Do you have a life verse? One that comforts you when you're suffering? Encourages you when you're in the doldrums? I do. Matthew 11:29-30 The Message continually speaks encouragement to me. And today, because of numerous painful family situations (Joel's ongoing autism struggles, dementia, depression, anxiety, a family rift), I find myself in the pits. And so I pull out this Scripture once again:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
My husband and I sat down for our quiet time this morning, and neither of us was in the mood to pray. We've not been to church together in four months because Joel refuses to enter our new church building. His Saturdays and Sundays with us have been filled with agitation, anxiety, and a need to jump from one activity to another. It's been exhausting. Not being able to worship with our community has made it that much harder. Pray about it again? Why bother summed up our mood. We pray and pray and pray for Joel and these other family situations, and we see no progress. Where are the answered prayers that are promised in the Scriptures? We drive ourselves to distraction reading and praying and seeking help from therapists and counselors, pastors and friends. C'mon, God! Where are you?
Then I pull out Jesus' words in Matthew 11. Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Notice Jesus doesn't say to get out a stack of books and try and figure it out.
He doesn't say to meet with ten people and get their opinions.
He doesn't say to give him a laundry list of prayers.
He says, Come to me. Get away with me.
The only way I know how to do this is through meditation or contemplative prayer. I used to practice this spiritual discipline every single day, sometimes twice a day. But in the busyness of life I've let it drop from my spiritual practice basket.
So, this morning, my husband and I close our eyes and we sit in the quiet. We take a few deep breaths to relax our bodies. In our minds we repeat our centering word—we both use "Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus." When our thoughts wander, as thoughts tend to do, we gently bring our minds back to our centering word. Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. For 15-20 minutes, it is as simple as this. It is as difficult as this. Sitting in silence for 15-20 minutes, bringing one's monkey mind back to a centering word, over and over again, takes a lot of practice. And finding that place of peace, beyond the centering word—which is just a tool to quiet the mind— definitely doesn't happen right away.
But It's well worth the practice. Why? Because as we continue to let the Lord know our intention is simply to be with him—to put our otherwise "important" stuff to the side—He honors that intention. What seemed a mountain a moment ago slowly crumbles down to the size of a mole hill. What seemed urgent washes away with a sluice of cool water. We enter a place of deep stillness, a place where the peace of Christ, even in the midst of our struggles, enfolds us.
It is here, in His Presence, that we are filled to overflowing. It is here, in His Presence, that we are empowered to go on in demanding and seemingly "impossible" situations. It is here that the eyes and ears of our hearts open to hear wisdom that we cannot hear when we are so busy seeking it through other means—in other words, through our own effort.
Why is it so hard for me to pick up this practice again? I honestly don't know. Is it spiritual warfare? Laziness? Forgetfulness? I'm not sure. But this I do know for sure. Here, in Jesus' Presence, I discover more and more of who Jesus is, and more and more of who He has created me to be. The more time I spend here, the more I develop open ears and open eyes to the holiness all around me.
I hope you will give contemplative prayer a try. Father John Keating's book, Open Mind, Open Heart was most helpful to me when I was learning this practice.
And following is a video of a song by Carrie Newcomer that is helping me through these days of struggle and doubt. It's called "As Holy as the Day is Spent." Carrie is an amazing songwriter/singer. She sings so eloquently about finding the holy in the little details of life.
We are not alone. Even when we don't see the answers we are looking for in the prayers we offer up, God is with us. We are standing on Holy Ground at all times. Sometimes we need to take off our shoes and respond by saying, "Here I am, Lord! Let me simply sit in your Presence." And sometimes we can respond by opening the eyes of our hearts to recognize His Presence in the dishes, the laundry and the geese flying overhead. And at the end of the day we can say, "Surely the Lord is with me in this place."
Kathleen Bolduc is the mother of three sons and one daughter of heart, the youngest of whom is an adult son with autism. Kathy is a spiritual director, co-founder of Cloudland, a contemplative retreat center, and the author of The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities and Autism & Alleluias. She can be reached through her website: kathleenbolduc.com