A conversation with a good friend raises a few good questions. What indeed do you pray for, if at all, and what do you get?
Like many Americans and plenty of folks elsewhere, my faith in faith as I understood it growing up has bottomed out. I have faith all right, but not in today's evangelical Mafia (which could learn something from the Catholic Church, the world's first and BEST Mafia as one writer so aptly put it). But I'm ahead of myself.
I have faith in other things, including my ability to invite insight as opposed to intervention. That thought was inspired by Dr. Rosenna Bakari, who took an early morning walk yesterday with me in her ear, as we caught up after I had spent a month in Thailand.
Rosenna mentioned this disparity between how we so often pray for intervention (help Billy with his math test, lemme get this job, I REALLY want her to go out with me, whatever) and end up receiving insight. We laughed.
"I'm all for handouts," she chortled. "Don't get me wrong." However, interventions are highly unlikely, including prayers to have one's Captiva Island multi-million dollar mega mansion spared by Hurricane Ian.
We don't get spared life. While it's terribly tempting to ask some Invisible Man in the Sky for a positive parole board ruling or to bring those interest rates back down, most of the time we're pretty much on our own to figure those things out.
Let's define terms.
the power or act of seeing into a situation
action taken to improve a situation
It is very easy to ascribe intervention when things go our way thus proving that God (or whomever) is on our side rather than to accept that the occasional bit of supremely good luck has little to do with God, per se, but perhaps an awful lot of serious prep on our part combined with fortuitous timing.
I won't even address the idiodic claim, for example, that a terrible storm is God's wrath for abortion rights. We LOVE to invoke God's name when it makes us feel authoritative, but not so often when we need humbling. To that I share with you how God might feel about the overuse of His name with this Oscar-winning turn by Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love:
Handouts can cost. I watched what handouts did in my brother's life. This month is thirteen years since he took his life, having been given breaks and handouts and parental interventions his entire life. He never learned to stand on his own two feet but for his climbing career, and when he aged out of much of that, he gave up on life.
He wasn't much for insights. He wanted, and got, handouts. Handouts and gimmes can be terribly expensive if we wish to grow and have a backbone for the worst life throws at us.
I believe strongly that if we ask instead for insight, that insight can lead us to make better interventions in our own lives. Perhaps not always but certainly often. Like many practices, it's a skill. Learning faith in ourselves is faith indeed, but that kind of faith is born of humility, not hubris.
In this article on prayer from eight years ago this month, the authors explain what was preying on Christian minds to incite them to prayer before Trump and before so many of the world's issues turned so very ugly, like war in Ukraine, to say nothing of Covid.
As so very many more people, most especially young Americans, are turning away from the church, the noise level in the hallowed chambers of heaven has to be going down. Give the guy/gal a vacay, right?
At the risk of offending someone (guaranteed), I might suggest that since insight can potentially lead to signficant changes in behavior, and such changes in behavior can potentially lead to very different and more positive outcomes which we earned by way of hard work rather than handouts, insight strikes me as the far greater gift than praying for intervention from a Creator who likely has other things on their mind.
But that's just me.
Marcel Proust famously wrote:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust
That's the role of life, of learning, of growth. Seeing differently. A very different kind of life is available to anyone at any time if we are willing to see things differently. Didn't say it was easy. Just available.
Travel, which for me is life itself, constantly creates new insights. It's taught me to look for new ways of seeing. Not all of us can do this, admittedly. If we are brought up to believe we deserve an easier life, that we shouldn't have to go through X, whatever X may be (illness, rape, bankruptcy, hurricanes), we are going to be sorely disappointed.
Rather than demanding that the world make things better for us, sometimes the only choice we have in the moment is to find a way to frame things differently. You can legitimately argue that those folks on Sanibel Island probably wouldn't agree with me right now.
I get that. However those who throw themselves into helping their neighbors (as opposed to selling bottles of water for $20, for example) rather than falling into victimhood are going to come out of this a lot stronger. When you heave to to help your neighbors, you feel powerful and focused. That's insight. A change of perspective about your value to the world and your ability to affect positive outcomes.
Before you attack me for being a Pollyanna, kindly. I've survived multiple rapes, incest, sexual assault, bankruptcy, and yeah, hurricanes, a laundry list of fun things that I would likely have preferred not to experience. Except I'm glad I did. For moving through those things has taught me both resilience as well as how to focus on what I can control (my thoughts, attitudes, what I choose to elevate) as opposed to what really is not mine to change.
This article from Time offers a few strategies:
It's worth a look. My favorite ideas are taking a recess break several times a day and as I mentioned above, go help someone. Nothing heals faster than realizing your help is invaluable to someone else. In other words be the intervention/inspiration in other's lives. That's one way we change ours. I did that after a bankruptcy, by starting a women's group. It was transformational.
Praying for an intervention by The Hand of God to fix our lives is, to me, a victim mentality. The way I see it, it assumes that you and I aren't capable of managing life as it's thrown at us.
Truth is, we are. Being humble enough to say that we have no clue is insightful. The willingness to kick the ego to the curb and say that we are willing to relinquish the appearance of control is also insightful.
When we gain insight, we see. And quite often, being able to see with new eyes is precisely the intervention necessary but it came from within us- from something sacred within us. That's my faith. That you and I embody something sacred, and it so often remains untapped when we chase after answers from everyone else except ourselves.
Having a sense of humor about the worst life has to offer is a very Robin Williams- Zen way of developing another order of insight. That is where the creativity comes in. When I stop being so constipated about how awful things are and make fun of them, I start seeing solutions.
In my book, that is the sacred at work. Doesn't make me right. But it sure tends to work well.
I agree with Rosenna: Handouts are great. However I don't count on them, and it probably isn't a good idea to try to live a life on them if you want any kind of interesting life. If they show up, fine. Meanwhile life marches on, bills have to be paid, the house needs to sell, and I turn 70 in a few months. My body is aging, it needs work. All those things are up to me to manage, with good humor and gratitude and grace, if I work at it.
One more parting shot: in a LinkedIn post today, 360 Entrepreneur stated that of the some 60,000 thoughts we have each day, 80% of them are negative. Assuming that's even partially true, and "I think, therefore I am" is also true, then "I think, therefore I am nearly always negative."
Just check out social media to validate that one.
Change your thoughts, change your life. Change how you see, change your life. Get insight, change your thoughts, change your life.
Handouts take too long. Insight can be instantaneous.
I prefer insight.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
If my work appeals to you, may I kindly invite you to consider joining those Patreon supporters whose generosity keeps the gas in my tank as it were. There are many more of you reading, which I appreciate very much. However as with National Public Radio, many more read without supporting, and I am asking you to consider offering the cost of a coffee to help me do more than just keep the lights on. That said, if you find value in my writing, and are so inclined, I'd be grateful for what support you can give. If you know others who could benefit from what I produce here, please let them know.
My purpose is to Move People's Lives. I can do more of that with your help.
However you decide to partake of my writing, again, thank you.