Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Waiting for Peace
Go ahead, before you read anymore today, and glance through the sections and names in the current list of prayers at the bottom of the list. It will take you a few minutes, and that's fine. I'll wait right here...
Okay, welcome back.
How did you feel when you began reading today's devotion? How did it feel when I invited you to read the names below? How did it feel to you as you read through the list of names and prayers? How did it feel at the end of reading all the prayers?
When I sit with the prayer list, I have to ready myself. I am accustomed to the feelings. My eyes roll down the typed lines of names and situations. My mind's eye recalls the faces of those I know, and imagines the faces of those I do not. My heart sits with them in their moment of need. I feel transported to their side. I try to imagine God and me there together, and I try to imagine God absorbing whatever of their pain, worry, or fear God will remove from them. Sometimes, I sense God pulling me to respond with a text, note, call, email, visit, narthex check, etc... Then, I am wisked away to the next person where the envisioning and feeling and absorbing repeats.
By the end of my time with the prayer list, I often feel drained. Whatever sense of hope or joy I had at the beginning, at the end I feel like I have a bit less. Walking in spirit that close to so much struggle and brokenness is tiring.
This week in Advent is about PEACE. That word in the Hebrew world is Shalom. Its used as a hello and a goodbye. It does mean peace, but it also means something more, something like wholeness, oneness, completeness. It means everything is as it should be, and is interacting with each other as one beautiful system.
We often misperceive peace to mean perfection, when it really means peace in the midst of imperfection. We often misconstrue peace to mean stillness, when it really means being at peace in the midst of the whirling and swirling of different things moving and flowing around one another. We often misunderstand peace to mean the absence of all conflict or tension, when it really means being able to bravely, calmly enter into the midst of conflict or tension and not lose ourselves.
I try to say shalom, hello, to my prayer time with an understanding it will not be easy. At the end of my prayer time with the list, I have to wait. Seeing the real prayers of my people is heartbreaking and mind bending. I wait. I try to imagine and feel God visiting me, just as God and I visited all of them, all of you. I try to think and feel and believe God sitting with me, pulling and absorbing away from me everything God is willing to take, and leaving me with only those things God wants me to do on behalf of God's kingdom.
I have found over the years that the wait at the end of the prayer is just as important as the list at the beginning. In fact, without the wait at the end, the prayer list can hurt. But if I greet it with Shalom, walk through it with God, then wait at the end for God to visit with me, some of the peace begins to return. I find a different peace, one that is more honest. It's a peace that faces the brokenness and conflicts, but has stability and courage to stand in the midst of them anyway and be myself.
May you find that peace, the peace of Christ today in the waiting.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert