Monday, March 2, 2015

play as my new prayer

Roughly every two years, while we were living overseas, we’d take a summer furlough in the States. The summer of 2009 we knew it was our last furlough because we were already making plans to transition from our life in Spain the following summer. Yes, we planned that far in advance.

By the time our last furlough rolled around, I had put in motion a process to hand off leadership of the church we’d started to a gifted group of people. Basically, I had asked a handful of folks to think about serving in such a way that they would consider themselves to be the group who would keep the church going should anything happen to me and my family. It sounds like a grim way to explain what we were asking, but I wanted to make sure they knew what they were getting themselves into.

“Let’s say I don’t come back from our summer in the States,” I said to each of them. “If you take on this key leadership role, you and the others would keep the church going,” I said. “Think about this during the summer and we’ll talk more in the fall to see whether you’d like to serve in this way.”

So, that summer I was scared out of my boots. What if none of them wanted to take on leadership in that capacity? What if they decided it would be easier to just close up the church when we moved? My heart sank as I thought about the real possibility of this, so…I began to pray.

I was desperate and there was nothing else I could really do. I suspect that’s what most of us do; we don’t start praying, really praying, until we’re desperate.

That’s okay. God knows what it takes and…that’s okay.

That summer, I found that every time I read even the smallest bit of Scripture—even just a phrase or one verse—a prayer would form in my heart. Sometimes the prayer was simply a rephrasing of a Scripture nugget.

I’d read, “God did not send his Son to condemn the world” and out would come “Thank you, God, for acceptance.” Each sentence, each phrase, seemed to call out some kind of childlike reply.

I found myself thinking of these simple prayers throughout the day and they came to me in a “flowing” kind of fashion.

I began to write them down and, after a month of this, I discovered I had filled many hand-written pages in a notebook. As I glanced at them I thought, “Maybe these could help others, too.”

So, I began sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, one per day as a kind of meditative focus. If you’re reading this, you’ve maybe been annoyed by them.  I do apologize if that was the case.

But, for those who actually liked them, I want to say: the time has come for me to call that little prayer project to a close.

It’s hard for me to write that. That one-per-day rhythm has sustained me for about 5 and a half years now. It’s hard to let go of it.

What won’t change is the fact that I will keep praying every day just like that. What will change is that I am no longer making it a habit to share it publicly on Facebook and Twitter.  To be sure, sharing it publicly was a way to keep myself accountable to doing it.  As I shared it publicly, however, I found that people would reach out to say how much they needed that prayer or to ask to talk further. In some strange way, God was able to embrace someone in love through the prayer. So, I kept sharing.

But now I sense God’s Spirit prompting me to “just keep it secret.” So, that is what I am going to practice. I think of it as good soul work.


I cannot explain all the reasons why it is good to “keep it secret.” I only know that is what will be good for an indeterminate time now.

I can say that play is becoming prayer for me. An analogy:

When I was in college I had the chance to practice the craft of acting in a rather intense way. That experience transformed me. It buoyed up my spirit on an ocean-depth of God’s creativity, grace, freedom and joy. I never felt closer to God than when I had the chance to get into a part and collaborate with an ensemble.

Doing the best I could at creating a role felt worshipful to me. Acting was prayer. I know that sounds idolatrous to some, but I suspect musicians, poets, and novelists have the same testimony about the relation of their creative process to rich spiritual nourishment.

At any rate, I am convinced that to do something well is to do it as if you are doing it for God.


Take cooking: do it as if you are doing it for God and you can’t help but do it well. Not because you have to, but because God is a God of desire, joy, freedom and delight. It is an invitation not a demand, an irresistible invitation in which we get “caught up” in the pleasure of it all.

God claps and stomps a foot in rhythm and everyone gets caught up in the dance, laughing, taken away.

That’s what acting was like for me. Art was prayer. I feel like it’s becoming that again.


I’ve had the privilege of leading a small group of people since early November in a course called “The Creative Call”, based on a book of the same name by Janice Elsheimer.

We’re all a group of creative wannabe’s. None of us make a living at art-making, but maybe a couple of us wouldn’t mind that. Regardless, we’re basically a group of folks who have been learning why it’s important to nurture our creative self and how to do that.

A few weeks ago, I got really practical with the group and had them do a short exercise I use when I lead team building retreats. It’s called the “stop, start, keep” exercise. It’s simple but powerful. It goes like this:

“To nurture your creative self, pick one thing you’d like to (or need to) stop doing. Next, pick one thing you’d like to (or need to) start doing. Finally, pick one thing you’d like to (or need to) keep doing.”

One member of the group wrote:

“Stop: The amount of time spent on social media. Start: Doing art with someone else. Keep: reflecting and incorporating my journey into what I create.”

Beautiful! Perfect. Powerful.

I got to thinking: what do I need to stop, start and keep?


The older I get the more I realize that maturity grows in proportion to the wisdom one exercises when choosing between two goods.

As we grow more mature, our soul expands. We can take on more mess because grace has become thicker, stronger.

As grace strengthens, so does our ability to see goodness everywhere and in everything. Even shadows become good.

As I contemplated what I needed to “stop, start and keep doing” I hope you can understand how “prayer” could be in the “stop” category. While I’m not stopping prayer per se, I am stopping the public part of it. Still, choosing to stop prayer was like choosing to stop something good. When I told my wife I was going to do this, she said: "Oh, but don't do that! Your prayers are so good and people like them!"

Well, it's hard to choose this but I know it is good and I am grateful for the experience of it. 

So, now, play will be my prayer. I think it will be that way for a long, long time so I hope my new prayer does not bother you.


Carla said...

Will be thinking more of acting as prayer... love the way you put things!

Troy said...

Thanks, Carla. I am glad you found this helpful. Grateful for you, friend. And I wish we could do some acting together! :-)