"Rejoice Evermore!" and "Pray Without Ceasing"
Gratitude, regular prayer, and sticking with the spiritual facts of God's goodness are just a few of the ways we and our children can pray without ceasing and rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing!
In everything give thanks.
Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.
I Thess. 5:16-18, 21
How do you DO that—"Rejoice evermore!" and "Pray without ceasing"? It's a ridiculous standard to set. Nobody can live up to that. And besides, who really wants to? It would be awful to have to pray constantly – you'd never really LIVE! And no one wants to be happy all the time. Count me out!
I've heard comments like these many times through the years – from others, from my children, and even out of my own mouth. I can't do this, whimpers the voice in my head. It doesn't work for me.
But it does. And when I'm totally honest (which means firmly shutting down the head voice that incessantly starts with "But…"), I know it's true and I start over… again. This is what we can help our children understand as they face the same kinds of nagging doubts and whines. Times have certainly changed, but the nature of fear, doubt, and confusion definitely has not.
A brilliant analogy in the Bible appears in the first two chapters of Genesis. By the end of chapter 1, God has created the world and "behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Chapter 2 begins smoothly enough, up to verse 6 when that devilish three-letter word appears out of nowhere, and says, "But…" This stop-right-where-you-are snake continues its insidious and exorable path toward doubt and confusion: "…there went up a mist…" In a flash, all that goodness (defined in the previous chapter) gets murky and starts to recede, until it's completely hidden from view. And our hearts tremble and sink. "I'm not good enough. I can't…."
One of my children has a forehead that furrows impressively. Without fail, he would be wearing the furrowed brow look the second I leaned over his bed to give him a goodnight hug. Then he'd begin his nightly lamentation with words to the effect of, "Mo-om, I need to tell you something…" It was priceless for its consistency and the way he could assume the look and the tone of voice on demand. At first, I resigned myself to working through each wrinkle until his brow was smooth and his heart was at peace. It didn't take long, however, to recognize the pattern that was embedding itself into our goodnight routine. And I didn't like it. He really didn't, either. Although he got my full attention, which he loved, there were nights when he had to work pretty hard to come up with a new worry or concern… or a new way to repeat an old complaint. One night, I caught him in the act of changing a smile into a frown as I walked over to his bed. It was so obvious that I burst out laughing. Looking very sheepish, he grinned and tried to protest, "Wait, Mom, you have to listen. I mean it!" I protested right back, assuring him that Life is good, he is good, and All is well. Those are spiritual facts, and we need to stick to them.
Sticking with them is what praying without ceasing means. When we learn and understand basic math facts, like 2 + 2 = 4, we don't need to repeat the fact over and over so as not to forget it. We simply know it. It's secure in consciousness—as a foundational principle on which the rest of math builds. In exactly the same way, we must learn and understand the basic truths about God and our un-severable relationship to Him: God is ALL. Man is made in God's image and likeness. God loves us—He constantly pours forth tenderness, mercy, strength to do whatever we need to do, and solutions—harmonious, peaceful resolutions to every problem that crops up in a day or a lifetime. Once we have learned these truths, praying without ceasing is second nature—just like knowing math facts. With that said, it's vitally important to practice praying—to consciously do it; to regularly remind ourselves of these spiritual truths. When we do, we solidify and deepen our understanding of their meaning, and we see new ways in which they relate and apply to our lives. We are "proving all things."
What about the imperative to "rejoice evermore"? It's not hard to do when we know the facts about who we are and what our value is to our Creator. Even in our darkest moments, we can turn away from the worst laments, and simply love. Love for others is a surefire way to stifle self-pity, self-righteousness and self-deprecation. The facts never change. Therefore, we always have reason to rejoice—to feel joy percolating within. If joy is buried deep for a time, we can trust that it's still there and that it's always animating us. Joy is God-given. Rejoicing in our God-given identity is as natural and effortless—and essential!—as breathing. In other words, we can't NOT rejoice evermore.
The key to piercing through my son's worry lines and fretful complaints was to redirect his attention to all the good in his day—in each and every day. It's very hard to keep feeling angry with someone, or frustrated, anxious, or dejected with the world and/or ourselves, if we're thinking of something that we're truly grateful to have in our lives. Grateful thoughts have intrinsic smile power—they fill the heart and spread all the way up to our faces. Feeling thankful is a profound blessing. It makes us feel better instantly, inside and out. Gratitude is the fastest way to recognize the good in ourselves, in our children, in others—in our world. It brings us back to the primary fact of God's creation: "behold, it was very good"!
What does "hold fast that which is good" mean, then? Don't let go of what's true. Trust that once we know what's true, we never forget or lose it. And because we know it, it's the most natural, normal thing to use it, do it, practice it every day—and all day!