I see them every day on the streets—the hungry. They stretch out trembling hands and plead for something to sustain them. A handout is not enough though. It may fill them for the day but they are back at the same bus stop the next morning, empty-handed and asking for more.
I’ve been that person for many days. I come to God with open hands and I ask for more of who He is, some feeling of His presence to carry me. I can’t count the number of books on prayer and contemplation I have read in the past few years. I begin reading with a hopeful heart. This is the one that will jumpstart my prayers,I think, that will tell me where my heart has gone astray in its connection to the giver of life. But I close the book in sadness. I don’t see any changes in myself.
The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning has been in my kindle queue for a while and I opened it on a whim last month. When I finished reading it I felt more like that pleading pauper than ever. I saw so much of myself in the flawed character of this alcoholic ex-priest, this man both attracted to and repelled by God. I knew his heart in the way he was never settled, always searching. But he had something in all his wandering that I didn’t—this ability to accepted God’s love fully and not get bogged down in his own failures and attempts to earn the love of the Father.
I wept with longing as I read: “Is your own personal prayer life characterized by the simplicity, childlike candor, boundless trust, and easy familiarity of a little one crawling up in a Daddy’s lap? An assured knowing that Daddy doesn’t care if the child falls asleep, starts playing with toys, or even starts chatting with little friends, because the daddy knows the child has essentially chosen to be with him for that moment?”
I yearn for this kind of trust in God’s affection for me. I want to believe that my attempts towards Him are enough, that in all my lack He is still infinitely pleased with me. I kept coming back to Manning’s words, devouring his autobiography in a few days and then launching into Dear Abba. I didn’t yet see any kind of shift in my prayers but I was so taken with this ragamuffin that I kept reading.
I was invited to a two-day retreat with a few other expat ladies in the South Asian city I’ve called home for nearly half a year. I longed for connection to someone in a place where loneliness is my daily companion. I came again with trembling and empty hands, not sure if there would be anything to fill them.
We read a passage of scripture together and then had a couple hours of solitude to reflect and pray. I settled into a tiny corner of shade in the already sweltering heat of the morning with my Bible and journal. I entered that morning with the same deep-rooted feelings of shame I carry. They’re not conscious, just always there like a second skin I wear. In the silence I noticed some things from the scripture reading that were prompting some change in my life that needed to take place but it was what I felt left me stunned. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt the tender correction of a loving Father, not discipline and guilt. I felt loved, not judged.
Throughout the weekend any time I placed opened the Bible or spent time in silent reflection similar feelings occurred. We spent time in a Psalm and a time of Visio Divina, meaning divine seeing. We spent time meditating on a painting of a mother and child and in the fierce and tender eyes of the mother I again saw a God as a compassionate, loving parent. I thought about my own daughter. I give her freedom to play, to fall and to make her own mistakes. But I am never far away, always watching, ever vigilant to guard her from dangers. Nothing she does changes my love for her or my furious longing for her and nothing ever will.
I saw God in those days as a loving, directing Father and containing the ultimately complex love of the protecting and tender Mother. I hadn’t noticed this shift in me in the previous days but it now felt monumental. It wasn’t like I was suddenly praying these lofty prayers or connecting every moment to the presence of God. But I glimpsed a bit more of the character of my Divine Parent and who I am in who He is. I received more than a handout that was going to leave me hungry tomorrow. I knew I didn’t need anything else, that this knowledge alone of myself as a trusting child in the lap of my loving Daddy could sustain me if I only allowed myself to stay there.
In the days since sometimes I have run ahead and lost sight of my Abba. A few times I’ve run back into the sheltering arms. But I am clinging to the trust that He hasn’t moved I am and trying to make my orbit around Him closer, my trust in His unwavering love stronger. I’m trying to move from impoverished one to beloved child, to accept His invitation to come inside and join the feast He has prepared.