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A Letter on Transition, Prayer, and “Home”

A friend wrote to me recently sharing thoughts about his current state of transition. Over coffee this morning I wrote the following response, and I wanted to post these thoughts on home, transition, and faith. The thoughts don’t come to a conclusion, rather they just end. My hope is, though, if any truth lay in these words, then your life might connect to that truth on some level.

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Here is the email:

Again, thank you for sharing. I thank God for our friendship. I will continue to pray for you. I am so excited that you will be going to Africa soon! I am excited because you are pursuing what you have discerned as God’s direction for your life at this time. I am excited because God can transform us when we accept the invitation to join in God’s holy work of healing the world. I am excited because your future is unknown, yet you have placed your trust in God. I am excited because your life is not alone nor the first to embark on this journey nor the last to do so, because your life falls in step with a long line of faithful followers who did not know what was in store – the joys, pains, friendships, heartbreaks, etc. – but they knew they were pursuing God.

I cannot say how or when, yet I am hopeful that God will meet you in this time and give you what you need in your heart, soul, mind, and strength to wade through your emotions, thoughts, fears, and inclinations about … your future. I think sometimes before people embark on the unknown they want to have some solid footing beneath them (like, what they will do when they come back, where will they live and with whom, etc.), and yet sometimes those things cannot be known until they journey forward into the next step. Sometimes transformation happens on the journey that shifts perspectives in our lives so that the questions we were asking before we left are no longer the questions we need to be asking in order to live our lives faithfully. Yes, we long for the answers, and we long for the understanding, because we think if we can just figure those things out then we’ll be better equipped to move ahead. For me these questions and desires for understanding can become like idols, because I get so fixated upon trying to figure out those answers I do not listen fully to other words that God may be speaking to me. Yet I hold on to those questions because it gives me the illusion of control. Of the many lessons that I believe God repeats in my life time and time again, one is that I need to surrender control of my future and my desires and my plans to God. It is great to have ideas. It is a good thing to think about the possibilities of how God could use our gifts and graces for the future and for the kingdom. Yet we need to allow God to bring about the future in our lives.

I want to say that I will pray for God to meet you in this next stage in Africa, and in so doing provide some clarity about your feelings towards your future. Yet what does that mean? God does not need to meet you there, because God is always with you. I hope that you will be able to recognize God’s presence in your life and love for you in new and fresh ways. And even as I pray that, I don’t know what that will look like. Will you hear an audible voice or see words written in clouds or feel something deep within your heart? Will you wake up one morning and see things differently than ever before as if a fog has faded and the sun is finally shining through? And if that happens, will it be indefinitely or will it be for a moment that goes after you brush your teeth? Does this mean that you will discern a clear directive about the next step (after Africa), or does it mean that you will have no more answers (and maybe even more questions) but accompanying them will be shalom? It is difficult not to interject preferences and expectations into prayers and just to allow God to answer as God needs and wants to answer so that we will be transformed for God’s work in this world. Maybe that is why I continue to return to the words, “May Thy will be done”… because inherent in those words is trust and surrender and an openness to the mystery that is God.

I’m going to venture that your thoughts around “Finding your way home” will not subside anytime soon – if ever – as you journey with God in this world. In fact, times of transition make us acutely aware of the questions of home – what is it? and where is it? and with whom is it? Sometimes those who have a sense of stability (real or imagined), or those for whom transition to the next step looks pretty much the same as the last step, do not spend time or energy thinking about this, because their life circumstances don’t demand that they think deeply about “home.”

Yet “home” is very much a question that God has wanted God’s people to deal with throughout time – we see this in scripture and we hear this in the stories of the lives of those who have journeyed in Christian faith for the past 2000 years. Often, those who are uprooted (either willingly or forcibly) wrestle with this question more than those who are not moving. Yet the movement helps the people press deeper into the questions of “home” that I mentioned above – what, where, with whom. It is good to have a physical location, yet if we locate our identity and our feelings and our purpose solely in a location or occupation, then we will struggle with “home” everywhere. However, if we locate our sense of “home” in a set of practices and faithful way of living that we can do regardless of location or circumstance, then we can find “home” anywhere.

Courtney and I wrestle frequently with what “home” means for us and what it will mean for our children. It is definitely not a physical location because we move often, yet that doesn’t mean that we don’t desire a place to hang photos and play with kids and make memories. We have celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in a different place every year since we have been married. This is not bad, but it forces us to think about “family traditions” and “home” differently. What are some things that we can do for ourselves and our kids that do not depend on the physical location of the event? How do we navigate the family relationships and dynamics with our extended families knowing that we are continually in different places? We are well aware that this is the life we have chosen, and we wouldn’t do it differently, but that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle for stability and traditional sense of “home” at times.

And you raise the another good issue – how can you live faithfully in your “home” setting (where you grew up) when to live there would seem to get you caught in “normal” life, by which I think you mean mundane, drab, and lacking full purpose – in short, not the abundant life which Christ has offered to us. Again, I will return to practices – those things which we do in our lives to cultivate our relationship with God. Or, better said, those things which we do in life that keep us open to the ways in which God is with us and at work in the world around us on a continual basis. It is a journey, a process, and a struggle, and I think that is what faith looks like. Growing up I think I tried to understand faith head-on. I had to understand the way it looked, felt, and acted – and I had to articulate that understanding. Now I think I see faith more as abstract art – you can give certain images and colors to produce certain feelings, and you can frame it in a way that attempts to provide perspectives to those feelings, yet you can’t understand or describe it precisely.

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Another Prayer for the Young Adults

I AM

Great I AM,
You give us a name of seeming ambiguity,
Yet you give us a name of Promise, Hope, and Possibility.

We read and hear about aspects of who you were and what you have done.

Sometimes, in moments of faithfulness we proclaim who You are,
and, unfortunately, in moments of arrogance we expound upon who we think You are or how we think that You should be.

Thank You for times when in moments of doubt and/or faithfulness we can still proclaim that You are.

Other times we feel like You are not,
or that You are – but for other places and other people and not with us here and now.

Forgive us, Help us, Heal us, Be to us,
for Your glory, honor, and praise,
because You were, You are, and You will be for us forever.
Amen.

*Another “prayer plainly spoken” for the US-2s and Mission Interns based upon reflections around Exodus 3:14 in which God’s response to Moses’ question of, “Who shall I say sent me?” is, “Tell them, ‘I AM that I AM has sent me to you.'” This is the English rendering, yet the Hebrew has a fuller sense of continuation in that it also could be translated, “I was that I was, and I will be what I will be.”

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Redeeming and Recycling God: another prayer for the young adults

This prayer needs a bit of an introduction both for its style and its content. I experienced this style of prayer with different people and in various communities, yet most formative for me was Stanley Hauerwas praying this way before each ethics class for an entire semester. Some of these prayers are collected in a book titled " Prayers Plainly Spoken."
This prayer results from various thoughts and images coming together: One) our move to Maine where one pays a deposit on cans and bottles; Two) the image of the man who walks through the neighborhood and the sound of him rummaging through garbage cans searching for cans and bottles he can take to the redemption center and earn a little cash; Three) the young adults who have a passion for breaking cycles of injustice, abuse of power, and poverty, yet who also wrestle with their own brokenness; Four) the verse from the Bible found in Micah chapter 6 verse 8 which says, "God has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk humbly with the Lord;" Finally) the style of prayer in which we use words intentionally to name God, reflect upon an event or circumstance, express what we feel, and remember the call to love God and love neighbor.

REDEEMING AND RECYCLING GOD

Redeeming and Recycling God, sometimes we can feel like the empty Coke can cast aside. Used and discarded, we long for someone to search for us, to find us, to redeem us, and to recycle our lives into purpose again.

Other times – by our actions and our inactions – we treat others like Coke cans.
Awaken us to when we cast aside others unaware.
Help us, for even in awareness we might try to "recycle" others, yet discard them nonetheless.

Forgive us, we pray.
Empower us to do justice and live with those cast aside;
to love mercy and speak prophetic words for those casting aside;
to walk humbly and become aware of when we perpetrate and remain aware that You are (and we are not) the redeemer.

Thank you for redeeming us for value with the deposit made on the cross.

Recycle us and transform us to see how You want to reincorporate us into Your story.
Resurrect us and grow our imaginations for ways to reincorporate those cast aside into Your story of love, compassion, truth, and grace.
In the name of the resurrected Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, Amen.

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The Great I AM: A Prayer for the Young Adults in Mission

May the Great I AM
Hear You
Deliver You
Protect You
May the Great I AM
Provide for You
Nourish You
Guide You and Lead You
May the Great I AM
Teach You
Train You
Transform You
May the Great I AM
Redeem You
Restore You
Rejoice over You
May the Great I AM
have all of your lives –
all of your faith, hope, and trust,
all of your doubt, anxieties, failures, and shortcomings –
that you may know the Great I AM in ever deeper and fuller ways
because the Great I AM – the triune God – was, is,
and will be for you…forever.
Alleluia.
AMEN
*This prayer of blessing, in the Celtic Tradition, was written for the young adults currently being trained in Stony Point, NY with the United Methodist Church. The story of Israel’s Exodus and Exile and relationship with God (“I AM” is the name given to Moses by God in the book of Exodus, and it is a name by which Jews and Christians continue to call on God today) as seen through the stories of the Old Testament.*

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