The most common response to my six week sabbatical was, “I’m praying for you.”
In my experience “I’m praying for you,” is code for “good luck with that,” or “hope that works out for you, but don’t call me if it doesn’t.” I’ve heard people say “I’m praying for you,” rather than provide hospital visits, financial support, volunteerism or follow-through. As I entered sabbath rest, I looked forward to escaping spaces and places full of seemingly empty promises to pray.
I made promises to myself to nap, eat, read, play, think and pursue the things that make my heart sing. I kept my promises to myself. I gained weight, slept late and immersed myself in gratifications, like SCUBA diving. SCUBA is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.
Think Jacques Cousteau.
Years ago, I abandoned SCUBA diving because my insurance premium was going to increase. Fourteen years of pastoral ministry revealed my dreams matter more than insurance rates. Diving makes my heart sing and SCUBA certification is a chorus.
Diving is immersion: complete, disorienting, life-changing descent. Colors change; temperatures change; visibility changes; sound changes. All I thought true was transformed with each dive, including my cynicism about prayer. I don’t know who kept their promise to pray, and who didn’t, but I know people prayed.
I know they prayed like I know water is wet, fish are quick and turtles are slow. I know they prayed like I know the feeling of an underground river’s current moving over my diving gear. I felt the effects of prayer like I felt air bubbles with each breath from a tank. People immersed me in prayer as surely as I was immersed water.
“Baptize” means to completely submerge under water. As I was submerged in water, so was I undoubtedly submerged in prayer. The Maker of water is the Maker of those who prayed for me. At hand is an opportunity to share what I learned as the cynicism washed away. I learned a lesson taught long ago by a Baptizer:
' In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea [along the western side of the Dead Sea] and saying, “ Repent [change your inner self--your old way of thinking, regret past sins, live your life in a way that proves repentance; seek God’s purpose for your life], for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”'
Sabbath, SCUBA and scripture brought me to repentance. I did not believe people were praying but I know now that I was wrong. I was tired and haggard and churched-out and wrong. In a series of blog posts, I will write to tell those who did and didn’t pray, what prayer produced in me.