The answer to a Charlie Brown prayer

The other evening, I received a small but profound blessing, a seed.

We had gone away for a brief vacation, both of us burdened by the sadness of many hearts, and weary from the battle for hope and joy and light when the darkness felt so thick. I asked a dear friend to house-sit for us. Yes, and can my other friend come too? She has been looking for a time of retreat. It couldn’t have worked out better. We prepared and cleaned as hastily as we were able, and I was glad that our time of getting away could in turn allow for other hearts to also find a time of hiddenness and rest. We left a small list of things we needed them to do – gather the mail, water the plants, take out the trash. I wanted their work to be minimal, and their rest to be true. I felt a bit badly for the countertops I didn’t get to clean before we left, though I knew these friends wouldn’t mind.

Our vacation was perfect. Mammoth was my much-needed reminder that beauty did not always require heartbreaking effort to find. That is the mercy of God over me. I hope in His redemption but I rest in His unshakable love.

Returning home from vacation always involves a mix of relief (there’s no place like home) and low-grade dread (I’ve got some work to do). On the long drive down U.S. Highway 395, I began to plan what we would do when we got home. First things first. Wash the towels and bedsheets. Wash the dusty dog. Semi-organize all the stuff we unload from the truck. Wash up. The rest can wait until morning.

Weary, though in a lighter-hearted kind of way, we finally arrived home. After unloading our vacation-in-a-truck, I walked into the main living space, and there it was, the blessing. Clean towels, washed and folded. Bedsheets newly washed, beds remade. A handful of thoughtful gifts, and a note. Everything has been washed. Enjoy your rest after a long drive. I walked into the master bathroom, and saw there was more. The countertops I hadn’t gotten to were now wiped down. Even the jacuzzi bathtub, which we hardly use, had the embarrassing spiders and dust rinsed from it. These friends had served us in their own time of retreat, beyond what we could have asked. They gave us a blessing.

In a profound Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz, Charlie Brown whispers a prayer one dark night after reassuring a very frightened Snoopy that the sun would eventually come out again. Who comforts the comforter? That was my heart as I wept in my prayers before leaving for Mammoth. God, my heart feels so drained, and so lonely. Who comforts the comforter?

These friends had given us the blessing of meeting anticipated needs. They were God’s answer to my prayer. I know what you need. I know what you need. He moved hearts to be thoughtful in the most substantial form of the word, to be sacrificial, to be incarnationally compassionate down to the most minute details.  I took this blessing, this seed, and put it in my heart. It is growing. Hope. Joy. Light. Life.

when my mess tumbles out and God comes in

In all the 20 years that I have been leading worship in music at church, I still get nervous every single time. It’s more than stage fright, though that remains a significant component. It’s anticipation, longing. Wanting more than a sentimental musical experience. Wanting something real, something deeper. Creating a space with the music for people to go beyond words in bringing their hearts, their hurts, their fears, their doubts, their shame, before a God who says to every broken soul, “Come to the cross, I will not turn you away there.” Creating a space where the heart is opened and everything tumbles out in the mess that we often feel we are, and we try so hard to contain our mess and apologize that we didn’t get it together before we came before this Holy One. Only to find ourselves caught up in the embrace of the Father who ran to us while we were still a long way off and says, “Welcome home.”

I long for this as a worship leader. For this real exchange to happen. For people to find themselves found by God, because of Christ. I am afraid of getting in the way with too many words, not enough words. Awkward pauses. Wrong notes. I’m afraid of a Sunday with a weak voice, an off voice that doesn’t inspire others to proclaim, “I am His beloved, and He is so good.” I used to think that quality and skill in music didn’t matter that much as a worship leader, but particularly after going through John Piper’s series, “Gravity and Gladness,” and reading Bob Kauflin’s book, “Worship Matters,” I am convinced that quality and skill do matter. Quality in music, quality in leadership style, skill and discernment in both. I don’t think I can take the ministry of worship in music too seriously. I am leading people, through song, to come before a holy, loving God. The Creator and King of the universe. Our Life-giver. He is holy, holy, holy. I tremble with this, every week. I don’t want to sing flippantly to this God who sees my heart of hearts. I want to be used by You, God. I don’t want my pride to get in the way. I don’t want my fumbles to get in the way. Give us Yourself. We need You. No one brings life the way You do. Not me, not my music. Give us Yourself and help me not to get in the way.

There is a deep joy I share with my fellow worship team members. I love musicians who offer what they have to worship the Lord. They get it. They get that the backing off with an instrument is a humble expression of worship, a humble act of service to the church family, just as much as the loud strums and beats. I don’t have to play, to be heard, to be recognized, all the time, because it’s not about me. We’re creating a dynamic with our music, the rise and fall of our hearts when we hurt and we hope and we fall and we get up, when our brokenness robs us of our words before God and when our joy can’t be contained so we have to sing and shout and clap. There are certain Sundays when we know that the Lord has been gracious to us in our time of music, He has been there. The weight of His glory lingers even after the benediction has been given. I exchange glances with other worship team members and we just know, He has glorified Himself through our offering, and our hearts are so glad. Sometimes, I have trouble talking with people afterwards because I feel so amazed that He would give us this gift of Himself, our little broken but beautiful church community. He is what we have longed for. We need Him to go with us into our traffic and our housework and our tense relationships and our Monday morning blues. Give us Yourself, God. As you always have, would you now, again, graciously give us Yourself.

through someone else’s song

In my high school years, my friends and I were young, zealous, and just a little foolish in our desire to do good for others. We didn’t know what we were doing, but you sure had to give us an A for effort. We would go to Denny’s, the four of us, order one serving of toast, and throw all the little packets of jam into our backpacks, only to call over the waiter and ask for more jam. You can imagine, this only worked so well. It was a miracle we never ended up in the back washing dishes. We then made our way to the market where we bought a loaf of Wonder bread, a container of peanut butter, and bottled water. From there, we would seek out any homeless person we could find and give them their pb&j fixings ad nauseum for the week.

Something else we did quite regularly was visit the local nursing homes with my guitar. We just kind of wandered in and poked our heads into any rooms with open doors, asking if we could visit awhile. It was a slightly disturbing miracle that we never, to my recollection, were stopped or questioned by the staff as to who we were or why we were entering the residents’ rooms.

One visit stands out in my memory. We found a woman in her 40s or 50s, sitting next to her aged mother, who clearly suffered from a considerable degree of dementia. She was unresponsive to our questions, gazing at us with a confused look through forlorn eyes. We offered to sing a well-known hymn, “Because He Lives.” We closed the door to her room and sang softly.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.

The light in the room seemed to grow softer. Peace replaced anxiety. Dare I say, joy came to us. The elderly woman quietly whispered the words of the song. It was as though we had ever so slightly stepped for a moment into that future time and place where sorrow and tears and death will be no more, and our hearts were glad.

Fast forward many years.

I had received an unexpected phone call. A loved one was in a hospital, many miles away. A suicide attempt. Please come quickly if you can.

I had no words for the pain, it ran so deep. I could not utter my prayers, I did not know what to ask or how to ask it. But there was a hymn that a close friend emailed to me. When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. It was the sung prayer of my soul. For weeks, as my loved one slowly recovered, words continued to evade me, both in conversation and in prayer. I ached, deeply. Did God hear the words I could not find?

One Sunday, I visited a nearby church rather than attending my own. I had no energy to keep up the façade to help others feel less uncomfortable with my pain. The pastor preached on anxiety and trusting the goodness of God because we see Christ, who bore our grief and infirmities, so that we might be healed. I went forward for Communion. The pastor met my tearful gaze. This is His body, broken for you. I returned to my seat, and the very moment I bowed my head, the music team began to play a hymn.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

What is this love that comes so tenderly from heaven to earth, to this heart that could not pray but through someone else’s song. He heard my cry. Peace replaced anxiety. Even in grief, joy had come.

tonight, God hears | laugh, run free

My heart hurts for you tonight.

Your face is what I would expect of a child your age, angelic and flawless, but your story is not, and I struggle to reconcile what I see, and what I know of you.

 

You asked the name of the patient across from you, and shame on me for asking why so suspiciously. You only wanted to pray for this other child by name. You humbled me. I said God hears you, God knows.

 

Your tears caught me by surprise. Your walls with me came down so fast that I hardly knew what to do with what you let me see on the inside of you.  I feel the temptation to build my walls, if you won’t. But my heart hurts for you.

You are so broken, but you are so beautiful.

I want you to get through tomorrow, and heal. And I want you to get through the rest of your life, and heal. And laugh. And run free.

I had to go home, my shift was done. The alarm in your eyes when I said good-bye caught me off-guard. I’ll be back tomorrow, please get some rest tonight. But after tomorrow, I will probably never know what became of your life. But I will pray for you by name, and God hears us, and God knows.