There are times when, just before a new beginning, it is like standing next to a still lake, the water as yet unbroken with no ripples. Just quiet, waiting. Or the first page, still blank, of a new journal. Nothing written yet — all the possibilities still out there, ready and waiting.
A new academic year can be like this. Wide open. Many possibilities. Nothing spoiled yet. So hopeful. The anticipation is sweet.
Or a new academic year can be wearying before it even starts. It is possible to dread what lies ahead. We are not sure we can do it. Again. At this stage of the Covid pandemic, with so much that is unsettled.
Or maybe it’s both. We have a love-hate relationship with this. All the possibilities right along with all the things we know are going to be just so hard.
Standing before the open door of the new academic year, how will I pray? How do I feel? What do I long for?
For times of anticipation and uncertainty.
It’s like standing on a high hill and looking down — I can’t quite see what’s there, what it will be like when I get down there. Every new year is like this, but now, today, there is more uncertainty and less stability or predictability. How to pray?
O Lord, please allow me to have a calm spirit so that I do not bring my anxiety to my students, to the classroom. O God, please calm my students and colleagues. Help us, together, to create a climate conducive to learning, to discovering together what is possible, to hope.
Help me listen. Help me see. Give insight. And let there be some measure of joy this year.
For concerns about anxiety and toxicity.
There are students coming who will find learning difficult. They will have mental health issues and anxiety and depression. Some will find it very hard to focus or to follow through and complete the work. Again, how to pray?
O God, please bring help to these students. Bring your peace to their inner lives. Quiet their fears and calm them. Please help them learn. Help them engage with their studies and to find friendship among their fellow students. Again, help me, help us create a space conducive to learning that supports these students.
Where there is anything toxic going on in any of the departments, bring wholeness. Bring peace and good will. Help us honor one another as your image bearers, O God. And help me see each colleague through the lens you give me. With grace. Even, O God, in your power, with love.
For energy and stamina.
As I consider how I feel, I am aware that I sometimes feel unsettled and fearful. And sometimes I just feel very tired. There is a weariness that doesn’t go away since Covid hit. Sometimes it all just feels like too much, maybe I can’t do it again. And then I remember that this is what I want to do.
O God, please refill me with the energy I need to do this well. Please renew me, restore me and set me back on the path of teaching so that I can bring my gifts to the students and to my workplace. Please give me a sense of how to plan and prioritize and prepare. Please help me pace myself and give me stamina. And, O God, please help me discern what is actually mine to do, and what is not. What you are calling me to do, and what you are not calling me to do. Help me be attentive to your Holy Spirit so that I receive the guidance and help and insight, and the courage to do what lies before me. Help me not to over-commit, over-extend and thereby burn out early and fail to finish well.
I pray, O God, the same things for my students and my colleagues. May they know what not to do as well as what to do. May we have less of a spirit of frenzied competition and striving and more of a spirit of measured, healthy rhythms as we are together in this workplace of learning and teaching. And as we go, may we see one another — really see — so that no one is invisible. And may we listen, so that everyone is heard.
On prayer: a philosophy and a method.
Prayer is bringing all things, everything, to God. We do this in hopefulness and anticipation and in confusion and in helplessness. We pray when there is a death and in all losses. When there is betrayal or fear or deep pain. And we pray where there is joy and lightness of heart. All of it.
Jesus says, again and again, “Come to me.” He refers to himself as the shepherd, but also the light, the way, the truth, the Word, the living water. It is clear that he wants us to see him as the resource for our lives and to come to him for everything we need. This means that coming to him in confusion is a good thing — we can pray: “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.” We can come in helplessness: “Lord, I have nothing in this situation. But I bring my small amount of loaves and fish, as your disciples did when you told them to feed the huge crowd, and you will take it from there.” The key is to come and then to trust. This is prayer. These are prayers that please Jesus but they also make sense for our lives.
In general, a good way to begin is with gratitude for what we do have, already. We acknowledge that what we have has been given by God’s generous hand, for the sake of his love for us. One practice that some have found helpful is to begin each day listing five gratitudes — and on bad days, listing ten! This practice sort of recalibrates our brains to stop focusing just on our lack — on what is broken and bad — and to look up and see what is good.
But once we have expressed thankfulness, we can turn to confession and lament. God has made provision for this in the Scriptures. He is never put off by our laments. There is a lot that is broken in the world and in ourselves. Crying out about this, even moaning and complaining, is okay, because, as we have said, we bring all things in prayer. The psalms are full of laments.
And confession is also an important part of prayer. Where have I failed to listen to you, Lord, failed to love, given in to being self-absorbed? Would you forgive me? Let me receive your mercy and be restored in relationship with you.
Finally, we ask. We bring all the things and all the people we are concerned about to the Father and ask for all the help we need. We do so freely. He welcomes this. It does not mean he will answer exactly as we want him to or in the time frame we wish, but he will hear and he will act and we will be more awake to what it is he is doing in our world if we have brought our concerns to him and spoken with him about what is in our hearts.
Give thanks, lament, confess, and ask. These things carry us into the presence of God and allow us to seek and receive help in a posture of thankfulness and humility. They probably don’t cover everything we might want to do in prayer, but they are a great place to start and a wonderful sustaining habit! I recommend trying this and see what happens!
Photo by Mary on StockSnap