We came home last Saturday from family camp in the Adirondacks. This is the fourth year that we’ve spent a week of vacation there with two other families. Inevitably, it is one of the best weeks of the year. Continue Reading
“Thank you God for this pasta and this fork and the napkin and the placemat and the lettuce and the cucumbers and thank you God for this day. A-MEN!” The prayer ends with a self-satisfied smile from Andrew.
We all begin reaching for our forks and napkins when Colin insists, “WAAAAIIIIT! I didn’t get to pray.”
We again fold our hands and bow our heads.
Colin’s eyes squint halfway closed. His head swivels to watch us as he begins to pray.
“Thank you God for this pasta and this sauce and HIS EYES AREN’T CLOSED!” Colin accuses, looking at Nathan.
“Just pray!” we groan. Dinner is growing cold.
“Thank you God for this pasta and this sauce and the fork and the placemat and thank you God for the chair and SHE’S EATING!” Camille is now the guilty one.
She puts her fork down, and the prayer begins again. . . from the beginning. After Twin #2 has successfully thanked God for more things than his brother, his prayer ends with an emphatic amen, a kind of exclamation point on a job well done.
And I wonder.
When prayers are answered, is it to congratulate my job well-done?
Do prayers get answered because my measure of fervency and faithfulness has finally been reasoned by God to be sufficient?
Are my prayers getting answered because I’m selecting the right words, phrasing the right sentences, and unlocking heaven’s reluctance by my own cleverness?
And what’s to be done about the prayers I’ve only prayed half-heartedly? Wanting but not really? Believing but not really?
The angel tells Zechariah the great news: his prayers have been answered. Yes! He and Elizabeth will have a son!
But verse 18 tells the real truth about Zechariah’s prayers, and ultimately, his faith.
It’s threadbare. It’s been worn right through by the steady advancing of years and years of praying for a baby. And years and years of silence. God didn’t answer. Nothing changed.
There was nothing other than to believe that the books had been closed, and the answer was no.
And now God was answering a prayer Zechariah had given up praying?
God was now granting a gift to a man who’d lost faith?
And all those prayers I lose heart praying? The desires I don’t have the courage to name? The moments when my faith is threadbare and I can’t believe much that’s good and faithful about God?
He still hears?
Advent is great news for the faithless: make room for the yes.
Faith always feels like following a distant star.
And I’d rather have a road map.
Our family signed up for star-following when we decided to come to Toronto. Two to five years was the best guess as to how long we’d be here.
It had all felt so adventurous when we’d set out. We’d live in the city and send our kids to a French school. We’d keep our house in Chicago and visit often.
Two to five years, and we’d have had our taste of the urban. The kids would be bilingual.
But you soon start to realize that the span between two and five years is big. And the sheer impermanence of living in it can drive you mad.
In two years, our oldest will be in 7th grade, our youngest just starting 1st. In five years, we’ll have a high schooler.
Two years is hardly time to plant your feet. In five years you’ve grown some roots.
How many times can Ryan and I have the conversation, “Are we staying?”
And of course there aren’t answers for that question. It’s nothing we can yet decide, if ultimately, we’ll even be given the choice to decide.
I reassure our friends and family back in the States that we miss them.
I enthuse to friends here about all we’ve come to love in Toronto.
Both are true.
Both are maddening.
But I suppose this is exactly how faith must feel.
On the one hand, there are sky certainties to follow. We know some things to be true, and that’s why we set out.
Beginnings always feel adventurous. But the real test is never setting out. What matters is continuing on when the faith stars keep up their perpetual movement, and we’re wishing they’d just slow down. We want road maps and destinations. We want to calculate miles and arrival times.
And all we get are stars. Beautiful, luminous, distant stars, leading us right to Him.
Yesterday, I told you all about our little miracle and answered prayers.
It seems appropriate that today’s word, in this series of reflections on Advent, is believe. When the angel visited Mary, bringing the incredible news that she, a young, unmarried girl, would give birth to God’s Son, Mary suspends her fear and incredulity. She believes.
My own story of belief starts way back. I had parents who were faithful Baptists. We went to church when the doors were open.
But when I became a teenager, the Jesus-stuff bored me. Religion seemed something much better practiced by the thirty-somethings,who, settled down with kids, would be spending their Friday nights at home anyways.
And then I had a come-to-Jesus moment. I was sixteen, attending a week-long camp with my youth group.
It wasn’t a moment I’d prepared for or anticipated. I certainly had no intention of becoming a Jesus freak. But it was a moment that would change my life irrevocably.
It’s since that time that I’ve come to believe the craziest, most hopeful things, about God and this world.
I believe in a God who forgives and pursues.
I believe in a God who listens.
I believe in a God who speaks.
I believe in a God whose purpose it is to undo brokenness and make things finally right.
I believe in a God who is near.
I believe in Jesus.
Not sure where you are in your own personal journey of faith, but I do have some spiritual memoirs to recommend, written by people who describe their own journey of belief.
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris
No Compromise by Keith Green
Beyond Our Selves by Catherine Marshall
For the intellectually skeptical, here are some very reasoned books about faith.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright
The Language of God by Francis Collins