I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles. In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.
Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
“Give us this day our daily bread” takes some significance to me as I reflect on journeying through life transitions, not just the losses I have gone through this past year and which I help others go through in my work as a chaplain, but as happy transitions in which people find life again. It is important to me to note that what we ask for in this prayer is the bare essential of what we need. It is not “give us a four-course meal with the best wine and rich desserts”. It is not “give us a steak, hot from the grill”. It is not even “give us a week’s supplies of food”. It is “give us this day our daily bread”.
I know for me often times I want to dictate what happens. I want a kind of certainty about what will follow tomorrow or the next day, especially when I face overwhelming uncertainty as one does when you face into unexpected illness in yourself or a loved one or, in a more happy, as one does when one enters a new job or a new relationship.
And so we can find ourselves using prayer like some sort of magic wishing well, trumpeting to God that we want this particular job, this particular relationship, this particular house, as if we can see fully what is best for us long term. I am beginning to realize in my life that it is hard to determine in this moment what is best in the long-term for me or anyone else.
Instead of turning prayer into a magic wishing well in which we treat God like some magic genie, we are invited in this prayer to ask “what do I really need? What is a full life like for me?” When we confront this question in our prayer, meditation, moments of mindful awakening, our life begins to look different.
It may be that in the long view of the cosmos and your life that the job that you think you have to have may not be what you need. It could be that given another opportunity you will learn new strengths and skills which open you up to work, relationships, and opportunities that you cannot begin to dream of in this moment. It could be that what you think you really want is only so dear to your heart because your ability to dream has not grown yet. We can dream too small.
Similarly we can be so quick to find “the one” in our dating lives that we forget that taking our time to really get to know another person is not a waste if we do not spend every day together the rest of our lives. Even in relationships that do not become life-long loves there is so much beauty in each person we meet, in the experiences they can share with us, their life lessons, their passions, which if we are open to them can make our lives richer. And, as one having recently lost a partner to illness and death, I can say I am painfully aware that finding a match in one’s life does not mean necessarily a life-long love even if both intend it. I would not trade a moment we had together those dozen plus years, nor ever view that relationship as a waste even though in ended tragically one fateful autumn day. Realizing this paints for me a different image of the possibilities of relationship. If had not been death that took her but divorce, would the relationship have been a loss? No. For both of our lives were richened, deepened, and made more whole. I have this belief that every person we encounter whether as strangers, new friends, seeming adversaries, or even potential lovers, all have that capacity to enrich our lives and be enriched by us if we approach them with the openness to life not as we think it must be but as it is.
This call to be open not just to what we want or think we must have but to what we truly need is so important not just for our emotional peace and our embracing life in all its complexity, messiness, and beauty. It is also a part of being people who live justly and with mercy. For if we look at our world, one thing is certain: Far too few have far too much while far too many struggle and eke to get by. And what those far too few have comes at the cost not just of the lives of the many struggling but of nature itself, for our desire to get what we want, when we want, leads us to waste this planet, the only home as yet given to us in which to live.
Learning to embrace a more simple existence and choosing to eat the bread given for this day with gratitude rather than seeking more wine, wealth, riches, and banquets is so important. Ultimately we are called to consider how we might re-order our own lives. What choices can we make to live more simply and justly?
People take different approaches. A good friend of mine from seminary, David, has chosen to choose a path of simplicity of possessions. His family has one car, lives in a very simple neighborhood. He bikes most places. He chooses not to have a lot of technology, and to not have tons of shoes and outfits. He does so in order to have more time with his family rather than chasing the next dollar, more time for his community, and more resources put to making this world more whole. I do not know if he does these things for this reason, but it ends up making a smaller global footprint.
I have many friends who choose to forego food or drink that comes at a cost of justice – preferring to buy fair trade food, or to forego meat which is raised at great cost, its consumption on the scale we consume it in the Western world having great ecological benefits.
I know of others who intentionally as they plan their lunches or their week’s meals put together packages of food and toiletry items to give out to people they encounter hungry, struggling, and in need.
I could go on, beyond eating itself. But embracing our life choices as not just being about us and what we want but also what make us whole and make other’s whole is key.
I want to close with a country song that to me reflects the heart of what this prayer speaks to me:
Your progressive redneck preacher,