Our Best, Transforming Selves

The past couple months have felt like such a whirlwind. They have been full of good things and rife with blessings, but I find that in the midst of so much happening (even so many good things), my soul becomes a little parched. My time spent with the Lord gets shorter and shorter and my prayers become more like darts hurled in the Spirit’s direction. Though I do sense God’s presence patiently enduring beside me, I hate to admit that acknowledging that presence becomes routine at best and an afterthought at worst. I get so caught up in life that I numb the line that connects me to Life itself.

Has this ever happened to you? We all get busy and it can seem like we drag God along for the ride rather than following where He might lead. Our disciplines slip and before we know it, we are presenting a self to the world that is operating on the fumes of humanity rather than the fuel that comes with drawing near to God. If you’re feeling this way, know that you are not alone. 

One thing that can usually help pull me out of a slump is to read the words of someone that can impart wisdom for my journey. This time around, it is Ruth Haley Barton, a former pastor who now spends her time pouring into ministry leaders to help them have the rich spiritual life that we preach to our people. Her book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership is one that I encountered in seminary and has continued to pop up since. I figured it was time to take the hint God was giving me.

I could go on for days about even the first few pages, but allow me to share my favorite line so far:

“Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves.” (pg. 19)

This was convicting and encouraging all at once. I did internalize this truth as a leader, but even if you don’t find yourself in a position of leadership, it works on all levels. Perhaps we can say this:

“Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to life is our own transforming selves.”

We often hear about what it takes to “live our best lives”. One foray through Instagram will yield at least ten thousand solutions to the age old question of how to thrive. There’s nothing wrong with trying a new moisturizer now and then, but I think Barton has found the true secret. Living our best life means arriving at the party with a consistent desire to grow and be transformed. We all stagnate sometimes, and that is normal, but moving in that direction of growth and transformation makes all the difference in the world.

We are transformed when we abide in the presence of God. No matter what abiding might look like for you, it is God who is working out transformation in our lives. He can move us from bitter to loving, broken to healed, complacent and bored to full of passion and zeal. As Christians, it is our goal to always be on the road of transformation into holiness and daily looking more like Jesus. 

So what is the best way to show up to life? How can we live so that we aren’t drained to husks? Stay in God’s presence.

But, as I shared before, sometimes our spiritual lives stall out a bit. When we show up to life, we are doing so in our own power. When we aren’t seeking transformation, we can’t bring our best selves, our transforming selves, to the table.

So what do we do?

Know that God isn’t mad at you.

I don’t know about you, but when I am adrift, it can be easy to believe that the Lord is just tapping His toes, waiting for me to return so He can give me a piece of His mind. This simply is not true. When you feel like you have lost your connection to God, He is still holding on to the other end of the thread. Give it a tug and He will be there, ready to continue growing you in love. Feeling shame over having lost the way is one of the chief reasons that many of us struggle to get back on course. In the name of Jesus, there is no shame–the Creator is always ready to welcome you back. 

Do what works for you.

For me, getting out of my slump almost always involves reading and quiet, still mornings. I feel empowered by words and I feel refreshed when I get to sit in the silence. It can be hard to force myself to do these things, but I never regret the effort. For you, it might take a kayaking trip or cooking a good meal or cranking up music until you can’t hear yourself as you cry out to God. There is no one right way to connect with the Lord, so step back into your roots and follow what feels best. God made you exactly as you are and that is who He wants to see. 

 Baby steps.

It’s not a race. A step back on the right track is a step in the right direction. Give yourself grace. If you were reading large swaths of Scripture, start by reading a chapter. If you were spending hours in prayer, start by working back into 15 minutes. Ease into it, be patient, and soon you’ll find your rhythm once again.

 Remember that only God transforms.

God is the one that brings about transformation. If we want to return to bringing our transforming selves into the lives we lead, we have to understand that we can’t manufacture that in our own strength. Believe me, I’ve tried. It just results in another mask to be worn. All we can do is position ourselves for that transformation and watch God work. To show up to life as someone who is transforming is to show up hand in hand with the Holy Spirit. We can’t do it ourselves, but we can really can enjoy the process. 

So in the end, no matter how far you feel you’ve drifted, God is still in the business of transformation and being someone who is consistently being transformed in His presence is still the best way to live. Turn back, find your stride, give and receive grace, and be transformed.

Prayer Before the Alarm Goes Off

Lord, 

When my eyes crack open reluctantly and I see just enough sunlight coming through the window to signify that the day is creeping in, help my vision open wider. When I reach for my phone, catch my hand and tug me gently out of repose and into Your lap. Transform thirty minutes of “I could have been sleeping” into “Thanks for the nudge, this time with You has been nice.” Let the words of holy writ fuel me in ways that feel like gulping cool water when my throat is screaming. Let silence infiltrate my frenetic spirit; calm me down. Remind me that sometimes, the alarms you set go off before my own, and that can be a grace handed to me, whispers of true rest into my sleepy brain, breakfast in bed. 

Thank you. Amen.

Prayer for Bed, Evening and Morning

God of Sleeping, God of Waking,

You were there as I laid down and you were there as I arose. You were the comforting, quiet presence that never left your vigil and I acknowledge your reign over this space where muscles relax and muscles wind back up. Ease me in, ease me out. Help me, by Your Spirit, to lay the spent day aside and to welcome the new day with a hospitable heart. When I once again rest my head, may I look ever so slightly more like You, Lord Jesus, who refreshes and renews through the gift of repose. 

Amen

Gloria

Every night, as my eyelids get heavy, my husband leans over and asks me if I have my prayer book. We flip to the compline section of the current season of “The Divine Hours” by Phyllis Tickle (how many shout outs can I give before you buy these wonderful books?!) and proceed to close our nights with the prayers prescribed for the time before retiring. There are a few pieces of the readings that vary, but it is largely full of the type of repetition which helps etch beautiful words into one’s spirit.

“May the Lord Almighty grant me and those I love a peaceful night and a perfect end…”

“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised, for these eyes of mine have seen the savior…”

Reading liturgical prayer is a lovely practice that I cannot recommend highly enough. Even when I don’t necessarily feel like praying, these books center me and inform the shared spirituality we enjoy in our marriage. 

I often find many of the prayers get stuck in my head like an ear worm throughout the day and I feel affirmed in the fact that I have such words echoing on repeat in my subconscious, combatting the sometimes dark or hopeless thoughts which plague us all from time to time. This week, one piece of the prayer in particular has haunted me sweetly: The Gloria or Gloria Patri. The wording varies depending on where and when one finds oneself, but it goes something like this:

“Glory be to God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now, and so it shall ever be, world without end, alleluia. Amen.”

Though this was never something I heard growing up, it is used in worship around the world and has been for thousands of years. It is known as the lesser doxology, is a rich part of prayer rhythms and worship services, and is included at least twice in our bedtime routine. It has come to be written on my heart.

Because it has been stuck in my head, I figured it might be time to look at it a bit more closely. Today I want to break it down piece by piece. What exactly is it about the Gloria Patri that encourages us so much?

Glory be…

How would you describe glory? Google gives three angles: “high renown or honor won by notable achievements”; “magnificence or great beauty”; “take great pride or pleasure in”. Imagine my delight that such a quick search could reveal so much about the opening of this prayer! When we say “Glory be to God”, we are acknowledging Him with the honor He deserves, we are paying attention to His indescribable beauty, and we are reveling in all that that means for us with whom He has been pleased to share Himself. This prayer opens in a way that positions us to lift our eyes away from ourselves and toward the task of honoring the Lord, who deserves that and more. When we say “Glory be to God”, our hearts burrow in at the foot of His throne.

 …to God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit…

Here we affirm one of the richest and most mysterious pieces in the puzzle of the Christian faith. The one, true God is three in one. Confusing? Yes. Awe-inspiring? Absolutely. I love that this comes right after “Glory be” because it acknowledges the fact that God is beyond us and yet worth praising. Glory belongs to the gorgeous confusion of the Trinity, and this piece of the prayer makes space for us to ponder that anew. We can meditate upon each Member and reflect on Their meaning in our lives. These three Persons make up the fathomless depths of the Lord and it is toward this Divine dance that we lift our eyes. This is the God we serve, bask in all that that means. 

…As it was in the beginning, so it is now, and so it shall ever be, world without end…

This is my favorite part, and has been the key to my reflections this week. This portion of our prayer essentially boasts the fact that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The same Lord that spoke Creation into being is the same Lord who rubbed spit on a blind man’s eyes is the same Lord who will rule in a perfectly balanced Kingdom without end. What does it mean to you to have a God who is eternally and perfectly consistent? Whose character has always been and will always be just and loving and kind? For me, this means that my fickle heart will always have solid ground to wash up on. It means that when my knees start to buckle, the arms that bolster me do not flinch. For me, it brings the incredible comfort of knowing that the one thing that will never change is the one thing which defines life itself. Let that sink in. God has been steady, God is steady, God will be steady forever. Which leads me to say:

Alleluia! Amen!

While writing that last section, I felt my heart leaping with the desire to speak these exact words. When I ponder who God is and who God will ever be, the natural response is to want to shout and go forward with a chin held high. We burst out in praise because the truth that glory belongs to the Trinity and God will reign forever is good news, indeed. Alleluia! And when we say “amen”, we are saying, “Let it be so”. In this we are giving God the honor He deserves and then stepping out of the way to watch Him work. We affirm that He is glorious and mysterious and will be the same forever, and so our right response is to lift our voices and affirm that all of this will come to pass. When we sing, “Alleluia, amen”, we are closing this prayer with joy and boldness–Praise God! Go do Your holy thing, Lord!

My prayer this week is that the Gloria would get stuck in your head as it has gotten stuck in mine. May it draw you to meditate upon God, to revel in the power and mystery and loving consistency of God, and may it lead you to worship and surrender as our Lord continues to make all things new. 

Glory be.

Prayer for When There is Justice

God of Justice, thank you for decisions which acknowledge communities that have suffered for far too long. Thank you for the dignity that can be bestowed by acknowledging truth and taking courageous steps toward healing. Thank you that the image of God resides in and calls out from the periphery. You have always been a part of the margins, Lord, and I praise you for these moments in which the downtrodden have advocates, in which happy tears are spilled when what is right prevails. 

God of Justice, thank you that you are present behind prison bars, as well. Thank you for the thief on the cross next to yours, who was living out his punishment and yet had eyes to see and desperate sentences with which to acknowledge you. Thank you that the image of God exists in and moves beneath even the most broken of humans. You have always offered us renewal, Lord, and I praise you for these moments in which accountability steps forward, in which a new, better path reveals itself. 

God of Justice, restore. God of Justice, restore. 

Amen.

A Prayer of Surrender

Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, You gave me grass to mow and I did not cut it perfectly, but I did complete the task. I give it to you.

Jesus Christ, brother and king, You gave me a heart meant to break for others and I am not always kind, but I do feel remorse when I fail at loving my neighbor. I give it to you. 

Holy Spirit, comforter who groans on my behalf when I am too numb to groan myself, You gave me warmth and power beyond myself. I try to walk in that. You see me try. I give it to you. 

God who loves me, no matter my to-do list or attitude or temperature, thank You. I give myself to You. 

Amen

Honest Holy Week Prayer

Hey Jesus, 

On Sunday, we waved palm branches in a processional and declared that You are the best thing that has ever happened to us. This, of course, is true, but it will not take us long to forget it.

We like You when You fit our prophetic interpretations. We like You when it appears that You are going to topple whatever we consider “Rome” to be. We like You when we can imagine that You’re snuggled up to the status quo like a kitten that lives to bring soft comfort and spiritual cuddles.

Hosanna! Hosanna!

But all of a sudden You’re flipping tables. All of a sudden You’re making claims. All of a sudden You’re saying that things are not as they should be and that swords (and, by extension, assault rifles) are not the way to fix anything.

You curl Your finger to beckon us into transformation and we don’t like it, so we kill You.

On Sunday, You will rise. On Sunday, You will welcome us with nothing but affection and we will hold our loved ones close and think of how pure we feel, how holy You have made us. But today, this week, in these moments ripping us toward Golgotha, help us to remember that we are part of the problem. We are part of the crowd that screamed for blood. We all, every last one of us, need the redemption that You bring about despite our recklessness, our confusion which results in heartache.

On Palm Sunday and Good Friday alike, transformation has to hit us in the chest. We have to let it wash over us; we have to lie down in the tomb before we can kick up our heels in the sun.

Thank you, Jesus, for being the true fulfillment. Thank you, Jesus, for being better than we could hope to imagine. Thank you, Jesus, that you never stop trying to make us better, too.

Hosanna! Hosanna!

Amen.

Prayer for Winding Down

Spirit who is mist and vapor, the deepest breath which revives and refreshes,

I want to express the deliciousness of heat.

I want to express the sense of floating stillness in the form of a hymn.

I want to express my gratitude for days that are busy and for moments in which tensions are chased from my muscles; stolen time spent with the scent of bubbles rising higher than my anxiety. 

Thank you for Bath and Body Works’ take on roses. 

Thank you for at least a little puddle of warmth, despite the water heater’s protestations.

Thank you, flooding presence of the Mother, that we can exhale, if we try. 

Help us to try.

Amen.

Little Prayer for Lethargy

Ever Active God, 

When walking through life feels like slogging through jello, all slow and resistant and with a slight feeling of purposeless (if not exactly tastelessness), will you be the straw through which I breathe? I can struggle and acknowledge my environment and keep moving forward, but I need a clear tube that connects my mouth to the world above. I need deep breaths of fresh air to remind me that not all of existence is viscous and strange. I need you to remind me, to motivate me as I inch and inch and inch. 

Amen.