Engaging the Why

As part of our Lent series which is following along with 24-7 Prayer’s Prayer Course II and Lectio 365, our team member Kathryn shares from her personal journey of wrestling with unanswered questions.

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” Corrie ten Boom

“Why?” I ask this question all the time.
“Why did that person not use their indicator? Why did the person with the largest trolley have to be in front of me when there is only one checkout open? Why did that person speak to me that way? Why did I speak to that person that way?” These are some things that run through my mind on a weekly if not daily basis.
And then there are those other why’s. The larger why’s. The why’s that are too painful to voice. The why’s that cause a lump to rise in your throat if you dwell on them even for a second. I ask a lot of these as well. “Why did it have to happen that way? Why am I where I am? Why is that insecurity back, again? Why is this all so hard?”

I love answers. I love clarity, knowing where I stand. It’s how I work. It’s how I make sense of life and it helps me feel safe. I will have that hard conversation every single time if it means I can understand a little bit more. I like answers – a lot.

But I don’t have answers for my why’s, and I won’t pretend to have answers for yours either.
I have sat in discomfort around one particular why question of mine for nearly two years and I am not any further forward. Some days I am actually more tired, less hopeful and just downright confused.

I recently listened to the God on Mute audiobook by Pete Greig. I sat and listened to Pete’s stories, bible teaching and wisdom while doing a puzzle and drinking tea. I didn’t finish the book with any more answers. However, I finished with more peace.
I had peace because I realised that I am normal (*sigh of relief *) and I am simply human (*another big sigh of relief *). Having questions doesn’t mean I’m a bad Christian who doesn’t have enough faith. Rather I am a human living in an infinitely complex world.

I also recently read Untamed by Glennon Doyle, and again breathed that sigh of relief when she said:
If you are uncomfortable – in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused – you don’t have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you are doing it wrong, it’s hard because you are doing it right. You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.”
Maybe I’m odd, but I find peace in this.

And I find peace that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was doing the exact same thing. Sitting in the pain of unknowing, being human. Jesus also shows me what to do with my questions – give them all to my Father. When I choose to stop and still, take my bruised heart and sit with my Father, He meets me with peace, grace and mercy – every single time.
Do I get my answers? Rarely. I don’t leave that place as Wonder Woman, knowing exactly what to do. Rather I leave as the human I am, still carrying my questions but also carrying a bit more hope.
As Alain Emerson says in Luminous Dark: “There is hope, but that hope will not invalidate your pain…”

God knows my questions and yours, and we journey holding the why’s together with Him.
Afresh I seek thee, lead me — once more I pray —
Even should it be against my will, thy way.
Let me not feel thee foreign any hour,
Or shrink from thee as an estranged power.
Through doubt, through faith, through
bliss, through stark dismay,
Through sunshine, wind, or snow, or fog, or shower,
Draw me to thee who art my only day.”
George MacDonald
(taken from chapter 9 of God on Mute by Pete Greig)

Kathryn moved to Dundee in August 2019 to be part of Prayer Space Dundee, a 24-7 Prayer House of Prayer community seeking to make prayer accessible and see people draw close to God. By day Kathryn works as a Careers Adviser in Angus which is a challenging but rewarding role. When she’s not working you’ll likely find her on a beach or tucked up on the couch with a good book and a cuppa tea – preferably with a dog nearby.

Students – Persevering in the Pursuit of Justice

We are interrupting our Lent series that is following along with the Prayer Course II and Lectio 365 to share this inspiring update from Just Love in Scotland. We as 24-7 Prayer Scotland have had the immense privilege of working with Just Love in various contexts here in Scotland over the years and we would love for you to join us in praying for our amazing students as they pursue God and his heart for justice in our world while navigating the challenges of Covid-19.

As cliche as the phrase has become, these certainly are “strange times” to be at university. Christian students might have been forgiven for taking their foot off the pedal when it comes to living out their faith. Amazingly, our students in Just Love have not allowed this pandemic to prevent them pursuing justice all around the UK. We’ve been humbled by the way they’ve continued to volunteer in their local communities, run awareness-raising events, and fundraise for effective charities. We passionately believe that to pursue God’s heart is to pursue social justice, and our students have been living that out. 

We have 5 groups across cities in Scotland, and 19 across England. Whilst local volunteering is more challenging at this time, last term Just Love students in Edinburgh were able to volunteer with Safe Families, providing hope and support for children and families, and with Through the Roof, advocating for people with disabilities. The St Andrews students ran events on “God and Mental Health,” “Period Poverty,” and a Q&A with Krish Kandiah on fostering and adoption. The students in Glasgow have spent time focusing on long-term, structural solutions to homelessness as well as the immediate support they can offer. 

Across the Tay Road Bridge, Just Love Dundee have examined issues such as racism, homelessness, and drug crises. Further north, the group in Aberdeen have investigated what it looks like for us to pursue God’s justice with our whole lives, including our careers. Both groups have lent their energy to fundraising and awareness-raising through Dressember, a campaign that uses fashion and creativity to help fight human trafficking. In December, the students in Scotland raised over £4,500 for local and global anti-human trafficking charities. 

We’d love you guys to be praying for us. Please thank our generous God for our students, and for equipping them to remain faithful in these strange circumstances. Please thank him for the wonderful partners for whom our students volunteer and fundraise. We would appreciate prayer for our students’ continued perseverance, but also for their mental health. Please also pray for the Just Love staff team, that we would serve our students as best we can. Our team recently spent some time chatting to 24-7 Prayer’s Brian Heasley about the importance of prayer in making decisions. So, finally, please pray that we would be an organisation defined by our reliance upon our good God. 

If you’d like to find out any more about Just Love in Scotland, please feel welcome to email anna.spence@justloveuk.com, or find out more on our website, www.justloveuk.com   

Anna currently works with the epic Scottish groups and partners. She has just moved to Glasgow, but she’s Newcastle born and raised (and tries to bring it up as much as possible). She graduated from Oxford uni having studied Psychology and Philosophy, and loves overthinking how and why we should engage in social justice. She’ll tell you she loves 90s hip-hop and indie movies. She won’t tell you she loves McFly and drinks mochas.

Engaging with Lament

As part of our series which is following along with 24-7 Prayer’s Prayer Course II and Lectio 365, our team member Rachel shares her journey with learning to lament.

‘Christian lament is not simply complaint… at its fullest, biblical lament expresses sorrow over losing a world that was once good alongside a belief that it can be made good again. Lament isn’t giving up, it’s giving over. When we lift up our sorrow and our pain, we turn it over to the only one who can meet it: our God.’ Josh Larsen, Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings

“It’s fine, I’m fine…” These words have surrounded me for as long as I can remember. Where I grew up in the West Coast of Scotland, if you asked someone how they were doing, you’d be met with “Aye, am fine, yersel?” Only once you got to know someone well, could you tell if they were actually doing fine or not.

Growing up, I’d never seen pain expressed. The attitude was “do what you can to get by”. People didn’t really talk about their struggles, unless they had a happy ending.

I had been told “don’t bottle up your feelings” yet no one showed me how to express my feelings well, how express the pain in my heart. I’d witnessed people turn to coping mechanisms such as busyness, alcohol and self-deprecating humour; yet all that did was numb the pain for a little while. Even amongst my Christian friends, we’d share the things we needed prayer for on a surface level, but no one really talked about the pain underneath, the pain of the wait or the challenge of waking up each morning and not being healed.

I once broke down to a youth leader. It was over eleven years ago and I was frustrated with where I was in life, filled with confusion, hurt, living in pain and feeling distant from God. She asked if I’d prayed about it. I almost scoffed. I had, yes. I’d asked God to take it away and nothing had changed. But what I didn’t realise was that I wasn’t actually talking with God about the pain and the hurt itself.

Then one day, a friend recommended that I read God on Mute. And it was in that book that I came across the word lament.

In the book, Pete Greig says, “Pain needs to be expressed, for pain that is not expressed can never be transformed, and pain that is not transformed will be transmitted.

It was a deep revelation that I could express my pain, hurt and the deeper, hidden parts of my heart to God. Before, I had skipped over the Psalms where David cried out to God and, rather than viewing these Psalms of Lament as an example of honesty and vulnerability before God, I had focused on the Psalms of praise. But when I discovered lament, I realised that I could express myself honestly to God just as David did. That Jesus actually invites me to share the pain in my heart, the struggles, the things that make me angry – to be honest with him.

Lament feels counter-cultural to me. It’s putting my head above the parapet, humbling myself to say, “I can’t control this, I don’t have it all together and actually, God, I’m not fine.” Yet lament has given me the tool I need to come to God with my whole self engaged, the bits I like and the bits I don’t.

It still isn’t always easy. It takes discipline and bravery to sit down with a pen or a plectrum, take down the guards around my heart and be honest with God. I’ve learned it’s a process and to enter into lament slowly and with vulnerability – pausing, sharing with God the parts of myself that I’d rather keep hidden or in my own control. And then continuing to praise Him for who He is.

In learning to lament I’m learning to trust God more deeply and slowly, I’m also letting go of control. I’m unlearning the language of “being fine” and I’m learning to sincerely say, “Lord Jesus, thank you for showing me love. I love you. Today, I bring to you my pain, my hurt, my frustration; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

** If you want to learn more about how to lament, check out ‘How to Lament’ in the Toolshed on the Prayer Course website.

Rachel lives in Glasgow and has a heart to see prayer and justice flow throughout Scotland. In 2010, Rachel was given a copy of Red Moon Rising and God on Mute to read by her youth leader in response to her persistent questions about prayer and where God was in the silence. In 2017, Rachel first connected with the 24-7 Prayer Scotland Team after God set her heart on fire while in a prayer room in Austria to see unity in the church in Scotland! Rachel is married to Lal and in her spare time can be found playing music or watching Ice Hockey.

Engaging the Silence

Like many of you, our 24-7 Prayer Scotland team has been journeying through Lent along with Lectio 365, which is using Pete Greig’s book God On Mute as a basis for reflection. We are all finding it challenging, encouraging and helpful. So over these next few weeks we will be sharing our personal reflections and stories from this journey.
This week, Sam shares some of his personal wrestlings with silence.

“God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” Mother Teresa

Sometimes I don’t pray when I say I will pray, should pray, or could pray. That might seem controversial to some – after all, this is the 24-7 Prayer blog – but it may be comforting to others who might feel like the only Christian out there who struggles with maintaining a regular practice of prayer. Our lack of praying is regularly diagnosed as a lack of discipline but I think it goes deeper than an inability to stick to routine.

Often, I ignore the place of prayer out of a deep sense of apprehension, sometimes even fear; a fear of what lurks beneath the surface of my soul. In stark contrast to a lot of our human interactions, when I sit in the presence of God, all that seems to greet me is silence. Quiet. As I sit in the silence, my heart starts to reveal itself to me, and often it isn’t pretty; in the worst-case scenarios, it actually feels overwhelming in its messiness. Due to my love for comfort and abhorrence for anything painful, I will often ignore prayer if it means ‘silence’. Sometimes it is just simply that life and circumstances around me feel too heavy and I don’t feel like I can handle anything else. But in this space, I have mistaken the place of prayer for a spiritual therapy room, rather than a wide-open field where I can rest under the shade that God’s presence offers.

Silence can often create the perfect environment for the very real and visceral lies that I believe about God to come to the surface and confront me. One of the most challenging of these that I have wrestled with – and continue to wrestle with – is that silence is the absence of the presence of God. When I sit and wait, I can hear my inner voice saying, ‘See, God wouldn’t share time with someone as faithless as you’, or ‘See, God is actually far off and distant.’ Yet silence has also often given me the gift of clarity around the state of the thoughts that shape my interactions with God; which in turn becomes an invitation from God to offer them to him, and let that shape the conversation we have as we journey through life together, as he inevitably proves these assumptions false and assures me of His faithfulness and mercy.

As I get older, I am beginning to appreciate silence as a process of becoming more comfortable with the fact that God doesn’t feel the need to rush to quieten my fear or fix my problems, but that he can rest and enjoy his creation with all its cracks and failings. My fidgety heart is yielding, little-by-little.

* If you want to learn more about engaging with silence in prayer, check out this ‘Prayer Tool‘ in the Toolshed on the Prayer Course website.

Sam lives just outside Glasgow in Kirkintilloch and is the Youth Work Coordinator at Bishopbriggs Community Church. In his spare time he loves to watch a good film and spend copious amounts of time with friends ( he is another level of extrovert ). His passions are Jesus, prayer, people, new plans and food.