Carpe Aeternum

Finding the Eternal in the Every Day

Archive for the tag “forgiveness”

Foxhole Prayers

There are no atheists in a foxhole, or so I’ve been told. Mike Warnke, before his fall from grace, told a story of a Marine in Viet Nam who was Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox/Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu, just in case. He wanted all his bases covered in case things went bad.

People often talk about the desperation prayers that soldiers say when facing tragedy, imminent death or terrifying circumstances. The movie Guadalcanal Diary from 1943 captures this beautifully, when a marine named Taxi hiding in a bunker confesses to the chaplain that he doesn’t pray because he changes things but sometimes like the horrendous barrage they are under makes him realize that he needs someone bigger than himself, someone God big to do something. He then details what kind of prayer he would say if he knew how to pray. When taxi stops talking, the priest crosses himself and says, “Amen”.

In the church I grew up in, these weren’t considered real prayers. They felt that a relationship  with God was necessary to have real prayers. Prayers sent up by nonbelievers and sinners had no value. They were the equivalent of spiritual barfing.

But I wonder if the emotional realism of those prayers are more significant that properly theologized prayers given by the faithful.

The counter argument is that relationship builds a better prayer life. The closer you are to God, the easier it is to pray and the more meaningful the prayers. Based on my experience, I agree that those are both true statements. Neither, however, negates the value of the desperate prayers of desperate people. Those prayers have power too.

The counter argument to this is that these prayers are the equivalent a friend or relative that only calls when they need something. They reach out in the time of need but never to just connect, or to see if they can help you. Those people are annoying. And it sucks to feel like you are nothing more than a contractor to resolve their issues, that you get nothing out of the relationship. And it’s worse when you want to have connection but it only comes when fixing their problems.

And I’m sure that as much as people like that annoy us, they also annoy God. He desperately wants relationship with us. He wants the connection of everything all the time, like the daily (or weekly)call back home when you first move away. The family wants to know everything that’s happening. God wants the regular, connected prayer that brings us closer.

But he is far more patient with  us than we are with each other. Jesus tells us to forgive far more often than we want to. Scripture tells us that God is ready to forgive us even more than that. If that is true of forgiveness, wouldn’t also be true of requests for help?

The thing that pissed Jesus off more than anything else were those instances that people prevented others from drawing nearer to God. Religious rules that made it hard to connect with God riled him up. Perhaps telling people that their prayers are lacking blocks them from God. Maybe we should be crossing ourselves and saying “amen” instead of assigning bad grades to the attempt to call out to God.

What if, every prayer we say is a foxhole prayer? What if our lives are in dire enough situations that every request for God’s presence or providence is an act of desperation.

We are all in the process of dying. Sure, we are living but we are also dying. The trick is to live as much as possible before we die. Some of us are closer to death than others, but we all face a significant risk of dying today. And tomorrow. And the day after. Prayers to get through today or to be done with today are as much foxhole prayers as they are anything else.

As simple as it is, a prayer of “God, help!” is significant. It is reaching out to someone cares and can do something about it. But most of all it is reaching out.

And that prayer may just connect you to a God who is already reaching out to you.

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There’s Something in my Eye

“I started my day in the usual way, looking through a two by four.” That’s a line form a song by King’s X. It kept popping into mind as my pastor talked about Jesus’ teaching on judging others and how love is the antidote to that. It’s so easy not to see we are judging since it is so part of our “normal” life, our daily routine. In fact, it’s easy to let the two by four become who we are or part of who we are anyway.

Many, many years ago, a Christian comedy group called Isaac Airfreight did a fun bit with this where the kept bonking each others heads every time they turned or moved because of the boards sticking out of their faces. And the best part is that they each blamed the other person for knocking into their board. Again, as we let the judgments become part of who we are, it’s easy to blame others for “making” us judge them. We are so reticent to be wrong that we can’t see that it’s the judgment that is wrong. 

A friend of mine once told me, “My judgments of others are more about me than they are about them.” It’s like the people bonking into our boards. The issue is more about our board than them bumping into them.  We have to look at what’s happening with us when this happens.

Now, with that said, we have to remember that sometimes certain people trigger us more than others. My pastor frequently reminds us of the spiritual warfare against us, the enemy’s attempts to prevent us from growing closer to God. This enemy knows our weaknesses and our greatest hurts. He knows how to launch strategic attacks that trigger me and then offer me the opportunity to hurt you too.

This is why we need to call on Jesus to help us get the two by four out of our eye. Only as this happens can we separate the judgment from ourselves and find freedom. As this happens we can learn to love as Jesus wants us too. And we can gain the vision to discern when we are being hurt and how that can be healed rather than defensively lash back at those who hurt us because they bonk into our two by four. Again, this is another step toward loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Just like Jesus wants.

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