To Pray or Not to Pray?

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I have a granddaughter that will be confirmed this weekend. We will all be there to celebrate this milestone in her life.

I remember my confirmation. It was a moment in my life that I do remember and treasure. I know what I wore and I remember the day and what I chose for my confirmation name. We had to do that in my church at that time. Usually, it was a Saint’s name.

As much as I have written about my days growing up Catholic and telling you the tales of things that unsettled me about my religion, there were many positives too. As a young child, you don’t appreciate all the prayers you need to remember or the religion classes, but those are the very things that get me through my life.

I changed religions for a couple of reasons. I wanted to attend church as a family and I was impressed with the faith of my new nieces and nephews and their religious instruction in the Lutheran Church. I was impressed with their knowledge of the Bible. I was impressed with their confirmation programs that encompassed many hours of study. I was impressed with their Sunday Schools. I was impressed with their knowledge of other religions.

Today I use some things from my upbringing still, and I use things I learned as a Lutheran and from other relatives of other religions. But forming my faith started as a young child.

I have fallen away from church time to time when I was lost and searching, but I was always drawn back because of prayer and what I learned from both religions.

One day I was at a baseball game with my grandson. They were losing by over ten points and it was getting worse by the minute. Before the game I asked him if he prayed for help to do his best, not win, just to do his best. He told me no and gave me a funny look. I decided I would pray for his team, not to win, but to do their best and possibly bring the score up so it was a little closer and they wouldn’t feel so defeated. I did and I have to admit, I was amazed they scored over ten points and brought the game to a tie that inning. They did lose but not the terrible loss they would have had. I told my grandson I did that, and again I got the funny look. I was convinced it helped, but he wasn’t convinced.

Another time when chatting with another grandson who was about to play in a basketball game I again inquired if he asked God to help him do his best. His funny look appeared and he said no. I told him he should. I asked him later if he took my advice and he didn’t because he thought it was a strange request.

Both these boys go to church and Sunday School. I was taught to pray without ceasing no matter how little or unimportant my needs seemed. We’ve all heard the “someone needs it more than I do” speech.

Sunday School was more intense when I was growing up, and I know this even though I was not in a protestant Sunday School. We Catholics in our school had to go to church every day during the school year. Sunday School for people my age in protestant churches, and for my kids was every Sunday morning for an hour. Going to church was a requirement. It didn’t matter what was happening in the community with sports, church and Sunday School came first.

Confirmation was another matter. Saturday mornings for my Protestant friends and for my children were for two to three hours and Wednesday nights were church time. There were memorization and work that had to be done, and if it wasn’t, you were not allowed to be confirmed. Some might argue that this is too harsh for the young ones of today, but I argue it is why I have a foundation to hold on to at my lowest times; even the times I shy away from my church community.

John McCain tells of how his faith was strengthened, restored and tested as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. One of his prayers was to be given another minute to keep living. Orson Swindle was a Marine Captain who spent six years in captivity. He and his fellow prisoners would cough the letter C for church and tap a code so they knew it was time to pray together, and they would say their prayers on their own, but at the same time. The prayers were the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. Prayer was their sustenance. Had they not learned that at their parent’s knees and in their Sunday Schools and churches they would not have had those memorized prayers in their darkest hours or been able to whisper their personal words of prayer.

Our churches today have changed in what they expect of our youth. Sunday School classes are shortened. After confirmation teenagers disappear from their churches because they are given the option by their parents and society to not be a part of a community where their faith will be sustained. Many teenagers, even Confirmation age have a hard time reciting any rote prayer such as the Lord’s prayer or the 23rd Psalm. We have dumbed down the teaching of our children to conform to society’s expectations, rather than keeping the expectation of what our children should be learning to be able to withstand the world today. Sunday school and education programs, along with youth events, are among the first cut when trying to save money. We seem to lower our standards for our youth to keep people in our churches yet churches are emptier. We expect less and we are getting less. How is that working for us?

I know people are falling away from the church communities for many different reasons. There is a lack of trust in the old church establishment. Yes, fragile leaders have let us down. Judgment has driven us away. The politics of churches have driven us away. Yet we still need that “old time religion” to grow up those kids so that if they are in situations they cannot handle they know prayer and faith will help. They can turn to a common prayer together as those prisoners did or if they cannot eke out a prayer of their own because of their situation. Our children today need a foundation and we are failing if we don’t give that to them.

If I can leave one moment of wisdom for my grandchildren, it is to never quit praying in all instances, no matter how small the request might be. Memorize those prayers; there will be times you can’t find your own words for prayer but your heart will pull up that which is memorized embedded in your heart.

There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees. — Victor Hugo

I’m Catholic—-Wait, I’m Lutheran—-Wait!

Chapter Three: I Am The Sum of My Ancestors

I grew up in a staunch Catholic family, kind of. One part of my family, my mother’s side, was Catholic. My dad was United Brethren which then merged with the Methodist Church in my community. My dad’s family had Baptist, Assembly of God and even Jehovah Witnesses on his side.

I remember the first time I met a Jehovah Witness cousin from California. I was a teen and I was a little scared from what I had been taught from my Catholic roots but she was just like me and religion didn’t stand in the way of our friendship. I couldn’t figure out why I should be scared of her because she was from another religion that was not accepted in our Southern Minnesota culture.

I was taught the Catholic Church was the one true church and we were only ones that would get into heaven. I went to a strict Catholic School and having a sensitive spirit I was terrified of the nuns except maybe one or two. Their punishments could be hurtful. And I was terrified of sin and the repercussions. Which we still should be now. Sin is not exclusive to Catholics.

Although confession I thought was interesting. We were taught me to say “Bless me father for I have sinned” and then recite how many times we lied or disobeyed etc. from our last confession and then the Priest could give us absolution. I always guessed the number of times I did something because who kept count and as a child who could remember. And I never felt any better after I left the confessional. I always worried when I went to communion that I maybe shouldn’t go because I left something out. We also had to fast before communion and it was hard to make sure I didn’t eat the specified number of time before communion and what would people think if you didn’t go to communion?

It was also a sin to not go to church on Sundays so unless I was sick, Sunday Church was a weekly occasion along with Mass every morning when I attended Catholic School. When I was young the Mass was in Latin and I didn’t understand a word. It was a mysterious ceremony and then in school, we learned to sing in Latin. Again, mysterious words to a second and third grader.

There were many strict rules. And we learned many prayers which I still say today, at least the ones I feel move me spiritually. I feel that was a good thing. We were told never to question. And…I could never go to church with my father because he was Methodist and it would be a sin.

I always felt that loss of going to church as a family. There is something that connects us when we worship together as a family.

During my teenage years, my outlook on religion made me begin to question my Catholic roots but I did so silently. In my various high school activities, I met a Pastor at another church and I liked what he stood for and how he interacted with the teenagers at his church.

We used to have what was called Release Time on Wednesdays where we would leave school for an hour for religious instruction. The Lutheran Church had some good discussion topics pertaining to what as teenagers we were going through. Some of us skipped our Catholic instruction from time to time to go to Release Time at the Lutheran Church with our friends because they were giving us answers and help with our teenage angst. It was a little sign of my first rebellion. And I might add in those days you had to have a note to stay in school and not go. Times have changed.

Next Blog: My Lutheran Journey

We Can’t Find Five Minutes

Note: This is the first post in a series of thoughts and meanderings of my mind about how our past shapes our life now, and the way our perception changes as we age. Mainly it is about my faith life and what affects it has on what I do and feel today. This is a part of my life journey I thought I would share in case others had the same feelings. There is no right or wrong. Your journey may be different than mine but I was relieved when I took time out of my busy life and found others who share with me letting me know I am not alone in the journey.

Chapter One: We Can’t Find Five Minutes

img_1600Last year my emotions ran amok. One of my best friends died. There were health problems with my husband and I was exhausted. Through all of this one book helped me. It was Max Lucado’s book Anxious for Nothing. There were days I would only read a paragraph or two and there were days I would read an entire chapter.

Something about this book drew me in, gave me comfort and made me feel as if I could conquer my anxiety and fear with God by my side.

Taking time to read also became an issue in my life. I read books from author friends to give them an honest review but I was so busy spinning the wheels in my head, that my brain told me I had no time in the midst of my chaos and sadness to do what my inner voices said were frivolous things.

I kept writing my column, Something About Nothing, becoming more honest about my feelings on various subjects, but some weeks it was hard to find inspiration. In 2018 I did not put out a single book in either one of my cozy mystery series. I drifted along advertising the ones I wrote the past five years. I could not find the inspiration for a new book. Out in public I would smile and joke but I felt sad inside.

During this time I decided to start a Facebook Group called Slices of Life. It is a private group for those who wanted to read Max Lucado’s book and discuss it. I found I was not very good at leading a book group because no one had the time to read and I was shirking on my duties to lead for that very reason.

This group all has anxiety and fear as I do and I hoped together we could take the journey and find some kinship and answers. I wanted it to be a shared group but I found many could not have the time to find five minutes a day to sit down and read. And trying to find that time made them more stressed. To be fair, I work from my home and many in the group had families and work schedules.

I decided to read a page out loud every day and some liked that but then it became a burden and stress for me because if I didn’t do it I felt as if I was letting people down. Have you ever felt that way? And that feeling left me pondering what it is we are looking for to help us when we can’t take the time to help ourselves.

Tomorrow’s post: Anxious About Everything