Y'all, in 2020 my prayer practice has needed help. My brain seems to constantly be in motion, and even in the monotony of our daily routines (how can there be that many dishes, friends?) I have a hard time centering my thoughts. In yesterday's first post in our Advent series, Advent for Educators: Four Practices for the 2020 Season, I shared three prayer apps that have been particularly helpful to me on this journey. Last night, however, I chose to use a different approach, and on the last evening in November, my little world got rocked.
I should preface this by saying that as the application started, I had an explicit warning. If you're not in the right space - you're having a bad day, you're doing this Examen in a very public place, you've been down lately and you fear this might make it worse - then you might want to pass over this one until a day comes when you are ready for it. It was all there for me. Halt this mission! Abort, abort! Return to the safety of a prayer app that doesn't dig so deep. Wrap up your daily reading plan, watch Virgin River and call it a day, Jessica (yes, the vehement warning used my full name). However, in all of my Enneagram three-ness, we know that I could not do such a thing. I plowed on full speed ahead. Challenge accepted!
I should also let you know that just a few short hours before, my mother delivered the gut-wrenching news that my beloved Uncle, who is like a grandpa to me, has cancer. It's incurable. It's everywhere.
I had all of the signs that my soul was going to be shaken to the core if I proceeded with this particular practice; however, I was begging for deep communion with God last night. This is how assessing my fears, attachments, need for control, and entitlement broke me into communal planning with Jesus for the work I would do today.
This came first: An Advent REading
I have shared on Instagram (follow Krysann if you don't already) that throughout 2020, I have been duct taping pieces of my world together. Like her, I have definitely piece-mealed my Advent plan together, because that's what educators do in month nine of a global pandemic. Part of my plan is reading The Way of Presence by Alan Fadling, which has an amazing Advent reading guide at the back of the text. After learning the news about my uncle last night, I felt I needed to ground myself in something good. I leaned into Day 2's reading, which ended with the following question: How might you follow Paul's example and see your plans as a place of communion with Jesus and the implementing (or changing) of those plans as subject to the guidance of Jesus? I was convicted. When was the last time I actually co-planned my life with God?
As an Enneagram 3, I get a lot of energy out of my relationships. I tend to be good at them, but my perfectionistic tendencies get in the way of being truly open and vulnerable at times. I project an image of being good and perfect for my team. As you can imagine, this doesn't always bode well for my relationship with God. The opportunities I have given him for co-planning and co-creating a life together have been stingy at best, non-existent at worst.
As a result of my nightly Advent reading and the profound truth that was being spoken in my soul, I knew I needed to spend some dedicated time in prayer last night. This is what happened when I chose to address my fears, attachments, need for control, and sense of entitlement in communion with God.
This came Next: A Prayer
Knowing that I was going to need a little help digging deep with everything circulating in my scattered mind, I decided to forego my usual prayer apps and choose one that helped me really get underneath the surface of my relationship not only with God, but with myself. Thus, I turned to The Examen. Each day there is a different guided theme that takes you into deep communion with God as you reflect on your day in a state of gratitude, and then expectation as you ask God to help you discern deep and meaningful things you cannot see inside your soul. I already shared with you that today's Examen started with a warning. We were going to go through a process called F.A.C.E., where God would help me uncover hidden truths about my fears, attachments, need for control, and entitlement. Y'all, those are heavy themes! I don't know why I didn't pull the plug on my day right then and there!
As I let the soft music draw me into myself by the light of a fire, however, I felt a physical pulling. My heart became achy and heavy. There was a sharp pang deep in my chest. As I laid on the floor with my knees bent and my face towards the ceiling, I could feel the heavy, thick presence of God come upon me. He was here, and we were ready to do the work.
It was easy for me to take the first step - drawing into the presence of God. I was ready - malleable - ready to be transformed. The second step wasn't a challenge either. There were many things I was grateful for that day. I was thankful for a husband who took care of dinner as I was receiving devastating news. I was thankful for the kisses of a cute little Basset, ripe with puppy breath and endless sloppy affection at the tip of her soft, buttery tongue. I was thankful for my mom, for my dad, for a day where writing flowed from my fingertips without much effort or thought. I could have thanked God for hours in deep, intense gratitude for all things great and small in my life, but alas, that wasn't where I was meant to stay.
The third step of the Examen was to dig in and ask God to reveal my fears. Our true fears are often hidden beneath the surface, so as I walked back through my day, I tried to pay really close attention to what God was asking me to notice. It took me until about 5:30 PM when I was on the phone with my mom. Tears instantly streamed down each side of my face. Why do so many of those I love so deeply have to go and leave me? Although I am not scared of death personally, I have a real fear of those I love leaving me here behind. What will I do without them? Will they know how much I love them? Will they feel like I have loved them well?
With my chest aching and a knot in my throat, I moved on to the next letter. A is for attachment. What was I clinging to that was not serving me well? Attachments could be to a person, an idea (such as being stubborn) or a behavior or bad habit. As I walked through my day, I tried to see what God wanted to show me about where I was clinging unnecessarily to something worldly and untrue. The thought I kept coming back to was my natural inclination to multi-task, resulting in a lack of presence in my relationships with colleagues, my husband, and even with myself. This revelation didn't seem nearly as deep as my fear; however, I tucked it in my back pocket as the application told me to do, and I moved on to C - control.
This is where I really got rocked, friends. I asked God to show me areas in my life where I am trying really hard to exert control. The app suggested that I might be trying to control people, organizations, or outcomes. It didn't take my long to see that by 9 AM, I had already attempted to exert control over all of those areas in my life. By 5:30 PM, when I was ripe in the despair of my uncle's news, my issue with control became incredibly clear. I was fervently trying to control the outcome for my uncle. I wanted to control the outcome for anyone who was sick or suffering. I wanted to control the outcome for myself. I was not in deep, trusting communion with God when it came to His plans and His will for His people. I was trying to play God, and I couldn't loosen my grip.
Despite the fact that I could have lingered over this newfound revelation for hours, I moved on, per the directions in the app. I examined ways that I was entitled throughout my day (and friends, there are many). I feel entitled to skip some morning chores if I have been up multiple times with the dog. I feel victimized by this virus and entitled to complain and sometimes, secretly pout. I feel entitled to a long bath because I just received bad news. And while not all of these are negative in and of themselves (we have to get clean, right?), I have some ill-lying motivations behind most.
At the end of my discoveries, I was instructed to ask God to show me the one most strongly impacting my life right now. And this is where my evening came full circle. That question that Alan Fadling led with ended up coming back to me through my need to control. I was not co-planning and seeing my plans as a place of communion with God. Thus, when His plans began to unravel, I felt myself tugging at them, forcefully pulling them back in every attempt to control the outcome I thought there should be.
I was not co-planning and seeing my plans as a place of communion with God. Thus, when His plans began to unravel, I felt myself tugging at them, forcefully pulling them back in every attempt to control the outcome I thought there should be.
This is probably one of the most powerful prayer experiences I have had in 2020, and although it was complex in its revelation, it was simplistic in its implementation.
I asked to feel God's presence. He came.
I asked God to help me examine my fears. He whispered, "Do not be afraid."
I asked God to help me identify my attachments. He showed me habits I could not previously see.
I asked God to help me see where I am gripping too tightly. He slowly loosened my grasp.
I asked God to show me where I was entitled. He pointed out my motivations that played out in superficial actions throughout my day.
I asked God to show me where I needed him. He let me cry until I realized that I can no longer be in control.
I asked God to co-plan my life with me. We mutually decided that last night, I would sleep.
Today still hurts. I am still waking up heartbroken, exhausted, and beautifully flawed. But I no longer feel this heaviness in my chest or this uncertainty in my gut. God has His plan, and he will reveal it to me if I only take the time to continue communing and co-creating alongside him in the days to come.
Linger a Little Longer:
1. Think back to a time when God has revealed himself to you through prayer. What was this experience like? How did you feel?
2. Are you in the habit of co-planning your life with God? Explain.
3. Spend some time in this Examen. Use the app, or simply work through the guide outlined in this post. Of the four discoveries (fear, attachment, control, entitlement), which is God showing you has the most impact on your life right now? How will you pray through this revelation with Him?