaps the paradox is that we can't make ourselves happy as long as we are striving for it on our own—as long as we think we are the director of our destiny.
We humans spend a great deal of time, energy, money, and thought on how to look better. If we look better, we think, we might feel better about who we are, about our lives. We groom ourselves in the morning, exercise to keep our bodies in shape, eat special diets, choose clothes that flatter, select shoes that make our feet look smaller, buy jewelry that draws attention to whichever part of the body we most want to highlight, and go to places where we can gather with those who are like us. And still there is something missing. So we take medications and drink alcohol to ward off depression, anxiety, even suicidal thoughts. The next day, we start all over again.
But what if, for one day, you got up and changed your routine? Most people can do almost anything for just one day. So what if, this morning, you spent your exercise time exercising your faith instead? What if you spent that time in prayer and meditation instead of aerobics? What if, the next time you want to go shopping for more clothes, shoes, and makeup, you gave the money you would have spent to someone who might not even own one pair of shoes? Instead of clubbing the night away, what if you volunteered your time helping abused animals? What if you went for one day without taking the medications or drinking the alcohol that keeps you from thinking about your life, about the world around you? Sound drastic? Remember, you can do almost anything for just one day.
If you have trouble getting started in prayer, try placing your shoes under the bed. As you kneel to retrieve them, stay there and say a prayer—not for what you think you want, but to ask what God's will is for you that day. Let go of the branch for just one day, and see what happens.
You might wonder what you should do, where you should be. But when you turn your will over to God, he will put you where you need to be, with the people you need to be with. You won't have to seek out people who need you, or those you need. They will be put in your path. You simply need to recognize the opportunities and act on them. Smile at strangers. Help where you can.
Opening ourselves to God, through prayer, accepting his will for us, doesn't mean you can't be yourself. There's no need to wear a horsehair shirt and spend your life in constant prayer and meditation. All it means is turning your will over to a God of your choosing on a daily basis, and following his lead. For instance, say you've made plans for the day, perhaps a massage, lunch with a friend. On the way to the restaurant, you see a starving kitten by the side of the road. You have been given an opportunity to make a choice.
The reason that story comes to mind is because it actually happened to me. My husband and I had worked hard all year and were about to embark on a Florida vacation, to escape the cold winter of Illinois. After a long day at work, about a week before we were to leave, my intentions were to go to the mall, shop for vacation clothes, and meet my husband for supper. As I drove past a fast-food restaurant, there it was—a small black kitten, drenched from the sleet, crying on the sidewalk. People were walking around him as if he didn't exist.
I pulled over to the side of the road and scooped him up. He was so skinny, it was like lifting a feather. He was alone, scared, and hungry, and it made my heart hurt just to look at him. After drying him off, warming him next to my body, I took him to an animal hospital in the next town. I sat for a couple of hours until they could see him, and I spent all my clothes money, and part of our vacation money, on vet bills.
Within days, he was a healthy, happy kitten, running around our house like he owned it. But we already had two dogs, one dog of our own and a stray I'd picked up a few days before the kitten. I couldn't see how we could go on vacation in less than a week. I asked God to show me the way.
Miracles do happen. It was in November, near election time. I'd already gone around our little town, searching for the owners of the dog, asking everyone I knew if they wanted to give a home to the kitten. Two days before our departure, the phone rang. The man said, "I think you may have my dog." He said his wife had been standing in a line waiting to vote, and she asked the clerk if she'd heard of anyone finding an older golden retriever recently. The woman standing in line behind her worked in the grocery store where I shopped. She told her I'd found a dog. You might think that's not so amazing, but the woman lived two towns away from us, and the dog had been missing for nearly a month. They'd had the dog since it was six weeks old and brought it with them from Colorado. It was quite a reunion, a happy day for us all.
The next morning when I went to work, I heard that the guy who ran the bar beneath my shop had to put his old cat to sleep. Apparently, he'd had it for many years and was devastated. Boy, did I have something wonderful for him. But because he was grieving, I knew he'd say no if I asked him if he wanted another cat. So I called my husband and asked him to bring the kitten to town. Once it was in my arms, I called the bar owner and asked him to come up. I knew as soon as he looked into the kitten's beautiful green eyes, his heart would melt. And it did. The cat lived with him and gave him great joy for many years.
I've heard it said that God laughs while we're making plans, and the kitten experience brought it home to me. It was great that we got to go on our vacation, but it would have been okay if we couldn't. I learned that sometimes we must put our own needs and wants aside and simply do the right thing, and things work out the way they are supposed to. Imagine if I'd passed up that little kitten, or left that poor stray dog in a field to die. How much would I have enjoyed a trip to Florida carrying those pictures in my mind. God's plans for me were different than my own. Even if I hadn't been able to go on vacation, I wouldn't have traded the looks on those people's faces, the feelings I got as I saw those sick animals come back to health, for all the vacations in the world. There was a sunshine in my heart that no tropical sun could ever bring.
Praying isn't asking for what we want, the way we want it, when we want it. It's about believing that God will lead us and give us what we need, put us where we need to be. It's about being involved in life and taking responsibility for the choices we make every day. For, you see, we are involved in life, in humanity, from the day we are born, and the choices we make today, at this moment, will not only affect us, but others as well.
And isn't it wonderful that every day we get is a new beginning, an opportunity to start over and make a difference. Maybe this is your day to let go of the branch, to slip those shoes under the bed and stay for a while and pray, to turn your will over to God and see what the day brings, what God has planned for you. A myriad of experiences and people are waiting to meet you, but only you can open the door. True happiness could be just across the threshold.
Things Aren't Always What They Seem
Are you one of those people who say, "I've tried prayer and it didn't work." Perhaps a loved one was in an accident and you stayed by their side, prayed night and day, but the loved one still died. Perhaps you'd worked hard for years but were in a bad financial situation, and the job you prayed for went to another; you might say, "Prayer doesn't work." And what if you are born with disabilities? Can you pray those away?
Sometimes, the most tragic events in our lives will lead us to our path. Did you ever notice, when a devastating event takes place, that our world stops? It brings us to a crossroads, our perspective has been drastically altered, and we must make a choice about which way to go. The key word here is choice.
Some choose to do something constructive with what they've learned through tragedy. Consider parents, after losing a child to a drunk driver, who have gone on to change laws and make such drivers more accountable. Their accomplishment might not have saved their own child, but only God knows how many other lives have been saved because the new laws encourage designated drivers. Maybe their loss was exactly what they needed to take them on a path to help others, to fulfill their destiny.
Or consider a man who didn't get the promotion he wanted; perhaps he simply wasn't where he needed to be. Being passed over might make him reconsider the path he'd chosen, spur him to walk away, to move away from that seemingly safe job, into the unknown world where his life awaits. We've all heard stories about people who have been forced out, downsized, pressured to retire early, even let go because someone new has taken over. The reason for the crisis doesn't really matter, but the choices made afterward do. In the stories I've heard, those who turned to prayer, who allowed God to lead them, say the "loss" was the best thing that ever happened to them. It was a turning point in their life.
That happened to me. All my life I'd been making costumes for extra money, costumes for children, for every occasion. It was my passion, and it seemed to be a God-given talent. However, I'd never been in the position to earn a living from it, so I always had to work and make costumes on the side.
The day came when I could fulfill my dream. I had the chance to open my own costume shop. It was a wonderful experience. I could barely contain my excitement and was so grateful to God for this opportunity. I prayed every day, I worked hard, sometimes into the wee hours of morning, and I became successful.
As my one-room shop grew to fifteen rooms, as I won many awards, as I was thriving in my business, tragedy struck in the form of Graves' disease, the leading cause of hyperthyroidism. I pushed on, attempted to continue, but the disease had other ideas. I awakened every day exhausted, itched so bad I had to wear my clothing inside out because the seams burned my skin, and watched my hair fall out into the sink. My heart raced, my cholesterol rose dangerously high, and my eyelids retracted. The new medication caused me to have progressive cataracts, and within three months I could barely see. Even after I was diagnosed and treated with radioactive iodine to kill my thyroid, I was looking at years of recovery and eye surgeries.
I didn't understand. I'd been told that when something was right, all the doors would open, and when it wasn't right, no matter what I did, they wouldn't. The doors had opened for me to be a costumer. Why then, my mind screamed, after all those years of hard work, of seeing my dream come to life, would it all be taken away?
The illness brought me down to a point of not being able to run my shop. I was unable to see to make costumes, and I couldn't even take care of my house. In desperation, and probably because I was driving him crazy, my husband reminded me that I'd always wanted to write a book. I thought about it, I prayed about it, and when my husband brought me home an old typewriter, I made the choice. It was something I could do. With no education in the field and little knowledge, I began to write. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Excerpted from Pray for Today by Barb Rogers. Copyright © 2005 Barb Rogers. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel / Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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