Psalms For Us

Sometimes I start my prayers for my children by looking toward the heavens (or their now-deceased mother and father, which, I believe, is the same general direction) and shouting, “Don’t blame me, they’re your children!” I think this approach is based in sound theology, an awareness that the boys are children of the universe, beloved, intended, gifted. As both a child and a parent myself, I find this perspective inordinately comforting, that is, when I’m not infuriated by the fact that I am not in charge. Honestly, there are a lot of things that I would do differently in this half-baked, overcharged world, but I cannot swaddle my children in bubble-wrap and keep them securely on the sofa. No doubt my sons are grateful for this fact, but when I am powerless to keep them safe from, nuclear holocaust, weather, dread illness or their own misguided decision-making, the only thing that helps me keep a semblance of sanity is to trust them to a higher divinity.

I realize this approach sounds bonkers.

I accomplish excessively nothing with my ranting, my research and my own resilience. I might as well just sit down. So I do. Which, as it turns out, helps a great deal. Breathing slowly and intentionally, I quiet my inner crazy.

It’s not entirely unorthodox. King David appears to have prayed the same way. First, a raging storm, the desperate fear, the raised fist, the crippling arrogance. Then, the folded hands, and the receptive, grateful heart.

 

Selections from Psalm 139

[As rendered and annotated by an Ordinary Mom]

Oh Lord, You have searched [my son] and You know [him].

Dude! I cannot figure this kid out – what inspires him, what he’s about, why on earth he does the things he does – but you know him inside and out. The child makes no sense to me, but it gives me great comfort to know that You understand him. You don’t have to explain him to me. Anyway, it’s probably best that I don’t know. But if You could just make sure he knows that You understand him, I would be grateful. Make sure he has a place where he fits, that he feels loved, seen, held and safe, that he has a home in the world. Give him the confidence that comes from knowing he belongs.

You know when [he sits] and when [he stands]; You understand [his] thoughts from afar.

It’s definitely best that I not know.

[His] journey and [his] rest You scrutinize; with all [his] ways You are familiar.

Look out for the boy. He’s setting out on his own path. Thank goodness You are with him, especially now that he has left home, but I sure miss him something crazy. I worry about him constantly, even though I’m not peppering him with questions and text messages. I hope he knows where he’s going. I hope he gets enough rest. I hope he eats well. Throw some vegetables in his path for me, please. I hope You’re whispering in his ear.

He can leave and go away from home, but he is never away from Love, Yours and mine. Walk beside him on his day. You know who he is and the young man his is becoming.

Even before a word is on [his] tongue, behold O Lord, you know the whole of it.

The things he says – OMG – I realize he doesn’t intend to say anything irretrievably mean, or worse, unabashedly stupid, but help him to explain his ideas fully. Show him context. Teach him to be a good listener; maybe he could learn to swallow the wayward word on his tongue before it escapes. Or at least teach him to pause.

Teach me, too.

Behind [him] and before, You hem [him] in, and rest Your hand upon [him]. Such knowledge is too wonderful for [him]; too lofty for [him] to attain.

You advocate for him. You pay attention to his needs. You listen. Your presence is a guiding constant in his life. He doesn’t know how wonderful it is that you protect him on every side – emotionally, physically, mentally – but I do. Thank you.

For it was You who formed [his] inward parts, You knit [him] together in [his] mother’s womb.

When he was so small, a baby, still in utero, I could wrap my arms around him and almost believe that I could keep him safe, that I could create a healthier baby by eating well, and breathing clean air and reading to him, singing him to sleep, rocking him gently. But this child was never really about me and my procreative prowess. I am grateful for the privilege of mothering him, but he belongs to You. He was always Yours. He still is.

I am, too.

[He praises] You, for [he is] fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works; that [he knows] very well.

His life is a testament to You. His goodness and kindness in all their forms, as class clown, athlete, confidante, show Your dedication to his well-being. When he smiles, You smile. He knows his self worth as Your child, beloved, intended and gifted.

I do, too.

***

Wishing you light & strength on your healing path. And peace in your heart.

Begging and Bribing and Other Favorite Prayers

I think the prayers of begging and bribing might be underrated. And name-calling. That’s another one of my go-to prayers.

It’s 7:33am, and I’m already done with people. Not any of the ones who are the subjects of my Christmas card photographs. Or even the ones to whom I send those pictures. Just everybody else.

Regrettably, my general misanthropy is beginning toward extend to the dogs, or at least one of them. In an effort to salvage our relationship, I deliver him to the groomer. When he vomited up the lizard a few days ago, that was a mess we could address ourselves. This morning, however, requires a professional.

I’ve been praying for the little dog. We are not quite sure what’s wrong. Might have been the gum he stole out of the trashcan, but I did manage to retrieve that from his throat before he swallowed it. I also cut the rest of the sticky mess out of his hair and confirmed that Extra Spearmint contains no xylitol (which is toxic to dogs). More than likely that lizard is having the last laugh after all.

The dog who would normally eat until he explodes has not touched his food — or anybody else’s — in a day and a half, and frankly, we are all becoming alarmed. Our youngest son says, “Mom, if the dog dies tonight because you didn’t take him to the ER, you are going to feel really bad.”

Yes, I will. Thank you for mentioning it.

I can’t really blame him for pressuring me to step up the efforts on the dog’s behalf. This directive is oddly similar to the prayer missives I’ve been throwing in God’s direction. Which, thus far, seem to have been largely ineffective. Intellectually, I realize I might just need to settle down, get my self out of the way, and try a different tack. But no. I rattle off a few threats, bribes and creative names. I beg. It’s like my own personal version of the rosary. I give God the litany of reasons the dog’s death would be unfair: the dog is only 8 years old, our children are young and have already experienced tremendous loss, I just spent hundreds of dollars to board all our pets so they would be safe on our vacation, and we drag our kids to church every week (mostly) and feed them asparagus (occasionally). Is it too much to ask that the family dog live until he sports a gray muzzle? I add a few “Don’t you dares” for good measure. I call God names. And the stupid dog. I call him names too. I promise that next week, I will not sneak off to church with my husband while the children sleep late; we will dress them up and bring them with us. I end my rant with “Not now. Just not yet. Please not now. Please, please, please.”

Only after much rambling does it occur to me that I could recite the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm. Or check out the day’s Gospel reading. Or tune into gospel music. All of which I love. But I don’t seem to be ready to hear any of those messages.

I guess sometimes I need a protracted exhale before I begin to inhale. Or maybe I keep talking because I don’t think I want to hear what Jesus has to say. I don’t want to be kind or patient or longsuffering. I definitely don’t want my little dog to suffer. I don’t want to trust God’s plan. I have my own plan for how and when this dog is going to go to doggy heaven, and for starters it will not be until after our youngest son has gone off to college.

When I was growing up our family dog — the one my sister and I begged for — was a Samoyed/Australian Shepherd mix. She was the runt of the litter and looked like a puppy until the day she died. Which, in appropriate family dog fashion, she did not do until she was 15 (ancient in dog years). By then neither my sister nor I was living at home; she was in college and I was in graduate school. On Valentine’s Day, the dog followed my father out into the yard and took a nap in the shade under a nectarine tree while he gardened. By the time dad was finished with his yard work, the dog was gone. And by “gone” I really mean our beloved Butterscotch was dead.

That’s how the family dog is supposed to go. Quietly, peacefully, painlessly, in the shelter of a familiar garden and in the company of the one who has fed, groomed and walked her for years. Yeah yeah yeah, my sister and I promised that we would take care of the dog, and like all children who beg for a puppy, sometimes we did. Thank goodness our parents picked up the slack (and the puppy prizes), as they knew they would when they capitulated to the idea of a family dog, because the dog would have been really hungry otherwise. We did adore her, and that’s ultimately what the family dog is about — to teach a little bit of responsibility and a lot of unconditional love.

The family pet is not supposed to be hit by a car or attacked by a coyote or accidentally poisoned by a neighbor with a rodent problem. I have lost pets in all those ways, which makes me appreciate the manner of Butterscotch’s death all the more.

But life doesn’t always work my way.

Like a good therapist, Jesus lets me complain and vent and cry, staying with me, holding eye contact through the well of my tears. Sometimes tears streak down his own face as well. I trust that God does not fear the wrath of Charlotte. He remains unmoved by my berating of his competence and patient with my frustrations at the unfairness of life. He sits very still.

This is my Elijah moment.

The prophet Elijah was hiding out from an irate queen who had specific ideas of her own regarding the manner and timing of his death. I imagine that the queen’s presence felt more powerful than God’s during some of those dark nights in the cave. “Then the Lord said to him, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord — but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake — but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire — but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.” (I Kings 19:11-13a)

A tiny whispering sound? I rarely hear that still, small voice in the midst of my outbursts. And yet… the value of the begging, bartering and berating prayers is not as an ends, but as a beginning to a conversation. It occurs to me that the significance of these prayers lies in their reach toward connection. After the rage comes the calm, and then the divine presence becomes tangible, peaceful. In this moment, I recognize that the answer to my prayer is Divine Spirit’s willingness to stick with me through my struggles and tantrums, to hold my hand, to catch my tears, to share His broken heart with mine. This, after all, is the promise: “I will be with you.”

I sit very still.

Meanwhile, my little dog survives his gastrointestinal ordeal, and I am grateful. Undoubtedly, the winds and waves and flames will soon be at it again. As will the quiet whisper.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a tiny whispering sound.