Prayer at the Loose Ends - Part 3 | Maori Ministry

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Prayer at the Loose Ends - Part 3

a woman looking wistful
Posted May 17, 2019


How do we pray when we’re overwhelmed … or, let’s be honest, just can’t be bothered?

Week Five: Prayer when my heart is overwhelmed

There are certain things that make me feel overwhelmed—too many people to start with. They come crowding into my dreams at night like unruly children, messy teenagers, demanding adults who won’t listen to me and refuse to leave.

Too many appointments, one after the other. A diary too full. Wherever did I get the idea that salvation was to be found in a full schedule? I recall a senior Salvation Army officer telling our session of cadets that he had not been home for dinner with his family for the past month. He wore this badge of busyness with considerable pride, but to my way of thinking, it was something to be ashamed of. So, how did I get to that same place? What changed within me? Surely not just the demands of the role? Something within me allowed myself to get into what my son calls ‘schedule-slam’. I dislike the phrase almost as much as I hate the experience of going to bed at night with my head in a whirl, thinking not of what I’ve got done through the day, but rather all that I’ve haven’t yet accomplished. That’s a sure recipe for anxiety and insomnia.

I feel overwhelmed at times with people’s needs and anguish. Sure, I can pray for this person or that need, but when planes disappear and new pockets of the world suddenly become war zones and floods or earthquakes wreak their devastating havoc, I don’t know how to pray. How to carry such heaviness and burden?

God says, ‘Pass it on up to me’. So, like an escalator I pass up the prayers to God. ‘Lord, here’s my friend today as she waits for surgery. Here’s my family member who needs your help in a very specific matter. Here’s the situation in Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria. Here’s the situation in Christchurch, today. I’m passing them all up to you. Please be in every place of anguish.’
Whether it’s other people’s huge needs or my own failures and sinfulness or workload, I often feel overwhelmed. In these moments I’ve learned to turn to Psalm 61:1–2: ‘When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I’—a place of new perspective, reassurance, consolation. I suspect I get to this high place on my knees. Lord, let my overwhelm become your overflow.

At a contemplative prayer day a while ago, I sat at a table with two others and drew myself as a stick figure holding a knapsack on my back. The knapsack had become full to overflowing and I was weighed down, scarcely able to move. Silently, prayerfully, the three of us passed our drawings round the table. One of the others looked at mine for a long time then, with gentle strokes of crayon, drew a hot air balloon above me, holding me and my backpack up, helping me soar and fly. When he handed my picture back to me, it was clear that the weight of the load on my back was being upheld by something, or rather Someone, much greater and stronger than me. This new perspective changed everything.

So now, when I find myself in a place where my heart feels overwhelmed, I pray: ‘Lord, like a hot air balloon, give lift to all that weighs heavily on my mind, my shoulders, my heart this day. Please bring your answer to every person whom I lift up to you. May my overwhelm turn into your overflow of grace and blessing.’

Week Six: Prayer in the CBBs

Here, I tell myself, you’ve got a job to do, a pile to clear, a friend to call. You’ve been putting it off for too long.

Sorry, I respond, I can’t.

Can’t? Why not?

I’m sick, very sick in fact.

Are you? I didn’t know that. What’s wrong with you?

I’ve got a bad dose of the ‘CBBs’.

Oh no, I groan to myself, not again.

My counsellor friends would call it loss of empathy. Other people call it compassion fatigue. I don’t give it such a lofty title. I simply call it the CBBs—the can’t-be-bothereds.
They afflict me quite often, usually striking without warning. When I’m not looking they creep up on me, find a chink in my armour of busyness, crawl inside and find a snug corner in which to settle. It usually happens when I’m tired or hungry. Long week, lots of people, had enough.

I don’t take pride in this affliction, but it has been helpful to take them by the scruff of the neck, look them in the eye and speak straight.

Now, look here, I say. What do you and I need to do?

The CBBs shrug their shoulders. Dunno.

That’s not good enough, I reply. What do we need to do?

Usual thing, I guess, they respond. Take a nap, take a break, take a KitKat.

Okay, I concede, let’s do that. This afternoon we will, we really will.

Whatever, the CBBs respond with a shrug. As if they care.

The point is they don’t loosen their grip until I do what they demand, so I’ve learned to face the reality and give in. A long nap, a good book, some time out, usually settles them down.

The ancients had their own name for this affliction. Acedie—the sloth who struck at noon day. Acedie was considered one of the most dreadful of the deadly sins because it sneaks up on you, like an unwelcome guest who turns up right on dinner time, or the neighbour’s cat who invites himself onto your favourite chair. ‘Who let you in?’ you ask, but you get only a supercilious stare.

When they pounce, I know there are some steps I need to take: First step—don’t fight them. If they say, ‘Time to rest’, then that’s what I need to do. Give myself a day off, go for a bike ride, meet a friend for coffee, take a nap, go somewhere into the guilt-free zone and chill out for a while.

Second step—don’t humour them. Don’t let them pull me into the downward slope to depression or self-pity.

Third step—don’t be surprised when they appear. They are not sins, nor evidence of guilt or transgression or great moral failure. The CBBs are simply my inmost being begging for some space so that body, soul and spirit can all catch up together again.

And when even prayer feels like too much effort in the midst of a CBB assault, I have found my hands help me. Palms open, facing down. Letting go, letting go, letting go. Thank you God.
Then, palms turned upwards. Ready to receive, ready for filling, for inspiration, for grace. Thank you God.

You might know them by another name, but if something like the CBBs creep up and pounce on you now and again, try this simple way of prayer: Just open your hands, facing down, facing up. No words needed. Let God, who can always be bothered, do the rest.

By Barbara Sampson (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 4 May 2019, p20-21  - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.