This post was supposed to be the conclusion to my “Best Dog Ever” series. I have most of it written, but something was missing. I considered stretching it out a bit to make it work, but Lucy deserves more. And I know there is more of that story to tell, but my brain feels like it’s working on fumes. I then considered pulling something out that I’d already written, and just tweak it a little. But I remembered a conversation with a pastor from a few years ago. He said that whenever he has a sermon to give but runs out of time to prepare, he goes to his file of previous sermons and pulls something out. “Always there when I need it.” Somehow this filing cabinet perusal to replace time, effort, thought, and preparation seemed to cheapen the whole experience. In reality it’s not a bad idea. When you have worked hard on something in the past, why wouldn’t it also have potential future relevance? I was probably just being a snob. But today, I procrastinated in finishing up this post and now face a looming deadline. The reality is I didn’t put the time into this when I should have, and now that I need to pull it all together I am struggling to do so.
I began this blog for two reasons: to build a body of work that articulates some of my personal journey, and to practice the exercise of writing regularly. Pulling something off the proverbial shelf could have accomplished my first goal, but it would have denied my second goal. I have spent the last few hours going between previously written essays and staring at a blank page. The blank page has proven to be the most daunting, the one I find myself most wanting to avoid. How do I fill this stupid page? What should I say? Do I have anything worth saying? At what point are my words forced and inauthentic? And yet as I tried to work and rework previously written words, it just wasn’t coming together. In my fatigued state, it finally occurred to me that maybe an opportunity was staring me in the face. Rather than exit quietly and replace what I’m trying to do with something previously written, I have decided to trudge ahead, explore my surroundings in spite of how difficult it is, and see what comes as a result.
This is all beginning to sound a lot like my journal as of late. Over the last several years, I found prayer increasingly problematic. I have wrestled with questions such as why do we pray? What happens when we pray? Do we strive to get God’s attention or change God’s mind? Is it simply one’s own exploration of thoughts, dreams, fears? Phrases I previously used regularly began to sound increasingly hollow or trite or self-centered. If my healing means I am blessed by God, what does another person’s lack of healing mean? If my family’s good fortune means God is with me, what about that family that is falling apart? This kind of theology has contributed to poor behavior on the part of God’s “faithful” while alienating others who assumed they weren’t good enough for God. So as I wrestled with why or what or how to pray, prayer for me became either an exercise of silence, or words that someone else had written.
For 2015, I decided that it was time to start finding my own words when I pray. Not just meal prayers or end-of-the-day prayers, but working-out-my theology kind of prayers. Prayers that come from deep within expressing the most intimate part of my thoughts and feelings about God, self, and life. The work is hard, perhaps because it is both the most revealing of who I am and the most easily contrived. Yet I have to take risks through my words in what is perhaps the most vulnerable part of my spiritual journey. It is time. I decided that I would start to write a prayer each day to force myself to use words and to document what, if any progress is made. It typically goes like this:
- Stare at the blank page in my journal for awhile.
- Write “Dear God” then stare at the page with those two words for awhile.
- Avoid adding the words “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret” because that joke isn’t very original and I’m funnier than that.
- Stop thinking and just write.
- Seriously, just write something.
For now it’s just a few sentences that are honest and raw. Or it’s a question that I have. Or it’s something silly because that’s the only offering I’ve got to give. But it’s still taking a risk and I think that the effort is the point. As I finish this up, perhaps the same could be said for my writing today. My fear of the blank page isn’t so much about whether or not I can fill it because I’ve chosen to do so in spite of myself. My fear is more subtle and complex. I’m taking a risk by putting words to where I really am. But I have an opportunity to learn something and do better next time. There is freedom in acknowledging what is true, and interestingly enough I find myself not quite as tired as I was several hours ago. I find my mind a little more engaged. I will try not to procrastinate next time, and I am grateful that it’s okay that I did so this time.