The Wonder Report: July 9, 2021
We made it to another Friday! Welcome. Whether you’re blasting through the finish line of this week or just barely limping, you made it to the weekend … and to another Wonder Report.
Even though I basically had a two-day work week after my husband and I decided to turn the 4th of July into a 5-day weekend, I’m literally limping to the weekend after an embarrassing fall earlier today. Steve and I were walking the dogs, and I was wearing shoes that always seem to trip me up. I looked up for a just a second, caught my toe on an uneven sidewalk, and went flat on my face while my dog Tilly kept on pulling. If you promise not to laugh, I’ll show you a photo of what happens when an otherwise normal face hits a concrete sidewalk.
Needless to say, there was a lot of blood and many tears. The wrist that got twisted in the dog leash hurts the worst, despite looking perfectly normal. But I got up and kept walking. Limping actually, but moving. Steve eventually went ahead with the dogs and came back with the car. I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to go out in public. But I will. I’ll carry on. Because that’s what we do.
If I had to choose a theme for this summer, it would probably be those two words: carry on. Ironically, it’s exactly what I insist that I cannot do about once a week. “I can’t do it anymore,” I’ll say to Steve through tears, usually referring to the very hard work of watching my mom waste away in hospice care. I haven’t written much about the details of this process—in part because it’s an area where my life overlaps with my Mom’s so intimately, but also because this experience is so raw and immediate I’m not always sure what to make of it. Mostly, I narrate an ongoing series in my own head called, “Things I Do While My Mom Is Dying,” and some days I can barely breathe.
But I do. I force myself to take some deep cleansing breaths. I’m not sure what to pray either, but I do. I say prayers others have written, I recite the Lord’s prayer, I pray Compline at bedtime, and I offer words like, “Please,” and “Help,” and “Why?,” and “Thanks.” Most of the time, I simply pray, “Lord, have mercy,” and I have no idea what I mean by that, but I’m thankful he does.
Prayer is just one of the many aspects of my faith that I continue to do right now, even though I don’t feel like it. I also read my Bible. I serve others. I practice gratitude. I look with wonder. I recite creeds. I remind myself what I believe. In some ways, I feel like I spend a part of every day falling down, scraping my face against the concrete. It’s tempting to stay down. To cover my face and hide, like I did when I realized there was blood pooling on my lip earlier today. But just as Steve held out a hand, helped me up, looked me over, and went to get the car, God tends to me. Cares for me. Knows my frailties. Invites me into his presence. In these falling down moments, when faith feels fragile and more than a little unsteady, it’s the habits of faith that help me limp back to Him time and time again.
In Chapter 12 of A Habit Called Faith, Jen Pollock Michel writes about the five verbs of faith that are repeated throughout the book of Deuteronomy: see, know, love, obey, and live. She says these words help us see that in some seasons, we “don’t feel faith so much as we do faith.”
While the first four of those words has its object in God—we see, know, love, and obey God—the fifth one is different.
“Live. This words represents the shocking self-interest of faith, and any parent will be familiar with this kind of plea. We teach our children to nurture habits that will keep them safe and healthy, that will make their lives better, not worse. Brush your teeth. Hold my hand when you cross the street. Look both ways. Eat your vegetables. We could tell our children to obey these rules because we’re the parent and we’ve said so. … Still, a far more persuasive strategy is to remind them of the good they secure for themselves when they choose to obey. Live.”
There will be seasons of joy and excitement again. Someday I’ll find myself once again thriving and growing. I can’t imagine going too long without dreaming and planning for the future. But for now, in this season, I am just carrying on. I’m figuring out how to live when it seems almost impossible. And I the most honest prayer I can think of—Lord, have mercy—feels like the exact right prayer.
Summer Reading Club
Let’s discuss Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus.
This week, we read Days 11-15 of the book. If you’re reading along (or even if you aren’t), consider responding to one or more of these questions in the comment section by clicking on the button below:
Are you in a season of growing and thriving? Or are you just carrying on, letting the habits of your faith bring you into God’s presence each day, even when you don’t feel like it? Does one version seem more like “faith” than the other to you? Why?
Earlier this week, I asked you which of the five verbs from chapter 12 you connect with the most: see, know, love, obey, and live. Is there another verb that better encapsulates your faith? What other verbs from Deuteronomy do you connect with?
What do you make of the idea that home is a gift that God wants to give to his people, even that home that is a gift to be found in God himself?
When are you tempted to diminish certain commandments in favor of others? Which areas of your life would you prefer not to be God’s business?
It’s not too late to read along. Here’s the Reading Schedule for the rest of the summer:
Week 4 (July 10-16): Days 16-20
Week 5 (July 17-23): Days 21-25
Week 6 (July 24-30): Days 26-30
Week 7 (July 31-August 6): Days 31-35
Week 8 (August 7-13): Days 36-40
Finally, I am hoping to plan a Zoom gathering with you all for later in July to talk about the habits of faith and the habit of faith itself. It would be organized so that you could participate even if you haven’t read the book. Are you interested? If so, leave a comment on Substack or just hit reply to this message and let me know.
This and That
Stop by here for articles, essays, and more to give you hope, to make you think, to grow your faith, and as always, to help root you in love.
1. Yes, Jesus Told Us to Pray in Secret. But He Also Prayed with His Friends. by Lynne Baab for Christianity Today. I like the both/and approach of this article. We are called both to pray alone in secret and together with others. Sometimes, in fact, the habit of praying together with others is one that can help us carry on when life is a struggle for us.
From the essay: “In many instances, praying with others is much easier than praying alone. When we pray with others, we pray longer. We pray for a wider variety of needs as our companions bring up new issues or perspectives. We can pray thankfulness prayers much longer with others because they see God’s beauty in places we haven’t observed, so we find ourselves seeing more of God’s gifts. We may feel led to confess our sins in new areas when we hear others confess.”
2. The most important thing you do by Austin Kleon. This short essay is actually supposed to inspire writers to focus on one sentence at a time in order to do good work. But I feel like this philosophy that Kleon borrows from Mads Mikkelsen—that “everything I do is the most important thing I do”—speaks volumes about faith as a habit.
From the essay: “That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important.”
3. You Really Need to Quit Twitter by Caitlin Flanagan for The Atlantic. Really, you could replace “Twitter” here with almost any social media or algorithmic-based streaming platform. I feel this internal conflict with Instagram every time I log on. I thought this article was especially interesting in the way it talks about habit formation.
From the essay: “We know on an intellectual level that social-media platforms are addictive. Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, admitted as much in 2017 when he confessed that the site had been designed to exploit human ‘vulnerability’ and to ‘consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.’ We know this; we talk about it; we worry about children, or Cambridge Analytica, or Q, or any other damn thing except for ourselves. We don’t want to admit that each one of us has given a huge corporation untrammeled access to the delicate psychology that makes us who we are.”
Nature Outside Your Door
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.” — Rachel Carson
For the next several weeks, I’ll offer a summer series called “Nature Outside Your Door.” In it, we’ll talk about ways to connect with nature and appreciate God’s creation even if you can’t leave your neighborhood.
In Episode 4, I talk about noticing something in nature that’s ubiquitous in your area.
When I Write …
Finally, check out this section for a summer series just for writers called When I Write. I’ve invited fellow writers from The Redbud Writers Guild to join me with a brief explainer from their own writing, along with a prompt for you to try — even if you aren’t a writer.
This week, welcome Diana Gruver.
When I write, the "Muse" does not frequently come when bidden. Some days the words flow freely, but too often, I have stared at an empty screen, my cursor blinking at me mockingly. On such days, when words are sluggish to come, it can be hard to know where to start, hard to know how to get past the brain block or the distractions. It's even harder to follow Anne Lamott's oft-quoted writing advice to "keep your butt in the chair."
In such moments, I close my laptop and pull out a notebook and a pen. Slowing down to the pace of the flow of ink from my pen is often enough to focus my mind. If this alone doesn't help, I set a timer for fifteen minutes and start with where I am.
What does my body feel like in the chair? What does that coffee smell like, now lukewarm in my mug? Where do those thoughts lead that seemed too distracting to consider before?
Anchoring myself in the physical space around me and on the thoughts at the forefront of my mind gives me a place to start, and sometimes surprisingly attunes me to a topic or theme I need to devote more time to, well past my timer's ring.
Now you try it. If you normally type to write, leave the technology behind for a few minutes and write with pen and paper. Pay attention to where you are in this moment, and try to describe your physical space with as much detail as possible. Resist editing or forcing what you're writing into a coherent piece. Just keep the pen moving and follow where your thoughts and observations lead.
Diana Gruver writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. Diana lives in Pennsylvania, where she can often be found singing in the kitchen with her husband and ever-curious daughter. You can connect with her at www.dianagruver.com, or on Facebook or Twitter.
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