I feel like the old upright piano that I got for my birthday a few years ago. After playing it for about one second, anybody with ears would know something's a little off. The previous owners were quite proud of the fact that they "Old Englished" it very often, but as soon as we got it home, we realized that, among all that "Old Englishing" the poor guy never got tuned. Not in at least the last 15 years anyway. It looks amazing on the outside, but the core function of the piano is struggling to deliver. There's one key that sticks down when you play it and won't come back up, one key that just doesn't make any tone at all, and every other key pretty much stays a little flat 100% of the time. Anytime we get it retuned, it sounds great for a few days, and then slowly, we begin to notice it going flat again.
For me, I feel a little bit like the always slightly out-of-tune birthday piano. I have those brief moments where everything feels good - I'm seeing clearly, walking with the Lord, writing songs, and have a vision for what I want to do and where I want to be. Unfortunately, those moments of clarity have a tendency to quickly turn a little sour, and instead of making beautiful piano sounds and offering up complete chords, the melody is just a little wrong.
Instead of being at the mountain peak, I live somewhere between there and the valley, hiking horizontally through tall pine trees without a compass.
Most of the time, at least for me, life this side of Heaven is hard. It just cannot offer me everything I need to be happy. It cannot fill me up completely. It's lonely. And struggles do not go away. At the edge of darkness, it feels as if it's all about to completely fall apart, and no one can help it.
It is incredibly hard for me to let go and trust God. When the notes begin to go flat, when my friends don't call, when my husband doesn't say the right thing to lift me up, I wonder what went wrong. I feel like it must be my mistake, that I'm missing something. Prayer for me is hard - I can't be still and focus - I certainly cannot meditate on scripture. That's hard even when I feel like me and God are "in sync". Calling up a friend to have "that talk" is even worse - it's hard to make a confession or ask for wisdom or prayer when you just don't even know what's wrong.
The cycle of not bringing my struggles to light, with the valley getting closer and closer, with the shadow of doubt lingering in the corner of my eye, with the brief moments of complete and utter loathing of myself for not having it all together - that hurts. Not just emotionally, but physically. All I want is to see just a speck of light so that I can better manage the everyday failures of a life lived here on earth.
I know I'm not the only one that has ever felt this way, but the enemy certainly finds a way to convince me that I am.
This morning though, I am confronted by the knowledge that, not only am I not alone in this, but at one point or another, every one of my brothers and sisters will struggle with this as well. There is no perfection here - nothing can completely satisfy - and I am an imperfect being - WITHOUT the Love of God. With him, I know that the struggles of the world will not end, but at least I'm not navigating them blindly.
God showed me something that I want to stuff in my little spirit wallet for the next time things fall out of key, ie: tomorrow.
Brennan Manning says,
"The first step toward rejuvenation begins with accepting where you are and exposing your poverty, frailty, and emptiness to the love that is everything. Don't try to feel anything, think anything, or do anything. With all the goodwill in the world you cannot make anything happen. Don't force prayer. Simply relax in the presence of the God you half believe in and ask for a touch of folly."
After reading these words, he suggests that we follow a three step prayer. Now, I'm not usually the one to love this sort of activity, but, since it's Brennan Manning, I decided to give it a shot - and you know what, I am feeling a little bit better. I wanted to share it with you, believer, because I know that you feel what I feel, if you're walking with God. And, we ragamuffins gotta stick together!
This is going to be the abbreviated version of a profound practice illustrated in The Ragamuffin Gospel. I suggest you go out and buy the book, or Kindle it, or whatever you do. Just get it.
1. Gently close your eyes and assume a posture that is comfortable but alert (sitting up straight, lying on the ground, standing). For ten minutes, pray over and over the first line of Psalm 23,
"Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing."
2. For the next ten minutes, pray over the following message from Hosea - inserting your own name where you see the name Israel:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
out of Egypt I called my son.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
who took them in my arms;
I drew them with human cords,
with bands of love;
I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks;
Yet, though I stooped to feed my child,
they did not know that I was their healer.
How could I give you up, o Ephraim?
or deliver you up, O Israel?
How could I treat you as Adma,
or make your like Zeboiim?
My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again;
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you.
3. For the last 5 minutes, slowly read aloud the following texts:
- Hosea 2:14-15
- Isaiah 49:1, 15-16
- Romans 8:31-32
I know there's a lot of different ways we can be refreshing our faith so that these moments of in-between get easier and easier to navigate. This is just one that seems to be working for me today.
Let's hope that the same approach might be helpful for the always slightly out-of-tune birthday piano. Maybe after a few regular tunings, it'll begin to hold on to its beautiful tuned sound better and better each time.