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Sermon – When you come to pray

A couple of years ago, if someone had asked me, “What do you know about prayer?” I would have answered brightly, “Prayer is talking to God.” And if the person asking me was at all sarcastic, as I am, they might have replied with “Well kudos, Penny-Anne, for still being able to quote the catechism you learned when you were, what, six? But in the subsequent 50 plus years, what have you learned about prayer?”


“Nothing? You went to holy school for five years. Didn’t you learn anything about prayer in theological college?”

“Not really. I don’t remember taking any courses in it. But even if they had offered some, I doubt I would have taken them. I mean, a course in prayer sounds kinda boring. And maybe they thought we knew all about prayer before we registered. If they did, they were wrong.”

My prayer life truly did not advance much beyond what I learned as a child. Oh, I was good with praise. I think the human race is hard-wired to praise a Power greater than itself. People write poems and great musical compositions to praise God – the Hallelujah Chorus for instance. And the same thing with gratitude. I find myself giving God thanks all through the day, especially if I try something new on the computer, and it actually works! “Oh thank You, thank You, thank You!”

But petitioning, asking God for stuff, I was still at the level of ‘God bless Mommy; God bless Daddy. God bless this one; God bless that one.’ Like God doesn’t know who needs blessings without me pointing them out? And it got to be stale and dry and it felt like an enormous waste of time. But I didn’t know how to pray any other way.

I also believed that the chances of my prayers being answered were directly proportional to the number of times I said please. “Please grant me this, O Lord, I humbly pray. Oh please, please, please, please, PUH-LEEEEEZE! Amen.” There’s a story in Scripture of a widow who demanded a judge give her her rights. She was so persistent, she wore him down and eventually he gave her what she wanted. I figured, it worked for her… Maybe I too could wear God down by sheer persistence.

Finally, one day, that still small voice in the back of my head, that we all have, said, “Do you know how it makes me feel when you beg?”

“Never thought about it. Not good?”

“No, not good! It’s like I’m some kind of tyrant and you have to come cringing before me and beg me to give you what you need, what’s good for you. Penny-Anne, you don’t trust me.”

And in a rare moment of personal honesty I said, “No. I don’t trust You.” And I want you to understand this was just a couple years ago. So if you have any illusions about how “spiritchul” I am, get rid of them. I have struggled with my faith all my adult life. And I envy, in the sinful sense of the word, those who have that simple childlike faith in God. Because I don’t have it. Faith is something I push against. I doubt. I question. And I talk back to God. I am nobody’s role model.

“No, I don’t trust you,” I said. “You have not proven yourself worthy of my trust. You don’t answer my prayers for myself or my family or friends. You don’t spare us catastrophes. I feel like You won’t listen unless I beg You, and sometimes, many times, not even then! So, prove You’re not a tyrant, and not capricious about answering prayer.”

Whenever I sincerely challenge God like that, there’s always an answer forthcoming, particularly when it’s about something important like my image of God as tyrant, or my ignorance regarding prayer. And very often, because I’m always reading, God’s response will come to me in the form of a book.

I follow the blog of a Doctor Lissa Rankin. She’s a medical doctor who is on an incredible spiritual journey and I find what she has to say is often very helpful in my own spiritual quest. One day, she was recommending a book by Tosha Silver called Outrageous Openness. And there was a representation on the cover of the Divine Feminine – so right there she’s speaking my language. And if that wasn’t enough, the figure was winking at me. How could I resist? I ordered the book right away.

When it arrived, I turned to the back leaf of the dust jacket where the author’s picture is and the little blurb about what she does, and that’s where I learned that Tosha is an astrologer! An astrologer! And a word flashed through my mind – flake! Followed quickly by two more words – total flake! And I thought well there’s seventeen dollars I’ll never get back. And again, that little voice at the back of my head, that we all have, piped up and said, “Are you that arrogant? So arrogant that you think because you’re down on astrologers I must be too? So arrogant that you can’t believe that I could use anyone, ANYONE, to get a message through to your precious little self? Are you really that arrogant?”

Clearly, I’m exactly that arrogant. But I’m not stupid. And I come from good Scottish stock and I’m not spending seventeen bucks on a book I never read. That’s just crazy talk, that is!

In my 61 years on the planet, I’ve read a lot of books. Some were dreadful. Most were pretty good. A few were exceptional. And a handful were life-changing. Outrageous Openness is in that last category. Because of that book, after six decades of life and I don’t know how many years of religious education, I finally learned how to pray.

My fundamental problem with prayer, specifically asking God for stuff, was I didn’t think God was inclined to give it to me without a certain degree of cajoling. And even then I might not get what I wanted because God seemed erratic, and not particularly enamoured of me.

Tosha on the other hand, has this idea, to quote her, that God is an “ardent…suitor who writes us love letters every day that often go unopened.” Not only is God crazy about us, but God is our Source – for everything! So if God loves us and is our Source, is all this love and goodness going to be measured out to us with an eyedropper? No! Like any ardent suitor, God wants to shower us with gifts and good things every day.

So why didn’t that happen more often?

Why did my prayers so frequently go unanswered?

Turns out, it wasn’t God.

It was mah prayers!

Here’s how I used to do it:

Step 1 – Tell God what I need. I need a promotion.

Step 2 – Give God all kinds of suggestions as to how to accomplish this task for me. If you could just make So-and-So retire…If You could make the Department Head recognize my superior abilities…If You could help me make a connection with someone in HR who could help move me up the ladder…

Step 3 – Beg. Oh please, please, please, please, PUH-LEEEEZE!

Step 4 – Repeat Steps 1 through 3 until something happens, and hope it’s something good.

Turns out, I got the first step right.

Step 1 – Tell God what you need. OK. Promotion.

Step 2 – Admit that you don’t always know what’s best for you.

I don’t? Well no, I guess I don’t always. So OK, I want a promotion, but I don’t always know what’s best for me. Now what?

Step 3 – Make an act of trust that God knows what’s best for you, and loves you, and wants your highest good always.

Alrighty. I want a promotion, but I don’t always know what’s best for me. But You, God, You do know what’s best for me, and You love me, and You want my highest good always. That it?

No, one more. Step 4 – Leave the situation in God’s hands and disengage from the outcome.

Whoa! You just lost me there, sister! I don’t want to disengage from the outcome. I want to control the outcome.

Really? You just admitted you don’t always know what’s good for you, but God does. God, the Almighty, All Wise, Creator of the Universe loves you and has your best interests at heart, but no, you want to control the outcome. You, who can’t even control how many potato chips you eat in one sitting, you want to be in charge of how things work out. Is that about right?

Well, put it like that, you make it sound stupid. :-) So what am I supposed to do instead?

Give thanks. Give thanks in advance for however the situation is going to turn out, because whatever happens, you have put yourself in alignment with the will of the God who loves you, so you know, whatever happens, it will be alright.

You might remember a while back a movie called Shakespeare in Love. And there was a running gag in the picture where one character says, “All is lost!” And a second character says, “It will be alright.” And the first character says, “How shall it?!” And the second character says, “I don’t know.” I love that because it shows such great faith! We don’t need to give God suggestions. We don’t need to know the how’s of the circumstances. That’s God’s job.

When we put the situation in God’s hands, when we resist the temptation to force an outcome, to manipulate or control things even with our prayers, when we can give thanks in advance for whatever the outcome will be, we can stop worrying, stop begging, and be at peace. When God is given a free hand to work in our lives, the result is always our highest good.

Even when the outcome is not at all what we wanted, even the opposite of what we wanted.

Do I believe that? Do I believe what I just said? Almost. I’m not there yet, but I’m starting to believe that even if the news is dire, if the outcome looks like a complete disaster, I will be alright. Here’s two examples of why I’m starting to believe this. Just lately I was watching a video of Dr. Christiane Northrup, in which she said that some of her patients actually told her, “I’m glad I had cancer. It saved my life.” Glad you had cancer? What an extraordinary thing to say! I have no doubt they were telling the truth. I just don’t understand how they could say such a thing. It has something to do with faith and trust. But I don’t understand it yet.

And another woman, Carol Bryan, had cosmetic treatments of filler injections in her face that went terribly, terribly wrong. The stuff got into her optic nerve and left her blind in one eye. And she was horribly disfigured. If you’ve ever seen pictures of The Elephant Man, that’s who she reminded me of. The flesh of her forehead started to slip down over her eyes, and she had to tape it back, just so she could see. She endured many excruciating surgeries, one of them seventeen hours long, just to obtain a normal face. She’s advocating now for stricter regulations on cosmetic procedures and she’s encouraging other women considering these treatments, particularly young women, not to let society dictate how they should feel about their looks. In an interview, she said, if she could, she would not change what happened to her. In her own words, “Because regardless of how much I suffered…it gave me a new and worthy calling.”

She wouldn’t change it if she could? That’s the kind of faith I want, to be able to believe so much in the love of God that even in the direst circumstances I would know God is working for my highest good; that even if I must suffer, even if I must walk through hell on earth, I will be alright.

How shall I?

I don’t know.

But God does.

And someday, when I can trust that, it will be enough.

Let’s bow in prayer…

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  1. Valerie Hess
    Posted March 24, 2017 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Penny-Anne. Again, you said exactly what I needed to hear today. I heard Dr. Isseldin Abuelaish, who wrote “I Shall Not Hate” after three daughters and a niece were killed in their bedrooms by Israeli tank fire in one of the Gaza wars. (This was four months after his wife died from cancer.) He is now suing the Israeli government over those deaths. Quote from him:”…you shouldn’t hate something you don’t know, because it may turn out to be the bearer of your greatest good fortune.” Between your words and his, I hope I get the message.

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted March 24, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Oh Valerie! Thank you SO MUCH for this! If I can just learn to put aside my ideas of what’s good and bad for me and let God take the lead. I need to practise this. But I guess that’s what we’re here for, huh? Bless you, Valerie!

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