By Alison Marie Smith

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.

 

My husband and I struggled to build community in our new church. The loneliness deepened our bond but we still longed for friendships. I started a new ministry at the University of Utah and experienced setbacks; students were extremely lonely yet suspicious of and hesitant to trust religious organizations. My husband’s job fluctuated between stable and uncertain. And I battled insecurities and doubt connected to my role as a female minister in a male-dominated culture. Not surprisingly, a past struggle with anxiety came roaring back into my life.

The time I spent with God felt flat. I was so emotionally drained that when I would pray, I had no words. I couldn’t articulate the heavy emotions weighing on me. Reading my Bible felt like a chore. Journaling, once a cherished time of intimacy with God, turned into a rant session that left me more drained than when I began. I didn’t know how to deal with what was happening in and around me; I felt stuck. I felt like I had nothing to give.

Unexpected Community

A few years after our move, I attended a weekend retreat. Each morning, afternoon, and evening, our retreat leader led us through Celtic Daily Prayer, a compilation of written liturgy. We would recite the prayers, statements of belief, and blessings together. Our leader would read the daily Scripture and devotional. It was restful, simply reading aloud and listening, with no agenda for what I hoped God would do. I didn’t have to prepare anything, I didn’t have to think too hard, I could come as I was.

Celtic Daily Prayer was developed by the Northumbria Community, a group of Christians in North East England. Now spread across the world, the community is united by their common commitments: availability to God and others, a rule of life centered on the Sermon on the Mount, and a daily rhythm of prayer. The third commitment, daily prayer, is perhaps the most recognizable. Pausing throughout the day to say the Daily Office — morning, midday, and evening, the scattered Northumbria Community is united in these three times of prayer. During the retreat, I began to feel less isolated knowing that people around the world — balancing work and family pressures not unlike my own — were reciting the same words I was.

I have found deep intimacy with God through Celtic Daily Prayer. This discipline has sustained me through even more uncertainty in the last year. My fifth year with InterVarsity happened to be our hardest year of marriage. Several students were navigating traumatic situations. One confided that she had been raped; another shared publicly about a secret drug addiction. And in February, I received some unexpected feedback that was painful and confusing. Again, I felt like I had nothing to give.

When all of this was at its peak, I opened my book of Celtic Daily Prayer and flipped to the midday prayer.

Breathe, I told myself.

I began to read the prayer aloud, slowly, letting the words percolate in my mind as they left my mouth.

Let nothing disturb thee,
nothing affright thee;
all things are passing,
God never changeth!
Patient endurance attaineth to all things;
who God possesseth
in nothing is wanting;
alone God sufficeth.

Alone God sufficeth. I was weeping.

All things are passing . . . God Never changeth . . . Alone God sufficeth . . . .  Saying these words out loud pulled me out of my hopelessness. Even if I was struggling with believing they were true, God was using this prayer to assure me of his presence and love. Again, when I had no words, God provided what I needed.

What disciplines have been meaningful to you in difficult seasons of life? How has God provided what you needed?

About the Author

Alison Marie Smith works for Greek InterVarsity at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She ​and her husband, Sean, moved to Utah four years ago from the great state of Michigan. She loves reading, running, making meals for her students, and sharing adventures with her husband.

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