As New Year’s Day 2020 dawned, many expected a year of clear vision. We could clearly see our priorities and accordingly set attainable goals, perhaps in an ambitious list of 20, like walking 20 minutes a day.
And then the world toppled sideways. Our intentions for how we’d conduct “normal” life fell out the window as people around the globe awoke in an alternate and unfocused reality muddied by politicians, doctors, and everyone arguing facts and opinions. Many losses have been widely shared: lost jobs and financial instability, shuttered shops and closed schools, illness and death. Most have an “and also…,” something that uniquely shades our 2020 experience. For me that’s the sudden decline in my mom’s health, complicated by drama among family members who can and can’t be with her as we begin to grieve.
2020 may have entered stealthy as a mouse in pursuit of cheddar on the kitchen counter, but soon enough it pounced like a lion on our belief that we’re in control. One of many lessons we’ve learned the hard way is how little we control what happens around us or to us. We only control our response.
Like many, initially I didn’t respond well to the pandemic…to my job loss, my son’s distance learning struggles, and my mom’s decline. Suddenly, when even friends could be dangerous, new-to-me anxiety felt like a swarm of angry bees buzzing in my gut. I stopped sleeping in direct correlation with hours spent doom scrolling. I squeaked prayers of gratitude for the blooming spring flowers I passed while walking my dogs amid whimpers of “Lord, have mercy…”
Other than “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and The Lord’s Prayer, my church tradition emphasized spontaneous expressions over liturgical prayer. I was in my 20’s when I learned The Apostles’ Creed. As a writer, I feel most comfortable journaling my prayers.
So I’m a little surprised that God has led me to pray The Welcoming Prayer. I first encountered it in Cindy Bunch’s book, Be Kind to Yourself. I put a star in the margin and kept reading, forgetting the prayer until I reviewed the book before giving a copy to my friend Terry, a spiritual director. She mentioned that she has been praying it also. That it helps her to pay attention, to notice and ask increasingly deeper questions – what’s going on, how am I responding, and what is God about here? That through the prayer she discovers both increased intimacy with God and grace for herself. The Spirit whispered: your turn.
I printed it out, attached it to cardstock in my favorite shade of green, and taped it to my bathroom mirror above the tray containing lotions and lip balm. Does that sound less than spiritual? Yet God is with us in all of life’s mundane moments, which aligns with the purpose of this prayer. Now throughout the day I notice, stop, and pray.
The prayer contains three movements: feeling in body and soul my response to what may come; letting go of my desires and attempts at control; and opening myself to God’s presence with me at all times. Ideally, with ongoing practice, it frees us to lovingly respond rather than react. It allows us to just be, right here right now, with God.
While 2020 threw obstacles in my path I’d prefer to hurdle, the prayer reminds me that God can use all things for his good purpose. I don’t have to know why my son faces particular challenges, but we can seek God together. I can’t dictate how a family member navigates grief, yet I can pray for peace.
Consider the word “welcome.” Well-come. All things that come are well and for my well-being. Even better, for my healing. I hear my hospitable Scottish friend extending the invitation in her lilting accent, “Welcome in.” Well, come in. You who come, and what may come, it is well to be together. It may not feel well, sometimes I would rather shut the door, but all will be well in God’s timing. This is not a begrudging, “Well, come along then,” yet perhaps even a begrudging welcome will get me to God’s intended state of wellness.
Bunch writes, “In welcoming all that we are feeling, we are being real with ourselves and with God rather than shoving down the feelings that seem less mature or less spiritual or simply less desirable. Welcoming prayer smooths the way for deeper levels of self-acceptance and eventual forgiveness.”
As I have prayed during this difficult season I have noticed that, at certain times, certain words prompt additional conversational prayer, for example, “persons” – when I find myself in conflict; “security” – watching the bills mound while the job search continues; or “change” – who doesn’t want to change 2020? As I have confessed my resistance to welcoming everything, I have discovered renewed trust in God’s love. I have become convinced that God is healing me even when I don’t recognize my need for healing.
As I pray, I hear the echo of T.S. Eliot’s lines in The Four Quartets: “And all shall be well / And all manner of thing shall be well…” Well, come in, whatever may come. Welcome in, Lord. You make all things well.
Click here for more on The Welcoming Prayer.
This post was originally published in February 2021 on Jennie Denney’s blog.