Friday, January 16, 2009

Prepare Him Room

I've never really understood the purpose of prayer. I've done a lot of it, mostly when things are going either really well or very badly, but I've always been a little fuzzy on just what the point of it was. For instance, I find I pray a lot when my kids are sick. But does it really make a difference? Do they recover only because I ask God to heal them? Would God let my babies remain ill because I'd failed to pray for healing? I find myself increasingly confused when pondering life's harder questions, like terminally ill babies or infertility or suicide. I was standing in line at an ATM in a grocery store near Children's several years ago when I spotted a young dad with his son. They were both bald, the son from chemotherapy and the dad from compassion. I said a prayer for them, but the prayer I'd say now would probably be very different from the prayer I said at the time. Several things have influenced my ideas about prayer over the past few years. One particularly bright spot was a single line from a sermon. I don't remember most of the what the priest said, but I pulled a pen out of my purse and wrote on a collection envelope this single line: prayer doesn't change God, prayer changes you. When I've prayed for things in the past, I always felt like I was nagging God, asking Him to change His mind about whatever I was currently unhappy about. Clearly I was missing several pieces of the puzzle. A huge piece came to me when I was least expecting it. While reading Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, I came across his teachings on what he refers to simply as "space." Everyone needs it, but it can sometimes be hard to come by. He says that our job as human beings can really be summed up as a single task: to give each other space. The example he gave of a frustrated child spoke to me very clearly, as this is something I deal with on a daily basis. Eckhart says it can be easier to have the right response to the child if you see clearly what they are asking for, if you can look beyond the whining tantrum and see the child's real need: they need a listening space. They need someone to hear and understand how they are feeling, to empathize with their feelings of frustration and sadness. You cannot have understanding if you do not first make space. This is a thought process which has served me well over and over again, because it makes me aware of how I am interacting with that person. I ran into someone a while ago who I personally find very irritating, and to make matters worse, this person really likes to hear themselves talk. Every time I see this person, I'm guaranteed to get at least fifteen minutes worth of boring anecdotes and corny jokes, and the whole time I'm trying to look bored so they'll get the idea that I'm not interested and leave me alone. But at our last meeting, just as I started to tune out the seemingly-endless drone of their plodding voice, a thought came into my head. A question, really: can I make space for this person? I decided that I could, and the simple act of engaging my conscious will made listening to much easier; I wasn't just waiting for the story to end, I was deliberately aware of what I was doing for the person and I actively chose to do it. This technique also works well to avoid unnecessary arguments. I'm a very opinionated person, and when two opinionated people who don't agree on something get together, things can easily get nasty. Instead of beating the other person over the head with reasons why my ideas are so much better than theirs, I try to consciously ask myself if I can make space for the other person's ideas. It is important that I always do this in question format, because it gives me the opportunity to answer; I'm not merely hearing a voice in my head ordering me around, I'm actively and consciously making a choice. Space isn't just a way to avoid unpleasantness, it is also the definition of hospitality. Having two active boys often prevents me from spending as much time on cooking as I would like(or as is reasonable, to be honest), but I always try to make something special whenever we have friends over for dinner. I do my best to clean up the days' mess before company arrives, get out a tablecloth and have dinner close to ready. I like to do things that say, "I anticipated your arrival, and I made space for you so that you would feel comfortable and welcome." I've never actually used them, but for this reason I find place cards very charming: here is your space, specially designated for you personally. It has occurred to me that there have been times when I've asked God for something, but have failed to act in a way that indicates I was ready to receive what I was asking for. One of my sisters shared a quote(I don't know the original author) about prayer that said "Pray as if everything depended on God; work as if everything depended on you." In other words, if you're praying that God will give you a house, it's a good idea not to blow all your money on other things. The concept of space really struck me this Christmas, as Aaron and I stood in the back of the standing-room-only church and listened to the Christmas readings. The priest didn't raise his voice, but louder than all the other words I heard "There was no room at the inn." It seemed especially profound that, where once that had been no room for the Christ child, on the night commemorating His birth there was very nearly not enough room for everyone who had come to receive Him. Which brings me to the picture of the baby at the beginning of this post. His name is Jack Michael Fanning, and he is a sick little baby. He was born prematurely due to severe complications and is currently in the NICU at Evergreen hospital. His parents are Mike and Tricia Fanning, and they are asking for prayers for their little boy, that he will find the strength to live and to thrive. I am asking for your prayers for him, not because I think he will die without them, but because I think it is important that the world let God know that we are making space for baby Jack. Or in other words, "Let every heart prepare Him room."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Brotherly Love

Brothers shopping together.
Getting cozy.
Matteas has been VERY interested in doing everything big brother does, including getting a bottle of milk and snuggling in Jack's bed. He screamed when it was time for Jack to go to sleep and I had to take him out. Their relationship has really been blossoming; anytime Matteas hears Jack cry, he drops whatever he's doing and immediately runs to comfort him.
And a solo of Matteas. Baby in one hand, tractor in the other; my kind of man.