The end of the year evokes reflection much like the smell of sautéing onions induces hunger.
The turning of the calendar from one year to the next is a marker we’ve been conditioned to note, sometimes with joy, sometimes with melancholy. But as we saw in the last entry, as we look forward to the next year, we have, in reality, no way of knowing how it will turn out.
That can be frightening to some of us. But I’ve learned something from traveling to different parts of the world that may be of use in this regard.
In Africa, Latin America and Asia, I have noted something different about the way people pray. I’m not referring to the difference between how a Hindu prays versus a Muslim, for example. You’d expect substantial differences there. In fact, what has surprised me more are the similarities in prayer between people of different religions.
The difference I mean is between the way Christians here in the US pray versus Christians from other parts of the world, particularly in less developed countries (a phrase I find particularly ironic in this context).
Here, if we’re confronted with some challenge or difficult circumstance, our prayers tend to be something like, “Oh Lord, please remove this burden from my life.” In places where people have far less material possessions than we do, their prayer is different. They are likely to pray, “Lord, give me the strength to bear this burden.”
Same God. Same core beliefs. Same challenges in many respects. But a vastly different perspective. Here, we see suffering and anything that disrupts our comfort as something to avoid or have removed from us faster than that pair of embroidered socks we received from Aunt Mildred for Christmas. There, they maintain the perspective that suffering is part of life, often – though it doesn’t seem so at the time – a very beneficial part because of what it does within us and the subsequent joy that comes afterwards.
We miss out on so much life when we seek to avoid our challenges and we definitely spend way too much emotional energy in that pursuit.
So today, as I look forward to the coming year, I will try and apply what I have learned from traveling and from praying with my brothers and sisters in Christ from other parts of the world. I will try to pray as they do and to embrace all that comes my way. That’s easier to do on a trip when so called “real life” seems many miles away. But in this coming year, I want to treat my daily routine life more like I do a trip and incorporate more of that “real life” into my trips.
And who knows? Maybe this year both my trips and my prayer life will be the richer for the effort.
Happy New Year.