Helpless But Not Hopeless

I held her in my arms and let her cry. I didn’t know how to pray for her. I couldn’t find the words. I let her cry, and I cried with her.

Let’s call her LeThabo. At the Friday Night Youth Celebration at Anglicans Ablaze, we had a special time of ministry and prayer. I served on the ministry team. A young girl, probably around 15 or 16, came up to me for prayer. “My mother has HIV,” she whispered in my ear, “and we are poor. I’m scared.” And then she broke down in tears. How to pray for her? I thought. I was so overcome with, why, God, why? LeThabo’s story is so common here; she represents thousands upon thousands of South African young people. I prayed for her mom’s healing; I prayed for her and her siblings, but it felt fake. I was so angry. Then I could no longer find the words. We wept together, and I found myself saying to her, it’s OK to cry, just let it all out. God understands your pain and weeps with you.

I felt so helpless as I held LeThabo in my arms, but neither one of us was hopeless. I don’t understand why there is so much pain and suffering in South Africa and in the world. I don’t understand why teenagers, whose greatest concern should be their studies and who should be blossoming into life, have to bear so much pain and responsibility. It doesn’t seem fair; it’s not fair.

At the times when we can’t find the words to pray, we can weep with our sisters and brothers in their pain and trust that God hears our prayers of tears.

 

Trust in him at all times, you people;

pour out your hearts to him,

for God is our refuge.

–Psalm 62:8

 

The [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

–Romans 8:26

 

 

 

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Giving Up Stress for Lent

On the way to our church’s Ash Wednesday service, I was whinging about some issues and problems of the week that were stressing me out, when my friend humoursly said, ”So, are you giving up stress for Lent?” “Yes,” I flippantly remarked. And then, after a couple of seconds, I seriously responded, “Yes, I’m going to give up stress for Lent.”

At the Ash Wednesday service, when we sung one of my favourite hymns, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” this stanza struck me:

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Yep, I thought to myself, I’m giving up stress for Lent.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not sure how far I will get with this practice, but I will give it my best shot. I know God has been dealing with me for years about the way I handle stress. I know that stress is a part of life. Whether or not I’m living in Cape Town or Nashville, there will be elements of stress from time to time. Sometimes, there will be a lot of stress!

But I’m going to try to curb my stress load by practicing these steps when something is starting to cause stress in my life:

  1. Say a quick prayer: God help!
  2. Ask myself: What can I control about this situation? If nothing, I will pray for the strength and ability to hand over this situation to God. If there are areas of the situation I can control, I will start making a plan to control
    this little fellow knows how to make a plan
    this little fellow knows how to make a plan

    them, starting with baby action steps.

  3. Pray, pray, pray—asking God for peace and guidance and wisdom, regardless of whether or not it is a situation I can control.

This may be a simplistic approach, but I’m going to try it. It’s a start. Lent is a time of growing closer to God, and often we give up something or take on a spiritual discipline in order to grow in our faith. I’m giving up the “strain and stress,” and I’m giving it to God so that my “ordered life” can confess and receive the “beauty of God’s peace.” God can sort out the stressors in my life, as he assures us in 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV), “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

You can listen to “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” at
http://grooveshark.com/s/Dear+Lord+and+Father+Of+Mankind/58uBxB?src=5

Rejoice

When I can’t sleep at night, I know that I am super stressed or overwhelmed and that it is time to make a change. Last night was one of those nights. But around 3:00 in the morning, in the midst of tossing and turning, I heard a voice speak to my spirit, saying, “Rejoice.” As I continued to drift in and out of sleep, I would repeat to myself as a half-asleep breathe prayer, “rejoice” and “peace.”

I know the voice I heard was God’s, and I have been reflecting all morning on what God is trying to tell me. Why rejoice? 

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to tap into God’s strength. In no other point of my life have I experienced what it truly means to be weak and to depend on God for total strength. But I’m still struggling to figure out how to be strong in God. I know prayer and scripture reading serve as the foundation of our relationship with God; but to be perfectly honest, I don’t exactly experience a bolt of strength when I spend time with God. Perhaps God’s working is more internal, strengthening me in ways yet unknown.

Joey
Joey isn’t my pet; he belongs to my sister. But he is teaching me loads about unconditional love and rejoicing.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across this scripture verse: “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, NRSV). I remember thinking, Hum. That’s interesting. How does that really work? After last night’s experience, I have decided to spend the next few days rejoicing in God’s goodness and not focusing on my endless to-do list. I am reminded of one of my favorite scripture passages (and Henry Purcell Anthems): “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”  (Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV). Perhaps the “peace” part of my half-asleep breathe prayer came from my subconscious memory of this scripture passage.

I’m going to give this “rejoice” thing a try, and I believe by delighting in God I will find the strength for which I’m looking. Won’t you join me?