When I sat down to write an article about prayer for this magazine, I heard a little inner voice say, “You can’t do that. You don’t pray enough!”
That set me back a bit, and I had to think about it. It’s certainly true that I don’t pray as much as I could and probably should. So instead of writing, I closed my laptop and went to the kitchen to prepare the dough and start slicing toppings for a pizza dinner. Meanwhile, I couldn’t shake that thought. Do I pray enough?
Often our world is all we know. Our world has been shaped by our experience—where we have been, who we have known, what we have done—as well as by our habits, standards, and aspirations. When we see a man sleeping in a doorway or a woman asking for help in a slurred voice, we compare their condition with our world. We may assume there is something fundamentally wrong with someone in such a state.
In truth, poverty puts people into a different world. The homeless person sleeping in the doorway may not have been able to rest the night before because he was guarding his few possessions. Thatwoman may have an untreated medical condition that affects her speech.
I stared past the rusty window frame, out of the bus. The day was off to a gloomy start and so was I. Lost in thought, recalling things that would have been better left forgotten, I sank into a dark mood. Sad, isn’t it, how when we’re feeling down we tend to busy our mind with thoughts that only waste our time and further sap our spirits?
The bus rolled to a halt. Again. Manila traffic. I glanced at my watch. 6 a.m. Too early for traffic to be moving this slowly. I had a deadline to meet and hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. Angrily, I turned back to the window.
Several years ago, I spent two weeks in Sahrawi refugee camps near the oasis city of Tindouf, in southwest Algeria. Ten of us, from teenagers to fifty-somethings, had made the trip from our base in Granada, Spain, to speak and perform in the camps’ schools and community centers.
The Sahrawi people are the remnant of the nomadic tribes that roamed the deserts and coasts of the former Western Sahara. During the 100 years that they lived under Spanish rule, they became accustomed to living in more stationary situations and built large communities like Smara.
When’s the last time you tried doing something completely new to you? My last time was when a friend and I decided to sample wakeboarding, and I got to put my courage to the test.
My heart pounded as I lined up at the beginner’s line. “God, please help me to make it at least a few feet away from the dock,” I prayed. Frankly, at that point, a few feet seemed like it would be a huge accomplishment.
Shortly after the Tohoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami of March 11, 2011, I read an article about the 600-year-oldstone markers that previous generations of Japanese had erected in the hills along the coastline where many past communities had been devastated by tsunamis. The boulders marked how far inland the wave from a previous tsunami had reached and warned residents not to build below that line.
The stone markers were disregarded by modern property developers who built far below the safety line, some right up to the coastline. Seawalls were built to protect the new residential areas, and engineers were confident that they would be able to withstand any tsunami. The seawalls failed, and the only villages that were spared were those inland and uphill of the stone markers.
People often talk about “getting out of your comfort zone.” I hate hearing that. I confess—I like my comfort zones. I don’t like doing new things, especially things that I don’t understand or don’t think I’ll do well at. Lately, however, I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone regularly. I think about the magnitude of some new project or venture, and I start to shrivel inside, mentally backing away.
“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him.”1 Last night, thatverse came to mind and hovered for a long time. It’s not unusual for a Bible verse to show up in my thoughts, but this time was different. The words and their richness were enhanced—they seemed “louder” or something. I turned the phrases over and over, and looked at them from all angles, meditating on what that passage meant to me.
A friend of mine has extensively studied a number of religions, and we regularly enjoy deep discussions about variousbelief systems—discussions that invariably come around to our own beliefs.
“I respect those who believe in God, but I can’t manage to myself,” my friend once said. “I don’t feel it. I also can’t understand all that spiritual and supernatural stuff.”
I could relate. Not the part about not believing in God, but the part about not feeling or understanding the supernatural, which is what many people equate with faith.
“I don’t feel it either,” I told him. “I believe because I choose to. For me, faith is a choice.”
I woke to the sound of my alarm reminding me to put in the eye drops my doctor had prescribed. Out of habit, I covered my good eye to test the vision in the infected one. To my great alarm, my sight was very blurry, much worse than the previous day.
Memories of a painful hospital procedure the day before flooded back. What further tests and procedures would I have to undergo? How had something that had started so small get this bad?