A Mighty Fortress

I’m working through my second Lenten season after resolving to become a better pray-er last year.  Please see my post http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/05/i-say-a-little-prayer-for-you/  for additional background.  Of course, I just published this piece, even though I wrote it almost a year ago.  I get really nervous if I don’t have several weeks’ worth of blog posts in reserve.  Perish the thought that I might have nothing ready to go some Wednesday morning!  I would have to write something on the fly without proper planning and scheduling.  The very possibility makes me nauseous.  Sometimes my pre-recorded pieces get a little stale sitting on the shelf waiting for their moment, but I don’t think prayer ever gets stale.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with two helpings of prayer in short succession.  In fact, in these uncertain times, maybe two helpings of prayer are exactly what we need to keep us off the ledge. 

I wanted to give you all an update on how my efforts to improve my prayer life were going.  Last Lent, I began a Bible In One Year app project, which guided me towards dedicated Bible study and prayer each evening.  After that experience, I served as the chaplain for our parish Episcopal Church Women group.  My sole job in that capacity is to pray and lead other members toward prayer.  I love it.  I actually feel my soul expanding as I help channel our group’s powerhouse of prayer and search for creative, experiential, thoughtful ways to spur closer intimacy with God.  I’ve been leading a small group in our Alpha program.  This leads me to even deeper levels and stronger intensity of prayer.  This past Lent, I chose a short passage of Scripture to capture and copy into my prayer journal each day. This helped me feel more confident and more grounded in my prayer. 

 I’ve learned a number of lessons about prayer and the results of dedicating time to improved communication with God.

Sometimes, external things happen when I pray.

There have been several instances when my prayer seems to have resulted in at least a small shift in circumstances.  Maybe I have not witnessed anything super dramatic yet (although I believe something extremely dramatic HAS happened and we just don’t know it yet.) Still, I see mini-miracles tied to my prayer all the time.  In the challenges presented by the COVID-19 physical distancing protocols, I see wonderful things happening.  In one example, my small Episcopal Church has not missed a single Sunday service.  After the CDC recommended that no one gather in groups of 10 or more, we didn’t gather together in the church building.  However, the very first week without physical community services, our rector and a team of wonderful, talented, Spirit-filled people figured out a way to organize, produce, and market a Sunday service on YouTube.  This might not seem like a big deal to a lot of people.  Our community, however, is not exactly modern.  It is not on the cutting edge of technology.  It was like going from 0 to 100 in electronic communication/distance learning in just a few days.  I am sure that was only achievable by hard working faith-filled, prayerful people.  Another example is the way neighbors and community members are looking out for each other.  I know there is hoarding and the grocery store shelves are pretty pitiful.  At the same time, though, people are calling each other to check in on people who might be feeling isolated, running errands for those who are more at risk, being creative in constructing a way to help the world feel “normal,” and finding ways to ease the economic cataclysm that the lockdowns will cause for the most vulnerable among us.

I know there are many secular organizations and many non-Christians who are also working to do these things.  I do think there is a difference with prayer, though. While we are all temporarily stopped from the busy-ness of our lives, some of us are spending more time in prayer and remembering our faith.  In some ways, I see us coming closer together rather than further apart, as we deliberately and mindfully find ways to protect our relationships and spiritual journeys from isolation.  Normally, when people are “stuck” inside their homes for a few days because of something like an oncoming hurricane, there is an overall atmosphere of resentment and dread.  This time, there is almost a feeling of empowerment and joy within my circle of praying friends.  It feels good for us to mobilize to deal with this challenge.  It feels good to support efforts to remain connected.  It feels good for us to remember who God calls us to be. 

Sometimes, the changes I see are less tangible.  I pray frequently for the guests in our church’s Alpha group.  I have seen that prayer lighten their hearts, as God has brought them closer to His love.  Of course, God could do that without my help. Jesus is the one that draws these folks to Him, not me.  I think it is awesome and exciting that God gives me the opportunity to participate in the process, through prayer and agape. 

Sometimes, prayer doesn’t change anything… except me.

During the past year, I’ve changed so much.  My service, confidence, thoughtfulness, creativity, emotional and intellectual intelligence, relationship-building skills, and love have increased exponentially.  My natural talents and strengths are expanding.  I am forgiving myself more readily for my weaknesses and failures, secure that God has already done so.  I often pray in thanksgiving for the paths where God chooses to lead me and the lessons he is teaching me.  I am absolutely convinced that the point of life is to grow into the person God wants each of us to be.  I feel like that is happening to me more now than at any time in my life.  It may seem strange that this is happening as I enter my golden years rather than in my youth or middle age, but I guess everyone has his or her own script. 

I think the reason I have been able to blossom, especially in the last year, is directly related to the increase in quantity and quality of my prayer life.  I feel like my prayer life is a mighty fortress that God and I have built together.  It protects me and allows me to live as genuinely and authentically as I can.  Within the walls of this fortress, I can grow the garden of my life and build my serving ministry without fear.  It is a godly kind of fortress.  It doesn’t keep anyone out; it just protects what is inside it.  The walls are permeable to anyone of good intent. 

All in all, the most important thing I have learned is just this:  Prayer works.  It may not work the way you think it will, but it works!

Has your spiritual life changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?  In what way?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a prayerful day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

I Say A Little Prayer For You

Those of you who have been reading www.terrilabonte.com for a while know that I have reinvented my religious life in the past few years.  I won’t go into the whole story again, but, for those of you who want a refresher, you can review: http://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/01/a-crisis-of-church/ and http://www.terrilabonte.com/2018/01/grace-on-robinson-street/

I could say that my change in denominations started a revamping of my spiritual development, but I am sure there was more to it than that.   In retirement, I have had the time and energy to look at many of aspects of my life.  Also, traveling the end-of-life journey with my mother caused me to start examining how I could live my most satisfying, congruent life.  I’ve always been introspective about most things. My spirituality has certainly been no exception.  In the past few years, I think I’ve been maturing that spirituality.  I’ve thought and prayed about how to deepen my faith and how to express it.  I don’t know if I would say that I am now walking a different path exactly, but I am walking the path differently.

One aspect of walking differently has been the matter of Bible study, spiritual reading, and prayer.  In fact, a little over a year ago, I mentioned in my Alpha small group that I was interested in trying to improve my prayer life as a Lenten observance.  I wanted to be a better pray-er.  One of the other members of my discussion group kindly decided to help me in that endeavor by recommending me to be the chaplain for our parish ladies’ organization.  Practice makes perfect, I guess. 

Something I read said that prayer boils down to only four words to God.  These four words are please, thanks, sorry, and wow.  In other words, effective prayer petitions the Lord, thanks the Lord for all His blessings, asks forgiveness of God for our sins and weaknesses, and praises God simply for being God.  I find this idea comforting.  It helps, when I think of the enormity of God and the puniness of my little soul, to have a bit of a framework to know where to begin with prayer.

At any rate, I have been working on increasing the depth and breadth of my prayer.  It has been a rich, satisfying experience.  When I pray for people, I believe it helps them.  I know it helps me. 

I’ve decided that it is time that I shared some of that payer with you.  I pray for you all frequently, grateful for the blessings that you have brought to my life. Let’s pray together this week.

Precious Lord,

Please bless the readers of my blog.  Help me to create content that will entertain and provoke introspection.  Help my readers to know that You are in control and have a plan for each of us. Help me to write truth and to touch people’s lives. Help me encourage others as I have been encouraged by Your love and the love of Your people. Please provide us all with peace, hope, love, and joy.  Please protect my readers as they journey through life.  Guard their bodies, soothe their souls, and soar their spirits.  May they know Your never-ending, all powerful love.  May they find happiness, health, and satisfaction in their lives… every day, in every way.

Thank you for the immensity of Your blessings on us.  Thank you for the light and for the dark of life.   Thank you for the richness and wisdom You provide. Thank you for the joy only You can bring to our hearts.  Thank you for the path You have provided for me in my life and for the wonderful opportunity to write this blog.  Thank you for the wonderful people who read what I post.  Thank you for the encouraging support I receive from all my blog buddies and for the thoughtful comments readers provide.

I’m sorry for the times when I have been weak or scared and failed to use opportunities to spread Your love.  With Your help, I will strive to constantly get closer to You and lift people to Your light.

God, You are the King of the Universe.  You are in control of everything that happens. My job is simply to try to discern where you want me to go and follow You there.  I trust in Your power to guide me as I work my way through this life.  I know You bless even my weakest, poorest effort so that it contributes to the good of Your people and the glory of Your name.  I am humbled by Your majesty and the fact that You love me as if there were only one of me.

I pray in Jesus’ name….

Amen

God bless you all!  If anyone feels inclined to pray for me, I would be grateful.  If anyone has any specific prayer requests that they would like to share, perhaps we can multiply the power of prayer.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

PS: Remember…. my new book, RANDOM (A)MUSINGS by Dorry Curran, launches next Tuesday (6/2/20) in paperback and kindle editions on Amazon!

The Scenic Route To Easter

Years ago, I used to give up chocolate for Lent. This year, Ash Wednesday fell on the same day as Valentine’s Day. I ask you: is it reasonable to not eat chocolate on Valentine’s Day? I am glad I reconsidered my approach to Lent a long time ago.

The idea behind Lent is to engage in some form of sacrifice to enrich our souls and deepen our faith. It is a time for us to spiritually prepare ourselves to better celebrate Easter. Lent reminds us of Jesus’ forty days of hardship and temptation in the desert when he strengthened himself for His mission.

Growing up as a Catholic, I tended to observe Lent in two ways. I gave up some pleasurable activity (like eating chocolate) for forty days and I did not eat meat on Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I’m not sure that either ritual had much of a positive impact on my spiritual development or my ability to joyfully commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter.

First of all, avoiding meat on Fridays is not that tough to do. Let’s see…. I can’t eat meat, but I can eat lobster, shrimp, grilled cheese sandwiches, vegetarian pizza, and peanut butter. That doesn’t seem all that sacrificial to me, unless I have to eat all those things at one sitting. That might be pretty penitential, but I don’t think anyone advocates stuffing the body with a feast of nonmeat products as a means of spiritual enrichment.

As far as giving up something goes, I do think there is some intrinsic value in sacrificing something we enjoy as a spiritual exercise to remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It reminds us to be grateful for what we have and to remember that the greatest gift is salvation. I do tend to feel, though, that a sacrifice is more meaningful if it also generates a positive impact. I don’t think giving up chocolate had any impact on me at all except possibly to make me a teensy bit cranky. Maybe my sacrifice would have been more meaningful if I had saved the money I didn’t spend on chocolate ice cream and donated it to a food bank or something. Instead, I am ashamed to admit that I just spent the money on vanilla instead. I never thought about the second piece of the Lenten observance equation. I understood the “I’m going to give up” part but never addressed the “so I can do X” part.

A friend of mine is doing something this Lent that I think perfectly illustrates the point. She decided to give up television for Lent. It wasn’t that she gave up TV simply to make herself suffer. In fact, she says she is actually enjoying the break from television. In deciding on her Lenten observance, she didn’t focus on what she was losing. She focused on what she was gaining. She gave up television to give herself the time to read and study and pray. She believes that, in this period of focus and reflection, God is teaching her all kinds of valuable lessons.

I have not always been great at following through on Lenten observances that require me to do something overt rather than simply stop doing something. Some years, I tell myself that I am going to read a spiritual book or go to additional worship services or step out of my own internal world and mend relationships with others. Then, suddenly, Holy Week is upon me and I have done nothing out of the ordinary. Some years, though, I have found rich and beautiful observances that I still remember with gratitude. Last year, I began reading the entirety of the New Testament in order. One year, I subscribed to a program of daily Lenten emails and worked on implementing their challenges in my everyday life. A few years back, I wrote a letter to a different person every day during Lent to thank him or her for the richness he or she brought to my life. All of these Lenten “penitential” activities brought me more joy than I can describe.

This year, I didn’t give up anything. I continue to walk my way through the Bible. Last Advent, I started in on the chapters of the Old Testament and I expect I will be at that for some time to come. I am also working through a book about developing a deeper relationship with Jesus and journaling about how I see the author’s message impacting my life experience. I also gave a presentation at a church women’s’ group.

I struggle with wanting to contribute whatever talents I have to support the church and nurture the people of God, yet I am not confident that I have the talents necessary. I am an extremely introverted, shy person. The idea of giving a presentation of any kind is daunting. When I was working, I did a lot of teaching and presentations. I was a popular speaker. People were kind to me. I enjoyed the activity, even though I was always very nervous beforehand. Soon after I finished a successful presentation, I was always consumed with the certainty that the success was a “one off” event that I would never be able to replicate in the future. In addition to my general insecurity about speaking to a group, I have only been to a few of these women’s group presentations in the past. I was not completely certain of what my audience would want or expect from me.

As the day of the presentation got closer, I felt the anxiety level in my gut increase. All the preparation I had done felt inadequate and I felt confused about how to proceed. I had several, ill-formed ideas for the general approach I could take to present the information I had gathered. In speaking to a friend, she suggested that I ask God how to proceed. We agreed that I should try to relax and let the Holy Spirit take over my anxiety about the presentation. I followed her advice and, of course, everything went fine.

I said that I didn’t give up anything for Lent this year. I guess I actually did. I gave up anxiety about the presentation. I gave up the feeling of stagnant comfort when I agreed to be the speaker for the women’s program rather than simply a member of the audience. I gave up a small amount of time and frenetic energy to focus on reflection each evening.

My experience this Lent has not been a journey through a desolate desert. Instead, Jesus has taken me on the scenic route to Easter and I am enjoying a beautiful view!

What do you think?  Do you give up anything for Lent or do anything special?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a meaningful day!

Terri 🙂

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