spiritual life

A Prayer: For Those of Us With Souls Still Under Construction

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I am driving down Western Avenue in Chicago trying to remember a prayer by heart. I drive this way most days. It’s a speedy through-route to points of interest south of me. Suddenly, the overpass that took the brunt of that traffic is gone, and we are left with one, wide road. The middle lanes are closed to rebuild. We drive on the outer roads, either side of the construction zone, banked up against the chain link fences that keep us out, and the workers in, I suppose.

Why Do We Need Boundaries?

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The prevailing narrative of our time is one of not-enough, lack, insufficiency — or even self-sufficiency. But that’s not what God says to us or about us. As pastor and author Jo Saxton writes, “Contrary to the many mantras of our day, our identity is not found deep within us: it's given.”

Identity is given by God, our Creator, the One who made us in his image, the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, the One who knows what’s best for us.

Because of this, it’s important for boundary-setting to begin not with externals or with symptoms but with identity — because who you are determines how you live, and what kind of boundaries you’re willing and able to put up. In short, we need to know who we are and whose we are.

When Does Christianity Stop Being Fun?

Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com
Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com

As a child growing up in the church, if there was one message I heard over and over again, it was that God was in control, and most importantly, God loved us — and we actually had fun.

This was a comforting message and environment. Furthermore, the themes of joy and God’s defeat of evil became even more prominent during my teen years.

But then youth group ended, and I entered the realm of adult Christendom: political causes, doctrinal debates, worship wars, traditional vs. modern bickering, congregational infighting, gossip, church splits, corporate boycotts, moral rage, judgment, and fear.

Practice, Practice, Practice

SENSING HER spiritual life is lacking a certain oomph, Jana Riess tries an experiment: 12 spiritual practices in 12 months. Guided by the writings of folks such as Richard Foster, Phyllis Tickle, and Brother Lawrence, Riess attempts everything from centering prayer and fasting to lectio divina and welcoming the stranger. “We can’t really hear what God is saying, or let it sink into our souls and beings, until we have tried to do what God is saying,” she explains. “The practice precedes the belief, not the other way around.”

At least, that’s the theory. But as she chronicles in Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving my Neighbor (Paraclete Press), Riess’ crash course in spiritual discipline is punctuated by more flopping failure than soaring success. By the time her year is up, Riess concludes that her holy experiment was more “delusional” than ambitious.

Known to the Twitter community as “The Twible Lady” for tweeting the entire Bible in snarky, 140 character summaries (Proverbs 27: “As iron sharpens iron, so friends sharpen each other. Please note that this is only a metaphor. Do not carve your friends.”), Riess leavens the pages of Flunking Sainthood with the same delightful irreverence. Mincing no words, she calls St. Benedict “a crafty old coot” and St. Thérèse of Lisieux a “first-class diva.” She swears during silent meditation. And when trying to find God in the daily tasks of life, such as cleaning, Riess considers whether “a quicker route to genuine religious experience would be to snort the spray cleaner and get high on fumes.”

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