16 years ago today, I wrote this in my journal:
There was an F-5 tornado in OK city last night along with a bunch of other tornadoes north of there and through Kansas. Dozens of people have died and hundreds of homes have been destroyed. It’s awful! We’ve been praying for the families and that the storm is over. We got a lot of rain and thunder from the storm here, and the garden is flooded again. But like I said before, if we need food, God will grow us food.
The guy at work I’ve been talking to told me Christians are egotistical for saying Jesus is the only way and that everyone else will go to Hell. It’s sad. He seemed resentful toward me and seems to think all gods are the same god. I’ve done all I can. I can only pray for him now. Praise the Lord, though. My atheist brother-in-law met a Christian at work who’s been talking to him a lot and he seems interested (according to my sister). Please, Lord, open his eyes!
I read Preparing For An Underground Church and wow. I think I’ll read it again. Sometimes I think we should just give up all our possessions. No furniture or “stuff” and just eat what we need to live, but I talked to Mom and realized I was going to extremes again. When you read Ecclesiastes you learn that it’s all right to enjoy God’s blessings as long as He remains Lord and not the things. We mustn’t be emotionally attached to any of our possessions and our hearts must be ready to live on nothing but Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should throw everything we have away.
Lately I’m beginning to realize that we’re not confronting evil the way we should. I know there have been evil spirits here trying to discourage and deceive us. I’m not blaming my sins on them, but we need to call upon God in prayer to confront these wicked deceivers and destroy them.
It seems like every time I pray I get distracted by daydreams about movies, people, music, etc. Then I feel guilty and try praying again, then I daydream again, and so on. Then I cry out to God to help me focus and it doesn’t work, and I get more frustrated with myself, and it’s just ridiculous!
First of all, I need to know what I’m praying for, say it, and move on. It’s foolish to ramble when you’ve already said everything there is to say. Even Jesus said this (Matthew 6:7,8). Second, when I do get off track I need to just forget it and move on no matter how many times I screw up.
“I want to pray so as to please you, Father. Thank you for teaching me these things.”
— May 4th 1999
Dear Former Self,
Whoa! There’s a lot going on here, so I’ll just focus on one thing at a time.
The 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak… I know you’re praying that the storm is over, but God isn’t going to answer your prayer. More homes will be destroyed, more lives will be ruined, and more people will die. Why bother praying? What’s the point of asking God to put an end to natural disasters when he always lets them happen anyway?
Or do you believe that if no one prayed, there would be even more disasters? If so, that’s kind of messed up. Christians pray for the safety of their loved ones all the time, and the best God can do is limit the death toll to a few dozen? How much do Christians have to pray to get it down to zero? Or is death part of God’s divine plan? If it is, then we’re back where we started: Why bother praying?
An atheist at your place of work… I think he has a good point. Christians are egotistical. Think about it. They claim to have answers to all the big questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? How did the universe begin? What is the meaning of life? How will the Earth meet its end? And so on. On top of that, they insist that their way is the only way even though they don’t have a shred of empirical evidence. You have to be at least a little egotistical to be a Christian.
It sounds like there’s a similar situation between your atheist brother-in-law and his coworker. And it’s another situation where prayer doesn’t make sense. You asked God to open your brother-in-law’s eyes, but wouldn’t that be unfair to all the people who don’t have someone praying for them? If God is truly just, then everyone will have an equal opportunity to be saved. So why bother praying for one person to have a greater opportunity?
Giving up all your possessions… I gotta hand it to you, you’re taking your religion far more seriously than most Christians. There are many Bible verses about selling your possessions and giving the money to the poor, but your mom has a way of interpreting the Bible that allows her to enjoy possessions without feeling guilty, and this appeals to you.
The idea is that they’re not possessions, they’re “blessings.” But are they really blessings? Because if they are, why did God bless almost everyone in first world countries and ignore all the people who–through no fault of their own–happened to be born in third world countries?
If God were truly just, he wouldn’t bless some people more than others, which would mean all this inequality is the fault of humans. And if that’s the case, then you really ought to sell your possessions and try making a difference in the world, as commanded in the Bible. Of course, that’s not as fun as enjoying “God’s blessings,” so it will be a while before you figure out this contradiction.
Getting distracted during prayer… You want to know why sometimes you can’t focus during prayer? Because you’re a human being! Prayer is very similar to meditation, and people who practice meditation are used to their minds wandering on occasion. It’s just how the brain works. But rather than beat themselves up for it, experienced meditators just refocus and start meditating again.
You said you “cry out to God” to help you focus and “it doesn’t work.” So once again, God isn’t answering your prayer. Why do you suppose that is? After all, God should want you to be able to focus during prayer, so why doesn’t he help? The sad thing is that when he doesn’t, you blame yourself. So if God helps you focus, he gets the credit. But if he doesn’t help you focus, you get the blame. Heads he wins, tails you lose. Sounds like a pretty shitty relationship.
— Matt, May 4th, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.