Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"This really is real"

My soon to be five year old daughter has a very strict bedtime ritual. We can only deviate from it if it is really late, or we are not at home, or something like that. A key part of that ritual involves reading three books. Thankfully, they are not the same three books every night. They are just three books that we pick out from her room. There are some favorites like "Pajama Time," but lots of times they may be new books that we have checked out from the library.

Usually if I am home in time, she will let me read to her. When I am reading, we often use a book of 5 minute Bible stories as our first book. Last night she specifically asked if we could read one of those stories. We have just been working our way through the book from front to back. Usually we read the story, which has been written in a way that seems to be directed at kids that are a little bit older than she is, then talk about it afterwards. I will ask her what happened and explain to her what was going on. It is not exactly heavy theology, but we already have talked about some heavy topics like Joseph's brothers selling him to be a slave and Pharaoh deciding to kill all the baby boys.

Last night we read about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Since it is only a five minute Bible story, it left out a lot of the details (particularly all of the details about the Israelites questioning God and begging to go home), but it mentioned several of the plagues and discussed the parting of the Red Sea and Pharaoh's troops being drowned.

As I was getting towards the end of the story - I was in the part about the Red Sea - without meaning to interrupt me, my daughter looked at me and quietly said "This really is real."

It really struck me. This is a story about God turning the water red, sending frogs and flies, sending violent hailstorms, parting the Red Sea, etc. There are a lot of things in there that can be hard to believe - things that are well outside of our normal experience. Yet, something about it made my five year old reflect that this is real. It wasn't a question. She wasn't confused. She just believed.

I can bring a lot of junk to my reading of the Bible. I bring my experiences, what I have learned in school, what is going on in my life and what other people have taught me. Sometimes that can weigh down what I am reading. It can make me wonder - "can that really have happened?" It can make me look for alternate explanations. It can make me just kind of skip over some parts. My daughter's simple statement, though, really brought me back. There are several places in the Bible where Jesus addresses children and the faith of children. But, for me, last night's experience reminded me of Jesus responding to his disciples' question about "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

He [Jesus] called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)

So, I'm going to try to learn from my daughter. I'm going to try to be better about approaching the Bible and what I read like a little child. It probably will not be easy, but it definitely will be liberating and I think it will strengthen my relationship with God.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Be Careful What You Pray For

A few years ago I was speaking with a recovering addict in New Orleans. His life was pretty rough and he had not been clean for long. But, he had found his way into a supportive environment, was working and was rediscovering his belief in Christ and working to re-establish that relationship. We talked about a lot of different things. And, to be honest, I don't remember most of them. But one thing that he said has stuck with me.

He said something very close to "I'll tell you one thing I've learned. Never pray for patience. I used to pray for patience all the time, then I figured it out. God doesn't just give you patience. You don't just wake up one morning and suddenly have patience. God puts you in lots of situations to let you develop patience. It drove me crazy. I'd find myself in some situation and get really mad and inpatient and blow my top. I'd want to go shoot up to calm down.
Then I'd pray more and more for God to give me patience. And it would happen all over again. Now that I've figured it out, I'm not going to pray for patience anymore. I'm not ready for that. No, don't ever pray for patience."

Although I realized that it was probably pretty true, I kind of thought of it as a funny story at the time. He was so earnest and sincere. It was a lesson that he wanted to share with me. "Don't ever pray for patience" is what he said. But, it has taken me a few years before I have really started to recognize the lesson that he was sharing with me that day.

I have been with my new firm now for about four months. To be perfectly honest, there has been a lot of adjustment. It is a different place - I do not mean that in any disparaging way, it just has many differences from what I was used to. Things are run differently. I'm not "in the know" anymore. I'm uncertain of my status. I no longer work with some of my closest friends.

I have spent a ton more time on business development activities. In the last four months I have spoken on two panels, participated in two pitches to prospective clients, spent a lot of time working with my new colleagues to figure out if there is a way that they can work with my clients, helped with alerts, researched emerging issues and helped identify prospective clients in connection with multiple other practice groups, tried to put people I know in touch with lawyers doing particular kinds of work, etc., etc. I'm writing now from a hotel where I am after making a presentation to a group of clients and then socializing with them for a few hours. Frustrated about the amount of time that all this takes when there is work that I need to get done for my existing clients, I recently remarked to someone that I have spent more time on business development in the last four months than I did in the preceding 5 years!

It was really then that I hit me. I'm sure you've had this kind of experience when you say something, or hear something and suddenly things become perfectly clear. It just clicks.

As I mentioned above, one of my personal issues at my new firm is that I do not know where I stand. I'm not sure what is valued. I'm not sure how I compare to my colleagues. Are they billing more hours than I am? Are they responsible for more things than I am? Are they responsible for more important things than I am? What is the standard? In the midst of this discomfort, I've repeatedly turned to God in prayer. I've repeatedly shared with Him my doubts and fears and said - "God, I think what is important here is business. Where does it come from, who is responsible for it, and how much of it is there. In addition to just plain needing more work for myself, I think to be successful here I need to be opening more files."

I must have prayed 45 times something very close to - "God, if it is your will [note that writing these posts has helped me move forward on some things!], help me today to do what it takes to be successful here."

Even thought I didn't say it this way, by that what I really meant was - "God, please let me get a phone call or an email today from a client on a new matter." There have been a few times in the last little bit where that has happened, but most days go by without a new matter coming directly to me. It was not until I made the comment to my colleague about all the time that I have been spending doing business development that it came to me. I've been repeatedly praying that God help me to do what I need to do to be successful at my new firm. That hasn't resulted in me just suddenly waking up one morning with new business. What it has resulted in is God giving me a lot of opportunities to develop that business.

I think the lesson that person in New Orleans was trying to share with me - whether he ever would have phrased it this way at the time, or not - was that God does not always answer our prayers in the exact way that we would like. While it certainly happens some times, often He does not just grant wishes. Often He puts us in situations, or presents us with opportunities, or gives us a chance, to get to what we are praying for.

Even if we don't really recognize it at the time.

So, maybe the title for this post is a little much. Maybe it would be more accurate to have it be something like spend some time thinking about how God is answering your prayers in ways that you didn't notice. But, I am leaving it as it is - because that is how it was shared with me a few years ago and it stuck with me until it was time for me to understand.