I’ve found it! I’ve found it! The perfect prayer for me.
Praying for yourself can get a bit tangled, can’t it? Desire versus submission, trying to avoid a shopping list but churning one out anyway…. lamely saying ‘But in spite of all I’m asking for, Lord, your will be done’. The words are easy enough but meaning it in your bones is another thing entirely. And anyway, looking at our complicated lives, where do we start and where do we end? Where is the balance between being responsible and yet accepting that God is in charge? I struggle with that. I’m happy to sit back and leave it all to God.
This is the prayer I found this morning in Proverbs, 30:7-9 and it just made me say aloud “That’s it! That’s blinkin’ well it!” and then I turned to the Message version and it seemed even clearer, so here it is,
God, I’m asking for two things
before I die; don’t refuse me—
Banish lies from my lips
and liars from my presence.
Give me enough food to live on,
neither too much nor too little.
If I’m too full, I might get independent,
saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’
If I’m poor, I might steal
and dishonor the name of my God.
Isn’t that great? It’s fabulous! It’s a prayer of balance. Just two things while I’m still on the Earth; let me live honestly with honest people, and please let me live simply. And I realised as I offered it up in some sort of Eureka! excitement, that this is exactly what God has already done in my life – I have neither too much nor too little, and I have good friends and fellowship. Balance. Wow. More good things than I deserve and less bad things than I deserve. Perfect! Even I can remember to ask for two things.
I’ve been thinking about balance these last few days, and I don’t want to be simplistic about it, but isn’t balance the secret to a happy life? And isn’t balance something that we all struggle with? I lack balance. I very rarely worry. I think it might even be accurate to say that I never worry. That’s not good, it’s unbalanced. It’s a sort of emotional laziness, a shedding of responsibility. If we never worry about the future do we really care about it? Many years ago I gave an interview and was asked how I would describe my character and I said ‘cow like’. and I really do think that’s true. I wander along, chew the cud, look up at the sky, chew a bit more cud…. placid old me. I don’t see anything as a catastrophe, and very little as a crisis. I have a default position of contentment-no-matter-what. It’s not a good balance, because I’m not Paul of Tarsus in his prison cell who was content in spite of all his difficulties, who spread the word anyway, who reached out beyond his prison cell in letters and care and teaching, who was a shining example of Christ’s love, who was filled with the power of the Spirit. He had balance in his contentment. Me? What would my contentment look like if I was in his position? It would look as if I was sitting in my cell and dreaming a bit, sleeping a bit, doodling in the dust, wondering what’s for dinner, spinning a story in my head to pass the time. There is a balance to be struck between contentment and passivity. I haven’t found it yet. Another thing to pray for, then!
I know someone who has the opposite problem – she worries about everything. I do mean ‘everything’. Her thoughts are exhausting, a treadmill of possible consequences leading to possible disasters, and she recounts them all, her throat tight, her voice pinched and her hands fidgetty, seeming to bristle as each new worry hits her, as if the worries are pushing at every cell of her body, trying to break free. Will the council tax go up? From that simple moment of a single worry come a hundred more; and if it does, will she have to use the winter heating allowance to pay it? and if that happens will she be able to put the heating on at all? and if she can’t keep warm will she become ill? and if she becomes ill will her son look after her? and if he does how will he manage to work? will he move in with her? and if he does what will happen to his own home when he’s not there to look after it? his water pipes might burst in the cold and he wouldn’t know and the place would get flooded and he might not be covered by his insurance and…. and so it goes on. There is barely a pause in the flow of what-ifs to inject a word of reason. Balance. I need a tiny bit of her racing mind, and she needs a tiny bit of my placidity.
In our community two much loved people have died in a house fire and somehow we have gone, as a community, off-kilter. Unbalanced. There’s a pall of depression and a sense that ‘God has it in for us’. Even those who don’t believe in God are blaming him, which seems perverse. As we meet in the street or the shop there’s just one topic of conversation, the sadness, the loss, the apparent waste and random nature of the tragedy, the possible causes of the fire. It’s understandable, the blackened ruins of the house stand like an ugly scar in the very centre of our winter-white village. The sadness is there in everyone’s mind, but there’s only so much we can say to each other before we start to wallow or speculate or, well, gossip. The danger is that it becomes all about us, and how we feel and how we react and what we saw and what we think…. There is balance to be found between saying yet more empty words and holding each other up with encouragement and support. This morning as I walked on the beach I saw a friend approaching and my heart sank, knowing before she opened her mouth that there would be a re-telling of the event of that awful night, details we both knew already, as if repeating them would somehow help. It doesn’t. There comes a time when talking about the events of that night just feeds the sadness. It seems that we have forgotten that along with the deaths there have been births in the village, and recuperations, people returning home from hospital after months away, and an outpouring of care for each other, carol services arranged, hot meals provided for those in need, the sweet alongside the bitter. Balance. It seems that we can’t see the beautiful tension between the wonderful world we have been given, the years of life we have had, and – of course – our mortality. A beautiful tension or balance that means life is so good, so rewarding, such an undeserved gift, that we mourn its passing.
There were other things to talk about and wonder at, and celebrate this morning: Above us was God’s great blue canopy, the sea sparkled, mist was rising from the waves, the air was crisp and pure, the icy sand crunched beneath our feet, the knitted baubles on the Poppit Christmas tree twisted and danced in the breeze, and we had all this. All this, alongside our sadness. Balance
He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
he suspends the earth over nothing.
He wraps up the waters in his clouds,
yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
He covers the face of the full moon,
spreading his clouds over it.
He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters
for a boundary between light and darkness.
The pillars of the heavens quake,
aghast at his rebuke.
By his power he churned up the sea;
by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces.
By his breath the skies became fair;
his hand pierced the gliding serpent.
And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
how faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”