Hope prevails—in March, and always

In a Bible study a few months ago, I learned about a concept from another study called Experiencing God. It goes something like this: It’s not up to us to try to think up new things to do for God. We should watch and see where God is already working—and then get on board. Pretty simple, ...

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In a Bible study a few months ago, I learned about a concept from another study called Experiencing God. It goes something like this: It’s not up to us to try to think up new things to do for God. We should watch and see where God is already working—and then get on board.

Pretty simple, right? And yet incredibly profound. It has changed everything for me in terms of how I promote myself.

I think of my writing as a ministry. And I love what I do. But sometimes it’s discouraging—the blog numbers don’t grow like I want them to, or someone I like unsubscribes. I promote myself because it’s what I’m “supposed” to do, because those things are what agents and publishers care about—but it always (always) feels awkward.

But over the last couple of months, as I’ve tried to put this concept into action, it has changed me. Instead of seeing other writers as competition, I’ve developed a greater sense of compassion. A deeper gratitude for the lives others are able to reach. An appreciation of what makes each of us unique.

Serving the kingdom of God isn’t about me. It’s about God doing what He will, and being granted the privilege of being some small part of the process.

This is all just some of the background thinking behind this month’s prayer prompt calendar. If you’re new here and don’t know, each month I create a calendar filled with random, kind of quirky prompts to help you start your prayers. There are so many times when I try to turn my mind towards God, only to be surprised by suddenly not being able to remember a single thing I wanted to pray about.

And then there are times when I’m facing something so big that I don’t even know where to start. Words fail me. It might be something in my life—anxiety over finances, health concerns for friends and family, issues in my relationships, discouragement or anger or frustration—or something as basic as hormones or a bad mood. Honestly, there are no limits to the obstacles that keep us from praying.

That’s why I’m so excited about this month’s prayer prompt calendar. When I started looking through the entries for the calendar contest, one of the criteria was looking to see where God already seemed to be working. There were other factors—how creative I could be with the theme, what graphics or style might support it, how easily I could adapt the concepts into short prayer prompts, and what my readers might find helpful. When Michelle Nietert, a licensed professional counselor, wrote this, it grabbed hold of my heart:

I’m a professional counselor and March is our busiest season especially for children and adolescents as well as their families. It begins the first month of the season of the highest suicide attempt rates in the country for adolescents. Also increased teen pregnancy and psych hospital admissions occur in the spring. I would love to see a calendar about praying through emotions and themes that combat these struggles. Prayer prompts for things like experiencing joy instead of depression, hope to combat discouragement, replacing fear with courage, confidence to combat doubt, energy to replace exhaustion, etc.

I didn’t realize that March was a busy season for these things. I live in Indiana, so by March we’re all feeling pretty desperate for sunshine. Lots of my friends and family suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and it’s typically a pretty blah time.

Last spring at a retreat, I met a woman named Michelle Bengtson. Her book was scheduled to come out a few months later. I was intrigued by the title—Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression. But I was also impressed at the relationships she had formed with people at the retreat (and at other conferences in the past). I started following her on social media, and I watched as her husband was re-diagnosed with cancer. And yet I was inspired, again and again, by the way she pointed everyone to God at every bend in the road. She lives a life exemplifying her message, and I wanted to be involved with that, even if it’s just peripherally.

When all these factors came together, I decided this idea was perfect for the month of March. So this calendar contains prayer prompts inspired by and suggested by both of these women, and from Hope Prevails.

Please visit both of their blogs and help promote this calendar. We all have people in our lives (if not ourselves) who are battling the issues represented here: depression, feeling alone, suffering from anxiety, fighting cancer, needing peace, struggling with addiction or pain, believing the lies of the enemy, stumbling under the weight of worry—and more. We can’t let these things keep us from understanding who God says we are. We belong to Him. He never leaves us, and He equips us for these fights. We cannot do it on our own, but that’s okay because God promises to go with us through it, and we already know that He is victorious in all things.

Please join with me this month (and beyond) in these prayers, and consider picking up a copy or two of this book. I am convinced that it will make a difference.

If you’re trying to carry something that feels too heavy, please share it with a friend, professional counselor, or minister. You may also email me privately. I promise to lift you up in prayer and then delete your email, keeping your need confidential.

As always, I’ll share these prompts daily on Facebook and Twitter, so you can tag people as you pray for them or share the prompts with your friends. (Use the hashtag #MarchPrayers.)

You can also download the whole calendar for free if you subscribe to my newsletter (click here to download it or sign up). And don’t forget to visit Dr. Michelle Bengston‘s and Michelle Nietert, LPC’s websites; you can sign up for their newsletters to get the calendar, too.

Let me know how I can pray for you.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

When the world is upside down (and not in a good way)

I don’t know how to make sense of all the things happening in the world—in our country. I don’t have answers. But I’m determined not to ask other people to change without first changing myself. And so I’ve been thinking, and praying, and mourning, and pondering. You may not feel the same way I do. ...

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I don’t know how to make sense of all the things happening in the world—in our country. I don’t have answers. But I’m determined not to ask other people to change without first changing myself. And so I’ve been thinking, and praying, and mourning, and pondering. You may not feel the same way I do. And that’s okay.

I listened to a podcast of Nadia Bolz-Weber, in which she put to words something that I try to do in my writing (and which I’ll probably fail miserably at repeating without listening to it again—because I listened many weeks ago and my memory is shot). She said that when she preaches or counsels, she uses the “I’ll go first” mentality. In other words, she puts it all out there—her own failings, her own experiences, her own stories—in order to create a safe space into which someone else can say “me, too” and share their experiences.

So. I guess I’ll go first.

Every time we say “it’s not my fault,” we absolve ourselves of responsibility to fix things. To find ways to make things better. We deny people the compassion of trying to understand them. It truly may not be our fault. But the fact remains that we are in this together—or we should be. It’s what Jesus wanted, for His people to band together to show the world who He is through the way we treat people.

Every time we reply to “Black lives matter” with the statement “All lives matter,” we’re missing the point. Yes, of course all lives matter. But I’ve read enough this week to finally understand that that’s not what this is about. It’s not denying anyone importance, but pointing to a problem that exists with the way society as a whole responds to black lives.

If we’re white, we don’t have to care the same way as if we were black. It’s easy to deny the reality of everything from a tiny slight to a radical injustice if we don’t see it in our daily lives, if we don’t know people who face hatred in subtle and overt ways. Because I’ll tell you the truth: In my comfortable place in a mostly-white community, I’m insulated from that reality. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me or that I’m not part of the whole institutional system that created the problem.

And because I’m somewhat sheltered, I read. I read writers of color, of other religions and denominations. I read pieces by men and atheists—and even some people who support ideas and causes I couldn’t be more against. It takes its toll on me. I feel heavy. My heart hurts and I’m sickened by the ugliness of humanity. I’m grieving and discouraged and overwhelmed by my lack of ability to make a difference. I want to hit people over the head with my “obvious” conclusions and facts and make them finally see the truth. I struggle this election cycle—for the first time in my life—with being able to like friends with whom I disagree. I’ve had to do some serious soul-searching when I discovered that my husband supports the most abhorrent candidate (in my opinion) ever to run. It’s made me question whether my husband is the man I thought he was. And face the fact that I can love someone I so hugely disagree with. So believe me, I get it. I know why people are having trouble getting along.

But I also know that I can’t solve this alone. Most likely, I’ll never be able to make the slightest dent in this culture of hate we now live in. I don’t know when to speak up and try to enlighten people—to do what feels like my duty to help people understand—and when to shut up because it’s not going to be received. Or because it’s not the right time or place, or because I don’t have the relationships established that I need to have in order to have the right to speak up.

But there is one thing I’m starting to understand. As long as I’m feeling defensive, there is not going to be any change. As long as I deny a problem, nothing will get better. As long as I refuse to accept some responsibility—even if it’s been completely guileless and unintentional—nothing will change.

So I’ve taken the one step I can—the only one I know how to take. I’m saying “yes, I believe you” to the people who say there is a problem. I’m opening my mind and heart. I’m going to let myself be vulnerable and feel the pain. I’m going to listen and not fight back. I’m going to say so when I don’t relate to someone else’s struggles and I’m going to recognize that maybe their struggles should become mine, too.

I don’t want to see one more tragedy, one more horrific instance of hatred, and sit back, silent. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. He is the One who taught peace, who opened His arms to the marginalized and rejected, who trusted that God was in control, who knew that God’s people had the capacity to take care of the needs of the people. I am believing that we’re not all that different and that we are better—and stronger, and kinder, and more generous—when we find reasons to be connected rather than divided. I am committing to trying to understand. I’m promising God that I will do whatever I can find to do that might help. I’m praying that He will show me the steps to take. I’m praying that He will show you, too, and that we both will listen. And, above all, I am vowing to do my absolute best not to make things worse.

Because God has a way of making the impossible possible, the wrong right, the pain into something bearable. That is the God I follow. And I am not content to turn away.

I’m linking up with Suzie Eller’s #livefreethursday (yes, I know I’m several days late. It’s been one of those weeks!). Her prompt was “when the world is upside down.”

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