Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Plate Runneth Over

When we moved our family here from Casper, Wyoming in 1990, Aunt Harriet and Uncle Marv were our only relatives in town and for all practical purposes, the only people we knew. They put up swings from the big tree in their back yard for the girls and we often enjoyed family dinners at their house. Aunt Harriet made incredible birthday cakes in any likeness, even one that looked like our cat. She made the kids hamburgers shaped like dogs and let them eat with toothpicks instead of forks. Need I say more?

Family dinners around Aunt Harriet’s and Uncle Marv’s table started for me when I was a little girl. My parents were divorced, so my Uncle Marv was always there to be a father figure when I needed one. One Easter dinner, in particular, stands out in my memory. I was about ten, and unfortunately, someone let Uncle Marv know I was not capable of swallowing a pill. We were sitting around the table just about to enjoy dinner when out of the blue someone in my family spilled the beans.

“Now Annie, you mean to tell me that you are ten years old and can’t swallow a pill? Uncle Marv never pulled any punches. I decided to respond in kind. I shook my head and muttered an affirmative response into my plate.
“Well, it’s just like swallowing one of those peas. Now, you can swallow one of those peas can’t you?” I was and always will be his favorite niece, (give up on it Martha, no contest), so I carefully surveyed the mound of peas on my plate and then gazed up at my favorite Uncle with the most pitiful look I could muster.
“Nope” Thinking this would be the end of it, I started in on my ham.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Put one on your tongue and let’s get after it.”

Even taking into consideration all of the millions of children who’ve spent countless hours shoving their peas around their plates, mounding them under mashed potatoes, and wading them up in napkins, I still think I may hold some sort of record for slowest ingestion of peas during a single meal. It took almost the entire serving and several glasses of water before I finally swallowed one. From there, I moved on the Children’s Aspirin and the rest is history. I’ve become the vitamin and herbal supplement fanatic you see today.

Uncle Marv was right, I could do it. He just had his 85th birthday and we still tell that story at dinner whenever we have peas. My prayer life has had similar progression. It seems to grow in fits and starts. Often it takes the encouragement of a friend to getting it moving forward. Unlike swallowing peas, I’m generally eager to try new things, like meditations, structured prayer times, and joining prayer groups. It’s praying for God’s will to be done in my life that I often choke on. I’m easily discouraged when the obstacle before me appears overwhelming, like that huge mound of peas.

Prayers, in order to go down smoothly, must be wrought by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they are ineffective, not because we aren’t praying the ‘right’ way. They are ineffective because we aren’t praying in accordance with God’s will, so we only measure the “success” of the prayer by our desired outcome. When things don’t turn out as we had hoped, it’s like that pea that just won’t go down. If we don’t open ourselves to the possibilities God has chosen for us, we can pray our hearts out, but we’ll just keep sputtering, no matter how many cups of watery words we try to flush them down with.

Sometimes the potential for change implied in asking for God’s will to be done is so intimidating, we gag on the thought of it. We may want a better relationship, but not if it means we are being asked to accept a person just the way they are or to forgive an injustice. We may be truly miserable in a situation, but too afraid to leave. God may even be leading us to change the very things we want so dearly, to let go of things we hold on to. It’s a small phrase, but a huge sentiment: “God, please show me your will”. I have often been guilty of shoving it around my prayer plate for long stretches of time before attempting to swallow it.

Prayer takes discipline. It helps to have an Uncle Marv nudging you along. It takes courage and a willingness to change or leave our comfort zones to truly embrace the new creations in Christ God wants us to become. Prayer implies trust. St. James tells us in his epistle that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much”. Fruitful prayer lives don’t so much hinge on the methods we employ, but on the intent with which we pursue them. I’m grateful to my friends and family who continually inspire me to desire God’s will in my life, even when my plate appears overwhelmingly full of peas.

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