Life is complex and complicated. While the Christmas season is filled with joy, there's also a lot of stress for many families during this time. I love the lights, the extra focus on food, and the anticipation of time off from our regular routines. But, this season does not come without the recognition of suffering in the world. Thus, I write this to remember the reason for this season. The reason why I live to glorify our Savior and a few tips that our family uses to stay focused on our faith.
I work in a very impacted elementary school where families are experiencing suffering beyond anything I have ever experienced myself. Poverty that runs so deep that students rely on hot meals during school hours, children whose parents are incarcerated due to immigration issues, small children who have had to call 911 when a parent passed out from drugs, or those living in the care of child protective services because they were once beaten so badly by their own parent.
I have experienced my own pain, but nothing compares to what I have seen these young children face. At the same time, my problems are real and they matter to me. As I shared in a recent post, Danielle's immune system is compromised because of a gene mutation she inherited from me. And we were told two weeks ago that doctors had no other ideas as to how to help her. So when I say life is complex and complicated, it just is.
How does anyone cope with the overwhelming stress that we endure by living a full human experience?
I believe that life isn't finished here on Earth; thus, our suffering isn't without any redeeming purpose. These years on Earth, while important and are meant to be enjoyed, are preparation for a far greater life to come. While in no way do I welcome suffering, I can attest to suffering awaking joy over and over again in my life. Prayer creates this awaking. For me, prayer works. Prayer has been the one true source of hope that has gotten me through a lot of personal and secondary trauma.
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by all of the suffering in life; big and little things. Not to make light of the awful things that happen to people, but I can even find suffering in the overwhelming feeling I have when my to-do list is too long or the worry I feel when my kid is left out.
I have found that putting my problems in a box helps a lot; a prayer box. When I am worried, overwhelmed or frustrated, I take a strip of paper and write a prayer request to God. I place that paper inside of my prayer box. On the outer portion of the box, I write the date. A week later, I burn the strip(s) of paper. The burning of the paper signifies that I am letting go. I am literally turning it over to God.
I put every type of worry in the box. Big worries about my students have gone in the box. Situations have not always been fully resolved, but in prayer I have had my eyes opened to joy.
I work with roughly 130 people who have devoted their lives to helping the oppressed. Prayer helps me "see" them. They choose to work with a population of students who require more than just academic support, but they do it with joy-filled hearts. And when you work with students that need your love, you experience joy in insurmountable ways. Prayer helps me experience that joy and working with my students is a blessing.
Kaitlyn was so worried about making the basketball team. The night before tryouts she had a lot of anxiety. She asked me if we could "do the prayer box" together. We got a few candles, her box, and sat on the floor. We talked about her worries and then wrote down a prayer. She stuck it in the box and let it go. She felt empowered to give it her all during the next few days of tryouts. She had so much joy throughout that week and told me that she was calm on the court because of prayer.
I was devastated after a doctor's appointment with Danielle. My worry brain was out of control. I can't say that I put my prayer in the box and never looked back. That would be a lie. However, when I went to burn the original prayer a week later, I was able to see that I was in a much better place than I was at the time I wrote the original prayer. Our appointment this past Thursday was both heavy and wonderful. We learned about the risks for her future, but also new treatments which give me hope and we are feeling really great about a lot of the options that are available; after we were told there weren't any.
I think it's important to talk to people when you are down; to get it all out and to be real about your feelings. I am not suggesting putting your problems in a box and never talking about them. But, my prayer box has been a game changer. It's helped me to let go of so many worries.
One of my favorite quotes is from a Buddhist Monk, “Do everything with a mind that lets go. If you let go a little you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace. ” ― Ajahn Chah
I love that quote, but I am not capable of letting go on my own. That is why I am a Christian. I need a Savior. I need help. I can't do this alone. I need God's power working behind the scenes to help me and I desire to give up control (even though this is the hardest part of my faith).
As a Christian, I am doing my best (and I fail a lot) to remember the purpose of this season. I remember that I am not alone in all of this suffering. 1 Peter 5:10 "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." I must remember that God is giving me the strength I need to have joy even in the midst of suffering.
As 2 Corinthians 4:17 reminds us, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."
If you would like to read more, here are a few resources I suggest:
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