Just one word

  My three prayers are variations on Help, Thanks, Wow. That’s all I ever need, besides the silence, the pain, and the pause sufficient for me to stop, close my eyes, and turn inward. —Anne Lamott I’ve had lots of people ask me for tips about prayer… How to pray when you’re out of words. ...

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My three prayers are variations on Help, Thanks, Wow. That’s all I ever need, besides the silence, the pain, and the pause sufficient for me to stop, close my eyes, and turn inward.
—Anne Lamott

I’ve had lots of people ask me for tips about prayer… How to pray when you’re out of words. How to pray when your words are angry or full of doubt. How to pray when there are just way too many words, too many needs and situations and emotions. I know that when I’m struggling with something, I want to find a way to control it, understand it, and study it—but in the end, I’m adding more to my plate, not less.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is simplify. When we eliminate the unnecessary, the core of the matter shines through.

This month, if you’ll join me, we’re going to try to pray with just one word a day. Yep, just one. Words like Create. Yes. Remember. Help. Focus. Grow. And even Oops.

Easy peasy, right?

Don’t worry. Just because the word is simple does not mean the prayer is shallow. Your one word can be your whole prayer—or just the beginning. If you start there and explore, you can add layers and depths of color—like a detailed painting versus a quick, scribbled sketch.

Trust yourself and lean on God as you try this. Don’t worry if it makes you feel uncomfortable; there are lots of ways to approach this, none of them wrong. Meditate on the word, offer it to God as prayer, and see what happens. Maybe you’ll stay there and just sit in His presence. Maybe you’ll use it as a springboard, following your thoughts from one word to another. Maybe you’ll listen for whatever insight God chooses to reveal. He might show you a direction by telling you the next steps you should take. Or maybe answer a question you’ve asked, or possibly lead you to other questions. He might call to mind a friend or family member, show you what someone needs, or reveal a way you can help someone else.

Don’t limit yourself. Just pray and be open to where God leads you. And if you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear from you—what do you think? What did you learn?

To download the April prayer prompt calendar, click here. It’s free to anyone who subscribes to my newsletter. If it’s not showing up, you may need to subscribe. Once in a while, if cookies aren’t enabled or you’re on a different device, you might have to re-subscribe, but don’t worry. You won’t receive duplicates.

And now, I’ll close with one of my favorite songs. (If you’re reading this in an email, you’ll have to click to my blog to see the video.)

With just one word that You speak
My mind is filled with Your peace
With every word that You speak
Your power flows unto me

Just one word
and the darkness must flee.
Your word is alive,
Your word sets me free.

One word from God is all we need. How amazing is that?

 

Wednesday’s Word: SHARPEN

Sometimes we run out of words. And sometimes we have too many of them. Sometimes there’s so much to ask that we don’t even know where to begin. Which is why, on Wednesdays, we simplify to one word. Read more about the idea here. Sharpen Pencils are tools for beginners—children learning their alphabets. But they’re ...

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Sometimes we run out of words. And sometimes we have too many of them. Sometimes there’s so much to ask that we don’t even know where to begin. Which is why, on Wednesdays, we simplify to one word. Read more about the idea here.


Sharpen

Pencils are tools for beginners—children learning their alphabets. But they’re also a tool of choice for master artists with so much to express in one bold or delicate stroke. The duller the pencil, the softer the mark—but the softness comes with less precision and little control. When the lead is worn down all the way, the pointy wood splinters around it will gouge your paper, ripping a hole in it. A sharp pencil, on the other hand, makes a crisp, sure stroke. Strong. But you have to be careful not to make it too sharp, or the lead itself might tear through your paper. Or simply snap when you put pressure on it.

It’s a delicate balance, like when we talk to others about You.

Lord, we need Your help. To not injure or push people away, while remaining true to who You are. To accurately portray Your essence without destroying anything in the process. Popular culture wants everything wrapped up with a nice tidy bow. Christian culture wants to make You into something easy to explain, simple to digest. But You are complex and complicated. Sharp and yet soft. Practical and unpretentious, yet glorious and beyond the grasp of our imagination.

Lord, let me sketch an accurate likeness of You, one that is not harmful or inaccurate or misleading. Sharpen my understanding of who You are. Of all sides of You, all aspects. Let me see You in Your wholeness. Let me live my life trying to be who You made me to be. And let me draw you in truth. Amen.

Wednesday’s Word: SCRIBBLE

Sometimes we run out of words. And sometimes we have too many of them. Sometimes there’s so much to ask that we don’t even know where to begin. Which is why, on Wednesdays, we simplify to one word. Read more about the idea here. Scribble When we pick up a pencil and scribble, it’s out ...

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Sometimes we run out of words. And sometimes we have too many of them. Sometimes there’s so much to ask that we don’t even know where to begin. Which is why, on Wednesdays, we simplify to one word. Read more about the idea here.


Scribble

When we pick up a pencil and scribble, it’s out of boredom. Or anger. Or because we really have no idea where to go. Maybe we scribble to find out what we can do with the tool in our hand. People think scribbling is a bad thing for an adult, but I beg to differ. Lord, as we scribble, let us pay attention to what we’re feeling. Help us to become more self-aware. Teach us to express ourselves and explore. Let us quickly expel the energy that wears us out, the efforts that take us nowhere, and move on towards productivity. Not to be busy for the sake of being busy. And not to fill our days needlessly. But, Lord, be behind our efforts so that all of them are amplified. Magnified. Efficient, confident and sure. Give us direction and help us follow through.


Hey, guess what? My book releases in 100 days! It seems like I’ve been waiting forever, but after today, we’ll be down to double digits!

Wednesday’s Word: CANVAS

Sometimes we run out of words. And sometimes we have too many of them. Sometimes there’s so much to ask that we don’t even know where to begin. In the times when I believed I’ve heard from God, the message has been short. The words succinct. The meanings deep and layered, complex. The nuances of ...

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Sometimes we run out of words. And sometimes we have too many of them. Sometimes there’s so much to ask that we don’t even know where to begin.

In the times when I believed I’ve heard from God, the message has been short. The words succinct. The meanings deep and layered, complex. The nuances of it take so much longer to express than the amount of time in which the complete message was originally communicated.

The power of a single word can be immense—if we let Him do the defining of it. If we wait to hear what He will speak about it.

So on Wednesdays, when our weeks are in high gear and chaos is the norm, we’re going to slow down. Simplify. Pray—just one word—and then spend time focusing on what God wants to say to us about it. It’s like the “one word” concept many people do in which they choose one word and use that as their prayer focus for the whole year. But if your attention span is short like mine, this might suit you better because it’s just one day.

After the word, I’ll add my thoughts, my prayers, around it. But don’t feel you have to follow my lead. Do what you will. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Shut out the world. Concentrate on establishing a connection with God. Wait until you believe He’s listening, that He’s right there beside you. And then pray. You can pray my words with me. Add your own. Meditate in silence. Let God paint a visual image in your mind. Sing a song, look it up in a Bible or dictionary.

Or maybe you’ll feel, think and know nothing new. If that happens, you have not failed. I promise. You succeed at prayer simply by doing it. By showing up. Because our God is always, always there listening, and He’s the One who gives prayer its meaning.


Canvas

Before You spoke, there was nothing. Before You breathed, there was no life. When You create, the possibilities are endless. Lord, breathe into me. Sculpt me, mold me, draw me, make me. When I close my eyes and try to see You, reveal to me Your vision. What You want to paint. Transform me into the masterpiece You’ve imagined, even if I’m afraid. Even if I feel incompetent. Even if I feel all I have to offer is a blank canvas. Because who You say I should be has little to do with who I already am or what I think I can accomplish—and everything to do with the One doing the painting. Amen.

What if?

I chose “one word” last year—just so I could say I’d done it. It turns out that really, the word chose me. And God proved faithful in my unfaithfulness. Still, though, I saw no reason to choose a word again this year. There’s only one small flaw to this plan. It’s not one word, but ...

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I chose “one word” last year—just so I could say I’d done it. It turns out that really, the word chose me. And God proved faithful in my unfaithfulness. Still, though, I saw no reason to choose a word again this year.

There’s only one small flaw to this plan. It’s not one word, but it’s one phrase, and it keeps rising to the surface, pushing its way to the forefront in everything I write. Whether I asked for it or not.

What if?

What if we challenge the precepts of our faith? Will it wobble and fall or will it be strengthened with new supports?

What if we ask questions? Maybe we’ll discover the questions don’t matter as much as the process of discovering answers.

What if we strive to build a faith that isn’t precariously balanced on “facts” that are too easily disputed by science and reason? Perhaps we’ll discover new dimensions.

What if we pray as though God is going to say yes?

What if we accept that the flaws in the church as a whole are flaws of man, not of God or of faith? Would we then have more tolerance and inclination to come together?

What if we respect the beliefs of those who disagree with us? Could we maybe have a meaningful dialogue, possibly learn something new?

What if we quit acting like one sin is unforgivable and treat same-sex couples with dignity and love?

What if we set aside all of the “thou shall”s—whether they’re written in stone or catchy lines shouted by televangelists—and ask God to show us which ones matter? Allow Him to rebuild our faith in an authentic, new way?

What if we quit hiding our secrets and our doubts and open up to one another?

What if we’re inadvertently limiting the depths of our belief, the intimacy of our relationship with God, or the power and magnitude of who God really is because we’re not giving Him a chance?

This question may not be the driving force of my year. I may not make an official declaration to seek God’s guidance regularly about this phrase. But I feel it, in that place down deep, in the sacred, secret center of my soul, that it’s time for these questions. Whether you explore them with me or not. Whether I find answers or not. Whether it’s simple or messy, clear or confusing.

What if is rife with hope. Possibility. It implies change, the belief that something else might happen. Perhaps we could change things. Maybe He will reveal things. To some of you who have spent a lot of time within the church, it probably makes you nervous. Feels a little disrespectful. Daring, even. It’s not a statement, ending with a period, finality. It’s not an ellipsis, fading into the unknown. It’s not an exclamation point, shouting the news. It’s a question. Which means that, somewhere, there is an answer. A response is required.

And that’s what lights me up inside. The idea of doing something. Or at the very least, refusing to remain stagnant. Of pushing through the unknown to find something I can, at this moment, only imagine. Because what if I’m on to something? What if He’s simply waiting for us to ask?

What questions do you have? What facts, practices or ideas make you nervous? What precepts of your faith feel wobbly, in danger? What words have people used to push you away from church or make you feel unwelcome? What are you missing? If you’re not comfortable commenting publicly, send me an email (kellyostanley@me.com). I’ll explore some of these questions in upcoming posts—and I welcome guest posts, if you have a topic you’d like to explore here.

Turn: my word for the year in 2014

I’m reading all sorts of updates—heart-warming, faith-building accounts of how a single word guided someone for the whole year. Which reminds me. I failed miserably. I lost my focus on this word, forgot all about it except for this update in Sept. And yet. When God is behind something, it’s more about Him than about ...

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I’m reading all sorts of updates—heart-warming, faith-building accounts of how a single word guided someone for the whole year. Which reminds me. I failed miserably. I lost my focus on this word, forgot all about it except for this update in Sept.

And yet. When God is behind something, it’s more about Him than about me. I may not always be faithful, but He is.

When I think about turning, I think about change. About a whirlwind of motion. An ever-changing view. And I had that. He gave me that.

My dad was diagnosed with cancer. But his last biopsy and scope showed no cancer cells. Tim was unemployed half the year, and was over-employed (tons of hours) the second half. I worked so hard and so fast that I could barely make out the view of the things whirling by me.

And my mind—it never stopped spinning. I wrote and rewrote, and edited again. I learned and listened. I read and read and questioned and reasoned. I planned and developed. I will soon be releasing a book that is so much denser, so much richer, than I ever imagined.

This was not a year for me to close in, to focus internally. It was a year of movement. A year of spinning, careening, from one place to the next. Good emotions to bad. Intense, powerful moments with God and days, weeks of hardly noticing Him. But here’s what I found in the midst of that fast pace: We don’t have to be sitting alone in a quiet room, eyes closed, to meet God. I think sometimes we should focus more on doing for Him, not preparing to do. Don’t talk about writing. Just write. Don’t talk about serving. Get out there and talk to people, and opportunities to serve will present themselves. Don’t hold God back for yourself. Interact with people and let them see Him.

I’m not in any way saying that quiet times are bad. Nor am I suggesting filling your schedule with too many activities. Maybe I’m attempting to justify my less-than-ideal discipline. But deep down, I believe that God orchestrated the events and activities and people that filled my year. He opened up possibilities, revealed new insights, and answered prayers at every turn—above and beyond, in most cases. I don’t expect to have “one word” for 2015. But I do know, already, that for me this will be a year of prayer. Of seeking Him, and receiving answers. Of drawing close to the people taking this journey with me and lifting them up to the One who can help. Of praying that my book will soften hearts, reveal God, inspire and change. Of praying that other people find in my words what I found when I wrote them: God, through and through. Always changing, ever-present, moving and transforming, turning what is broken and hurting into something whole. A veritable whirlwind of light and love and power.

And all God’s people said AMEN.

 

Turn

I’m not one who likes to go along with the crowd. And I’m certainly not someone who has the staying power or discipline needed to stick with one thing for a long period of time. (My mom used to say that as much as I like to change things, like the colors of my rooms, ...

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GRAPHIC turn

I’m not one who likes to go along with the crowd. And I’m certainly not someone who has the staying power or discipline needed to stick with one thing for a long period of time. (My mom used to say that as much as I like to change things, like the colors of my rooms, it’s a miracle that Tim’s been around for this long. Yep, almost at 23 years of marriage and 25 years together. Frankly, it is kind of surprising. But I digress.)

For years, I’ve seen people writing about their One Word for the year. I mention it in my book. I’ve heard about the amazing insights people have found as they camped out on one concept for a year, studying and praying and writing and listening. Great concept, but not for me. I don’t have that kind of focus.

Except, here’s the thing I’ve learned about walking with God: I don’t always get to decide what is right for me. I don’t get to declare what I need. He knows, and He knows how to get right around all of my protests.

And apparently He gave me a word anyway. TURN. It is connected to the prayer insight I had on Christmas Eve, when I renewed my commitment to God. “I turn away… from turning away,” I prayed. And I knew deep down that was true and right and good. No more turning away from God. No more excuses.

I shouldn’t be surprised. I just wrote 60,000 words about The Art of Praying Upside Down, about turning things in a different direction so you can see clearly again. This year it looks like there will be a lot of turning going on around here.

Turning from fear — trusting that something better will come to Tim after losing his job last month, trusting that bills will be paid, that my work will provide, that he will find a job he loves. Maybe even something totally different.

Turning into a different kind of wife — as our roles adjust, as our schedules change, as our responsibilities are redistributed, as I learn to work from home with someone else in the house (a huge challenge for me).

Turning my faith into a habit — developing better discipline, becoming more steady and true in my prayer life. Wrestling with questions and ideas I haven’t even come across yet, which always strengthens my beliefs.

Turning into an author — I’ve turned in my manuscript and now I’ll be learning how to market myself and build my platform. Figuring out my next project and direction. Taking what I’ve done as a base and building on it.

Turning other people to God through writing — I’m starting to teach a new Sunday school class one week a month, trying to help other people discover God the way I have (or, really, whatever way He chooses to reveal Himself to them) — through the act of writing as prayer.

Turning into the person who wrote my book — everything I wrote I know to be true. My book is filled with life experiences and so much that I’ve learned. It’s all accurate. But I sense that it’s time to stop making excuses. To live it again, to live it more, now that I’ve written it. To live it more deeply, more thoroughly, more passionately, even more truly.

You know, basically just turning my whole life around. No problem. Easy schmeasy.

I’ll write more about my word later, but I’ll leave you with this. “Turn” is all about change. Revolution (as in radical change, not as in turning, although it is). Am I ready for this? Probably not. Do I have any idea what to expect? That would be a no. But that’s where I think He wants me. Off balance. Knowing I need to lean on Him to remain upright.

Last time I faced a really big trial (losing my mom), I didn’t handle it so well. I tried to keep my outward show of faith intact while I crumbled on the inside. It’s taken me years to get back to this place, to work past my feelings of betrayal and anger. So Lord, I beg of You — help me. As I struggle, let me face doubts head on. Let me turn to You with all of it — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t let me hide from You. Don’t let me push You away. Turn me around when You need to. And turn me into the woman You made me to be. Amen.

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