My internet connection failed me today. It’s funny, but I felt lost and isolated. I went about a normal routine, but a corner of my mind remained focused on cyberspace. Was I missing something? The television news was exasperatingly slow compared to my usual computerized perusal of headlines and articles complete with links to items of interest and searches to answer the most trivial questions. Don’t even get me started on how many commercials invade my local channel or how many times the weather and traffic are repeated! I bake bread several times a week. While waiting for the dough to rise I tend to search email and social media sites to see what is going on with friends and family. This, too, was not to be part of my morning. Instead, my rise-time was spent cleaning and organizing a much-used kitchen cabinet, all the while being focused on how I was going to deal with the internet issue. A call to my provider would most likely be necessary, but I absolutely HATE how that scenario typically plays out. My subsequent procrastination led to a variety of activities subconsciously selected to avoid the inevitable conversation that would begin with “have you tried to restart your computer…” Good grief! Yes, and yes I checked the modem and yes I have power to my house…
The morning was actually quite productive, yet I carried my internet longings through all of it.
When I did sit down to try my computer again, it was as if nothing had ever happened. Apparently the problem was with the provider, who rectified the situation without the need to hear from me. We can both be thankful for that! Past the computer restart, modem check and knowledge of power to the house I am a complete computer illiterate making trouble shooting challenging for all involved parties.
However, as I ponder the morning there is a deeper message to dwell on. I mean, I was TOTALLY focused on something. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It had become part of me, motivating my thoughts, conversations and actions. Wait…what? It was as if on cue the words of the Apostle Paul put a proper perspective on my irritation.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ
Jesus for you.” Thessalonians 5: 16-17 (NRSV)
No, I did not interpret it to say it was God’s will that I stay off of the computer for the morning. To put this kind of inappropriate emphasis on Paul’s statement causes us to think that everything that happens to us is “God’s will”, even if it is something ugly, rotten or horrible making God into something to hide from or avoid at all costs least some unimaginable consequence befall us. No one will ever convince me that is the action of the same God who created us, loves us and continually beacons us to turn towards him/her.
The strength of Paul’s statement is in the part about rejoicing, praying and giving thanks in all circumstances, for to do so is the will of God. You see, God doesn’t create our stuff. God’s will is that we allow God to walk with us as we navigate whatever life throws at us and that we deal with others out of love and compassion. In many ways it’s like my computer experience. Everything I did this morning was affected by my failing internet. As I said earlier, it affected my thoughts, conversation and actions. It became a part of me. What if I allowed God a similar position in my life? I mean, what if I was so focused on God that he/she affected all of my thoughts, conversations and actions? No, I am not advocating that we all memorize 23 significant scriptures so we can pull them out as needed in random conversations. Nor do I think we should throw around obvious quips about being blessed whenever a red light turns green as we approach it or a dreaded medical test comes back assuring us that we are healthy so we can blissfully go about life as we have always done confident that God is walking ahead of us to make sure the path is neat and straight. There is nothing wrong with memorizing scripture or giving thanks, but the significance of walking with God throughout all the stuff of life is much deeper than that. It’s letting God become the core of our thoughts, conversations and actions. It’s the assurance Paul gives us that God is and no matter what happens in life, whether I cause it or I am a victim to it, I belong to God.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
It is with that knowledge that I can navigate this crazy thing called “life” rejoicing and giving thanks that something far more wonderful that I can ever imagine not only created me, but loves me simply for who I am. I don’t have to prove anything or look a certain way. I am loved. Even when I make a mess of things, I am loved. When I act like a spoiled toddler, I am loved. When I feel the weight of pain or sorrow or fatigue or despair, I am loved. Period.
That leaves us with the ‘pray without ceasing’ part of Paul’s message to the Thessalonians. Prayer is an interesting thing. We know how we teach children to pray. To get them to be still for any reason is difficult so we ask them to sit or kneel, fold their hands and close their eyes. Think about it, this positioning keeps them in one spot, limits their ability to poke the child next to them and removes visual stimulation so they can focus on their conversation with God. Unfortunately, carrying this narrow concept can limit our understanding of prayer by making it the official moment when one sits or kneels, folds their hands and closes their eyes. Do not misunderstand; there is a tremendous meditative quality to this type of prayer, however to utilize this as the only format for prayer would thwart anyone’s ability to accomplish the task of praying without ceasing. Prayer then becomes a spiritual burden that must be fit into life. Even monks must take time to eat, sleep and take on the necessary routines of the day. Prayer must fall into a broader category.
I believe that Paul called us to live as if God matters when he gave the instruction to pray without ceasing. Yes, prayer comes through rejoicing and thanking God. It comes through the humility we feel when we fully believe that God loves us through all of our complicated, messed up lives. It comes when we question what path we should take or why our most horrible fears came true. It comes when we stand in awe at the majesty of a mountain or a spectacular sunset as well as when we simply take the time to inhale the beauty of a rose. Prayer is recognizing God’s unfailing presence in all things and it’s allowing that knowledge to influence all of our thoughts, conversations and actions.
When my computer problems took over my thought processes, I acted out of a disjointed, impatient, complaining frustration. How different my responses would be if I totally focused on God, or to phrase it another way, when I pray without ceasing. That prayer comes through study, conversations with friends, worship, meditation, devotions and simply carrying the knowledge of God’s presence with me throughout the day and through it I find I am slowly growing to depend on God and his/her ways rather than my own.
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Galatians 5:22-23