The good­ness and love of the Father is ever present. Every day brings new oppor­tu­ni­ties to respond to the invi­ta­tion to become formed into his like­ness. It is a call to life, a life that leads to a nat­ur­al and, some­times even, effort­less free­dom — free­dom from the entrap­ments of our cul­ture and the pride and self-cen­tered striv­ing that enslaves us. It is a call to live as we were cre­at­ed to live. It is an easy yoke and light bur­den. Spir­i­tu­al train­ing enables us to right­ly order our habits so God can bring char­ac­ter trans­for­ma­tion. Not only is hon­est and deep change pos­si­ble, it is quite sim­ply the way of the Jesus follower.

The voice of the Spir­it is ever call­ing us to our true homes, to rela­tion­ship and trans­for­ma­tion. I assume this voice can be loud and abun­dant­ly clear, stark­ly awak­en­ing us from our hard hearts and blind­ness. Cer­tain­ly the Bible is full of exam­ples of God’s direc­tion in very clear and uncer­tain terms. I half won­der if God reserves using such abrupt­ness for when we would hear in no oth­er way. I can’t imag­ine Paul would have had a con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence had he not been knocked to the ground and ren­dered blind. I’ve come to believe that grow­ing in a life with God draws us into a place where we’re able to hear and respond to the Spir­it’s qui­et, gen­tle prompt­ings in much the same way that Jesus appears to have done. We learn to rec­og­nize the tone and tex­ture of the Spir­it hov­er­ing about, lead­ing, guid­ing, prompt­ing, cor­rect­ing, and lov­ing. In such places, still­ness of the small voice is enough. We become con­tent with absence. We accept lone­li­ness. We learn obe­di­ence in the dark­ness of life’s nights. 

The last two months of my life have been almost entire­ly dom­i­nat­ed by the pass­ing of my father-in-law. Dur­ing this sea­son I have felt no real prompts to begin inten­tion­al­ly prac­tic­ing a new spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline. My pri­ma­ry atten­tion has been on car­ing for my wife and our kids while occa­sion­al­ly my own grief bub­bles up. Death brings a sort of help­less­ness. We’re not in con­trol. We can’t fix peo­ple or sit­u­a­tions. And so I cleaned our house and filled the freez­er with soup and chili while my wife sat beside a hos­pi­tal bed, hug­ging, encour­ag­ing, pray­ing and singing to the lone par­ent who raised her until his body slow­ly wound down and his spir­it passed beyond the veil.

Dur­ing these days I craft­ed a few prayers, but for the most part I’ve found I have few words to pray. At times a phrase or two finds me. I hold and repeat them, caress­ing them like a trust­ed small smooth stone, turn­ing it over and over in my hand.

Some­times, when I have no words to pray, I bor­row them from oth­ers: the Psalter, The Book of Com­mon Prayer, or oth­er whis­pers from the com­mu­ni­ty of saints. I wrap these words around me like a blan­ket on a frigid night. Safe. Pro­tect­ed. Known.

When I’m unable to find my own words to pray, when all I have is worn and exhaust­ed groans, there sits the words of my broth­ers and sis­ters ush­er­ing me before the Father. Through time and space we join togeth­er, shar­ing a sim­i­lar cry in our souls.

And then it dawned on me. I been prac­tic­ing spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines in these months. The gen­tle nudge of the Spir­it had been lead­ing me in deep, qui­et, mean­ing­ful prayer. If you’d asked me at the time, I would have said I was sort of tak­ing a break from the dis­ci­plines, that I was tired, sad, and just try­ing to make it through each day. I think it was because these prayers were so help­ful, so need­ed, so des­per­ate that I had­n’t real­ized this process was part of my train­ing. In fact it just may have been of my train­ing. If for­ma­tion leads us, quote Dal­las Willard, to become peo­ple able to nat­u­ral­ly respond to life as Jesus would if he were to live our lives,” then it’s quite pos­si­ble some of the years of train­ing are begin­ning to do their work. For prayer was a com­plete­ly nat­u­ral­ly response, as was car­ing for my wife. And, I’ve actu­al­ly done fair­ly well at help­ing her. Again I ques­tion if this was the result of years of prac­tice? I did­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly have to tell myself to respond to her with love, it just kind of came out. Cer­tain­ly in years past I could­n’t have main­tained this lev­el of care with this lev­el of ease.

I still get caught up in the idea that I’m not real­ly doing for­ma­tion cor­rect­ly if I’m not feel­ing stretched or pushed. If I find I’m not mea­sur­ing up to the self-placed expec­ta­tions of suc­cess, I tend to feel a lit­tle dis­cour­aged. This notion is so ridicu­lous and says a whole lot more about the sys­tem of the world than about God.

In fact, obses­sion with per­for­mance or try­ing to be good or suc­cess­ful at a dis­ci­pline is poten­tial­ly one of the most destruc­tive things to the spir­i­tu­al life. It almost always par­a­lyzes us from seek­ing to encounter God. Rather than lead us to sub­mis­sion to the work of the Spir­it, we regroup and press in with the brute force of will pow­er, which nev­er takes us very far in the spir­i­tu­al life.

I won­der if I could share a few of the prayers that I have writ­ten from this recent expe­ri­ence? It feels sort of strange, inti­mate, and vul­ner­a­ble to pass these words on, but I do so in hopes that you might be encour­aged to find your voice in a line or two.

Much like the Psalmist, I’ve found writ­ing out prayers can be a help­ful dis­ci­pline. They serve as a scrap­book and a guide to return to in times of need. I used to just quick­ly jot down the prayers, but recent­ly I’ve found myself drawn to craft the words with care and pre­ci­sion, edit­ing, rewrit­ing, and mas­sag­ing, tak­ing my time like an artist to paint the pic­ture of my inner groans. Of course there is no need to be con­cerned with the qual­i­ty of the end result. If the words are hon­est and from the heart they are pleas­ing to God and that should be good enough for us.

The great dying of fall has passed
The frozen tomb of win­ter has engulfed the land
Silent fury of the dark­est of days are upon us
In win­ter we for­get who we are
The days run one into the oth­er
Lost in some pri­mor­dial frost frozen in time, the fog­gy dream car­ries on
And like a translu­cent cloud the mem­o­ries of sum­mer rest out of focus
Yet it is good

I learn to suf­fer well
Few things are bet­ter for my soul than not hav­ing my own way.
I learn to suc­cumb to my place in the world; vul­ner­a­ble, small, loved, immor­tal dust,
And it is good.

Your pres­ence does not hide in this frozen won­der­land.
The way you play with water does­n’t go unno­ticed
The wind-spun won­ders of ice
The beau­ty and intri­ca­cies of each snowflake
Are you hav­ing fun or just show­ing off?
Well, I’m impressed.
Do you want my won­der?
Do you want my awe?
Well, it is yours.
And as your spir­it hov­ers about, cast­ing won­ders on this land
I remain con­tent, hop­ing in the great mys­tery of who you are
And it is good.

Abba, I’m here.
Abba, I’m here.
Abba, I’m here.
Come find me.
Come find me.
It’s dark. It’s lone­ly.
Come find me.
In the midst of the chaos of this world.
Come find me
In the midst of the wor­ry and man­ag­ing things I can’t con­trol.
Come find me.
In my dreams and fears.
Come find me.
If you’re not here I don’t want to be here.

Abba, he’s dying
I don’t know what to feel
I don’t know how to say good­bye
I don’t want regrets
I don’t want to hide from the emo­tions
But it hurts
Death — the inescapable des­tiny of us all
Death — for­ev­er present
It does­n’t feel very con­quered
I’m just lost
Utter­ly lost
Come find me

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Pho­to by Samuel Mar­tins

Originally published February 2015