Alison Marie Smith

Life, Leadership & Spiritual Formation in Lonely Places

Month: July 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Navigating Loneliness in Southern Utah: An Interview with Trevor Hollis

All of us at some point or another have felt lonely. Sometimes we might feel disconnected physically- because we live alone or far from friends or family. Sometimes we feel disconnected emotionally- because of unresolved conflict or maybe a lack of shared interests or experiences. The passion behind my blog are these very issues- how do we not just survive loneliness but learn to thrive in the midst of it?

One thing that helps me navigate loneliness is hearing the stories of others who have struggled in similar ways. Today, I want to share with you the story of one of my InterVarsity colleagues, Trevor Hollis. Through our conversation, I was encouraged by Trevor’s resilience in the midst of loneliness as a student and now full-time minister at Southern Utah University.

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Clear Vision & Enduring Strength: An Epitaph for Moses

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the last chapter of Deuteronomy as part of my Bible reading plan. If you’re not familiar, this chapter wraps up the story of Moses, which begins in Exodus, the 2nd book of the Old Testament. Four long books later, we find Moses at the top of a mountain gazing into the Promised Land. His journey, literally and metaphorically, is ending.

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Discipline of the Week: Celtic Daily Prayer

This week, an article I wrote- Praying When Words are Hard to Come by was published by The Well. Several friends commented asking for more information about the written prayer I described in the article. In response, I thought I would highlight Celtic Daily Prayer, and written prayer as a whole, as the discipline of the week.

What exactly is Celtic Daily Prayer?

Celtic Daily PrayerCeltic Daily Prayer is a book of prayers developed by the Northumbria Community, a group of Christians in North East England. Forming in the 1980s, the Northumbria Community wanted to be different than typical Christian communes. Rather than remain all together in one place, they scattered and spread across the world, seeking to integrate their faith in a modern context.

The community’s commitment to daily prayer is perhaps their most recognizable trait. Their Daily Office consists of three prayers- morning, midday, and evening. It also includes daily devotional readings and complines (bedtime prayers). One fact I find interesting is that the community encourages one another to memorize the afternoon prayer so that it can be said while working. I love recalling the words of the midday prayer while doing the dishes or eating my lunch at work.

Why pray written prayers?

Simple Answer No. 1. Using written prayers gives an order to my day and a direction to my worship.

I need structure to make the most of my time with God. I also love that the prayers are based on Scripture- rich and filled with meaning. Even though the prayers are the same everyday, over time certain words tend to stick out and cause me to pause:

To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…
All things are passing, God never changeth…
Have courage and wait, wait for the Lord.

If you get nervous about too much structure, Celtic Daily Prayer provides time during the morning and evening prayers to craft your own prayers. I enjoy the balance of both structure and freedom, praying words from Scripture and the saints as well spontaneous prayers for myself and for others.

Simple answer No. 2: Sometimes, I don’t know where/how to begin.

Then I get discouraged and wind up not praying at all. Then I start thinking that God is mad at me. Then I avoid God because I feel ashamed. The very thing I long for- connection with God- seems like a pipe dream.

If you get caught up in the same chain of thoughts as me, remind yourself of some important truths. God’s love is unconditional and unchanging. God doesn’t love us less if we forget to pray and he doesn’t love us more if we pray all the time. His love is perfect and consistent. The Bible reminds us:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

Read this over and over again. Nothing, including anything we do or don’t do, can separate us from God’s love for us.

With that being said, Celtic Daily Prayer provides me with a starting place to pray. I don’t have to summon extra strength or intellect. All I do is open up the book and read, trusting that God is with me.

Often, I’m tempted to see prayer as a performance for God. Maybe if I pray this way, I’ll get what I want. Maybe if I say these certain words, God will think I have it all together. But the truth is, prayer is not a performance that we use to curry God’s favor. Rather, God uses prayer to build intimacy and trust with Him. Prayer is a place of transformation, renewal, hope, honesty and healing. Praying written prayers forces me to let go of trying to control God. I place the control rightfully in God’s hands to meet me how he desires.

Where do I start?

Like any discipline, you have to start at a level you can handle. For example, when I first started running, I didn’t start with a marathon. I started slowly, alternating running and walking for weeks until I could run 30 minutes without stopping. Don’t try to do too much to soon. If you do, you will probably get discouraged and quit. Celtic Daily Prayer is currently my favorite form of written prayer because it is short and challenges me to pause just three times each day. I can spend as little as 10 minutes or as long as 30 on the morning and evening prayers. The afternoon prayer takes about 5 minutes.

Set reasonable expectations; think about what you and your schedule can handle. If you miss a prayer or two, don’t beat yourself up. There are days when I only say the midday prayer- sometimes for good reasons and sometimes because I just forget. Don’t let shame or guilt stop you from trying new spiritual practices.

You can say written prayers on your own, or better yet, read them with friends or family. This is a great way to establish spiritual rhythms with your spouse, kids, roommates or community of friends.

Written Prayer Resources

Written PrayersCheck your local library to see if any of these resources are available for you to borrow. Several of these resources have free online versions.

Celtic Daily Prayer website (You can buy the actual book here)

The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, a book of fixed-hour prayers

InterVarsity Prayer Booklet, compilation of ways to pray, including morning & evening prayers

Common Prayer, a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals website from the Simple Way, a ministry associated with Shane Claiborne, many of the daily readings are focused on social justice. (You can buy the actual book here)

Receiving the Day by Dorothy Bass, a resource that helps us be more aware of God throughout our daily activities

Have you found written prayers helpful? Share your thoughts below.

Praying When Words are Hard to Come By

This year I celebrated my fifth anniversary with InterVarsity. Depending on the day, I either want to have a high-energy dance party or take a long, luxurious nap. I’ve seen students delivered from addictions while fearing that my husband might lose his job. I’ve experienced the beauty of marriage along with the grief of broken relationships. In both joy and heartache, these two words have been constant: change and uncertainty. It has been exhilarating and exhausting.

Unmet Expectations

After my first year with InterVarsity, my husband and I married and moved from Michigan to Utah. It was an exciting time filled with hope, but the transition was more difficult than I had anticipated. Painful conflict with people around me, left me feeling isolated. And the isolation deepened. We had moved from a culture where singlehood was celebrated and late marriages were the norm, into the world headquarters of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) church, notable for its high premium on family and childbearing. We were in our mid-20s without children; we were the oddity.

Click here to read the rest of my story over at The Well

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