Surrendering to the present moment
Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.
We have a print of the famous painting of George Washington praying at Valley Forge by Arnold Friberg hanging on the wall opposite a couch where I often spend time in the early morning. Washington is on a knee in the snow next to his horse, praying. You can see the horse’s breath in the cold air. A beam of sunlight cuts through the trees. The winter at Valley Forge was a difficult one for the Continental Army, and yet it was a turning point in the war.
What struck me recently about the painting, however, was that prayer — our encounter with God — takes place in the concrete circumstances of our lives. Here is George Washington, hungry and cold, in the woods in the middle of winter, in a war with arguably the world’s premier military at the time, and the war is not going well.
In the midst of this, he prays. Perhaps nothing changed in the external reality of his day. It was still cold. There was still a shortage of food. The war would go on. But he prayed.
I came to an understanding looking at this painting that the primary object of our prayers is not to change our circumstances. It is to bring God into our circumstances to give us the graces we need to carry out His will in the present moment.
Yesterday, I had a real-life experience of this principle.
Although my Saturday had started off well enough, I was going to be away from home for the day. I knew that there might be a problem with the wifi at my destination, but hoped that I could resolve the issue because I had a time-sensitive project for work to get done. Upon arriving at my destination, I discovered that the wifi router was not working at all — it must have failed during a lightning storm power surge earlier in the week.
Rushing to drive back over the mountain back into town, I stopped at a gas station. The booths for what must have been a seating area in the past had a sign “For Employees Only.” I asked the manager if I could sit at the small two-seater booth around the corner. “No. Employees only.” Strike one. My stress level started to rise.
I decided that the next town over was my best bet — there is a row of fast food restaurants next to the interstate. I drove over.
On the drive, I called the internet provider. The next service appointment would be eight days from now. Not helpful. Strike two. Now I can feel the stress.
As I entered town, I picked a fast food joint as my next work site. I went in, sat down at a corner table and set up my laptop computer. I pulled out a wifi hotspot and connected the laptop. Nothing was working. Not enough signal for the hotspot to work! Fortunately, my cell phone can be used as a wifi hotspot. Several precious minutes go by, and now I am able to start working. As I am reviewing the project and typing out my advice, I realize that my arms are sticking to the table. Apparently, the previous occupants of my table had spilled something that left a sticky residue all over it. Strike three. As I look at the bus load of kids all around me, the stress has now washed over all of me.
In this moment, I had the simple realization that I had a choice at that moment to give in to the stress or to surrender to the situation and ask for God’s help. Not to make everything wonderful — because I knew that was not going to happen right away — but to help me to do God’s will in the moment. I needed to finish my work, and then follow up on several steps necessary to deal with the broken router. God must have given me the grace, because I chose to surrender to my situation.
Immediately, I had peace in the midst of chaos. The kids were still everywhere. My arms were still stuck to the table. The project was not done. My prospects for dealing with the internet outage involved driving another 40 miles roundtrip. But inside, there was now peace.
The kids left. I finished what needed to get done. The internet provider called me back and said they had an opening for day after next instead of eight days out. On my 40 mile drive, my college swimming coach called me to catch up who I had not talked to in years. When I got back to my destination, I was able to spend the evening without internet — no cell phone! It was so peaceful.
The First Letter of St. Peter confirms what I experienced:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.1
Perhaps George Washington did pray at Valley Forge and find the strength and inner peace to lead his men to victory. In whatever circumstances you find yourself today, go to God in prayer. Reach out to Him and ask for help. It’s okay to ask God to relieve you of whatever is causing you trouble, but pray also for the grace and strength to carry out His will in your circumstances. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Your loving Father will come through for you — this is a prayer that will be answered. I pray that God the Father will himself restore, establish and strength you, in Jesus’ Name.
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