How do we pray when our hearts are wounded? Barbara Sampson takes us on a weekly journey, to guide us as we attempt to pray through the grief of our nation, and into hope.
To whom else can we go?
Christchurch is in the news again, for all the wrong reasons. Not an earthquake this time, but something on a similar magnitude scale.
The news has been flashed around the world. The pictures in the newspaper and on television tell the full horrific story of the sudden violence unleashed by a gunman upon innocent worshippers at two mosques on Friday, 15 March. That story has been followed by an ever-growing story of sorrow and grief expressed in love that has wrapped itself in headscarves and bunches of flowers laid reverently at a memorial wall.
I can’t get breath. I feel as though I am suffocating. I can’t find words. It’s like waking up every morning to a nightmare. Tears lie deep beneath the surface but refuse to come up and be released. The son of a local dairy owner, just up the road from where we live, was killed. A father of a five-year old, a three-year-old and a one-year-old, he was often in the dairy, although it was his mother whom I usually saw when I called in to buy a Saturday paper. I took her a bunch of Christmas lilies last year when there was an over-abundance in our garden. Now the outside of her shop is lined with flowers of all descriptions, some florist-bought and some from home gardens, all there to express sympathy and support.
Other stories rise to the surface, all distinct and unique but all sounding out the common themes of hope in this person, the investment by family into their life and education, the gentle devotion that saw them praying at the mosque on that particular day.
New Zealand Herald journalist Steve Braunias summed up the national response to this horror when he wrote, ‘New Zealand is at half-mast: half-ashamed of itself, half-mad with grief.’
So what do we do? Where do we turn in such a time? Like Peter we cry out to the Lord himself, ‘To whom else can we go?’ Where else can com-fort be found, that word that means ‘with-strength’? Comfort to keep moving, to keep breathing, to keep living even in the midst of this horror that has slammed into our lives. Until words return and breathing finds its rhythm again, may we hold fast—to God and to each other, our brothers and sisters, no matter our race or our religion.
the page is empty
not because the block has chopped again
but words fail this time
because there are no words
to gather round the broken hearts
of mothers losing sons
of fathers gone in a moment
of grandfathers no longer there
to speak their wisdom
When words fail at such a time
help me to find other words
bigger than myself
to wrap com-fort
around those who were strangers
but now are neighbours
When it’s difficult to pray
It is not difficult to pray on the sunshiny days when everything seems sweet and light. When the dawn chorus wakes us up in the early hours and we sit with a cup of coffee looking out over a garden full of roses in glorious bloom and soft morning dew on the grass. When we consider the great many things we have to be thankful for, and delight in the current season of life with all its gifts and blessings. Sweet hour of prayer indeed. Sweet as!
But … and I guess you could hear that coming. But what about the other days when a grey morning outside somehow matches our grey mood inside, as we wake and our prayer seems to rise no further than the curling steam from our coffee?
Then, there are the darker times still, when our whole world is shaken. When unspeakable, unfathomable things happen and we can’t see where a loving God could be in the midst of it all.
What is prayer like at such times? How do we pray in the ‘but’ moments of life?
Prayer at the loose ends
A few years ago, I retired from active Salvation Army officership. As I concluded my final appointment it was easy enough to sort through the filing cabinet, take the posters off the walls, tidy up the computer files. But there were also messy things that could not be brought to such a tidy conclusion—a conflict matter still unresolved, the money still owed from a certain debtor, the appointment (still to be sorted) of a suitable person to take on a particular task.
To my tidy mind, such loose ends were hard to walk away from and leave in someone else’s in-tray. Then God reminded me that it is at the very ends of those loose ends that I need to trust him to bring about his resolution in his time and in his way.
The experience made me ponder what prayer looks like at the loose ends. ‘Lord, you tie this one up. I don’t know where to file this matter—in pending, mending or never-ending. Help me take my hands off and leave these loose ends for you to weave together into something beautiful.’
In thinking about the loose ends in my office, I also caught a glimpse of some of the loose ends in my own life—incomplete repentance, unredeemed places of the heart, rooms with doors still closed to God’s entrance. As I sat with these loose ends, asking God to help me hand them over for his attention and care, I realised there are loose ends to pray in many aspects of our lives: in the bleak moments when answers don’t seem to come, in the dark night, in the vulnerable place, in the bruising encounter, in the abandoned place.
This brief series on prayer over the next few editions of War Cry will feature some of these random loose ends. You might even find a few loose ends of your own that could do with some prayer!
Whether it’s last winter’s unfinished knitting
thank you letters still waiting to be written
forgiveness that yet awaits its moment
or a heart still aching for mending
God of order and grace
will you meet me at the loose ends
of my life
help me hand them over to you
and leave them there
for your attention
By Barbara Sampson (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 6 April 2019, p20-21 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.