Recently I have felt unable to pray. I mean, I knew how to pray, and I knew that I should pray, but every time I tried it seemed like I had nothing to say. Because of this I started to subconsciously avoid thinking about it at all, just filling my time up with other busywork instead (and there is always plenty of that to go around).
Last week, however, I was convicted at church to ask for prayer for my lack of desire to pray. Being actively in community by sharing something that I was struggling with encouraged me to try again. Knowing that the five people who heard my prayer request would be praying for me this week pushed me to pray for them as well–and suddenly I realized that there were many things to pray about again. There are always so many things to pray about, that sometimes I don’t know where I should start, for fear that I can never finish. But two days later I had forgotten again, and simply didn’t remember to pray, or didn’t feel like it. I then prayed again, simply about this condition of mine–was it apathy? Spiritual dryness, whatever that really means? I didn’t know.
Today I didn’t feel like going to church. Part of me was physically tired because I had slept so little last night, but a bigger part of me was struggling with a small but growing sense of despair–despair that I would ever find a stable, meaningful community here in Andong. This was ironic because I was so blessed by the same community at the church last Sunday, but this morning I didn’t believe it was worth my time. Thankfully I was talking to an old friend and mentor on Skype and she encouraged me to go even if I didn’t feel like it. She reminded me that even just the action of going because I knew I should do so out of devotion and commitment to God was a good thing and was worthwhile in the long run even if it didn’t feel fulfilling immediately. This rang true especially in relation to what I have been learning lately about loving the unlovable, performing actions of love even when you don’t feel the feelings, in order to show and thereby develop real love.
So I semi-reluctantly decided to go. I was late leaving the house, and then missed my stop by several stops because I was tired and distracted on the bus. This meant that I was much too late for the normal international service that I go to, but I knew that there were still two afternoon services in Korean, the last one being a worship-based service. I got off the bus and decided to take a 45 minute walk to the church, which would get me there in plenty of time before the last service began.
As I walked, I prayed. I think walking, especially in nature, is my favorite prayer position. It really helps to clear my mind of unimportant distractions and only lets in those distractions that further turn my mind and heart toward God, like rivers and trees and sky. During this walk in particular, I stumbled upon a little grove that had a gingko tree, a pine tree, and a maple tree standing next to each other in a beautiful little semi-circle, their branches intertwining, the perfectly gold, green, and red leaves of their fall attire just touching to form a small canopy. I paused for a while under it and was simply thankful. God’s heart is so beautiful. I didn’t know before coming to Korea that the gingko, my favorite tree, is native to this land and lines almost every sidewalk. Small red maple trees have always been a close second, and Korean pine trees are also especially elegant. So to see my three favorite trees standing there above me shoulder to shoulder, I couldn’t help but feel love and wonder stir in my heart.
I continued to walk, and think out loud to God about my life so far in Korea. And it struck me quite suddenly–I think I am anxious about not having enough uncertainty in my life. This is a very strange thought, as most people, including myself, are usually anxious about so many of the uncertainties of life. Especially during my last four years in college, I spent most of my prayer time asking God for direction and for peace when I couldn’t see the future. Yet now I seem to have a very fixed path ahead of me at least for the next two years, and potentially five to ten years after that as well. Of course, I don’t know what the next day will bring, and my temporary 2-5 year plan may suddenly go up in flames for some reason I cannot yet foresee, but currently I am just amazed that I can even say I have a 2-5 year plan ahead of me. There is suddenly no more worrying about what I will major in, what classes I should take next semester, where I should intern at over the summer, what jobs or fellowships to apply to after school–I’m simply living my life in the direction that I have chosen (or that God has chosen–well, both, really). And for some reason, that scares me.
What, God, do I trust you for if not for the future direction of my life? What do I ask you about if I already know what I am supposed to do (or if I think I do)? Is it crazy to be addicted to uncertainty, and to have an identity crisis once my identity seems relatively (temporarily) fixed? Or am I wrong to think that I can plan so much ahead and trust in those plans?
Those are the questions that arose in my head as I walked and struggled with my confused emotions.
Then I arrived at church, and felt strangely comfortable surrounded by a bunch of Korean grandpas and grandmas that I didn’t know, listening to a group of church children sing “Jesus loves me” in Korean at the front of the room.
Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
날 사랑하심, 날 사랑하심. 날 사랑하심, 성경에 써있네.
I smiled. It was cute, hearing this song in Korean. Still, I wished that we could sing more sophisticated hymns in an adult service. The service started and we were led by the children to do little dance motions to another VBS-like song that they had learned. I awkwardly followed along, not wanting to seem too-cool-for-school when surrounded by such eagerly participating grandparents.
Then we sang “Jesus loves me.” Halfway through the first verse, despite my best efforts to avoid embarrassment and resist the feelings, I started to cry. And I cried and cried like a baby, singing this baby song. 날 사랑하심, 날 사랑하심. Why, God, why? 성경에 써있네. I never thought I could be touched by such a simple song as this, a song I had associated with my earliest childhood, singing these words without really understanding what they meant. Or perhaps I understood them better back then. Yes, Jesus loves me. It is the simplest truth in the world, and also the most powerful. I didn’t have any answers to my questions, didn’t know if I would be able to pray any better tomorrow than I could today or yesterday, didn’t know if God was calling me to do or think or feel differently about my current situation. But I knew that Jesus loved me. Loves me.
He doesn’t always offer an immediate solution to our problems, but he never hesitates to remind us of his love.
“Love that will not ever let me go.”
I happen to be listening to a Matt Redman song, and really liked this line just now. Thank you, Jesus, for loving me. May I remember that as I continue to pray.