Yeah, that’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying. – from Midnight in Paris

For every moment of big beautiful joy or small hidden victories or tender quiet encounters with love and peace, there is the ache and the longing for everything – sometimes just one something in particular – to be made right.

This week alone, I have listened to stories of bitterness and unforgiveness, adoption struggles, death and sickness, betrayal and addictions, loss and grief, sleepless nights with sick children, and longings unfulfilled in the hearts and lives of people I love and there are more questions than answers. Among us, there is sorrow. And then there is world around us: the hungry bellies, the dirty water, the vicious war, the waiting and lonely children silent behind chain link fences in refugee camps, the women caught in sex trafficking, our culture’s exploitation and violence masquerading as entertainment, and Lord have mercy.

I spent a few years as a mega/modern church exile and as I curled away from the culture I used to love, I found myself in Anglican churches learning to light candles and love liturgy, I met my ancestors in the ancient ways. I carry those practices with me even as I’ve returned to evangelicalism and charismatic churches (can we ever really leave our Mother Church?).

Like so many of us, I’ve learned to light my candles for the days when life is a little unsatisfying, like I learned to sing old childhood songs while I bath all the tinies. After a tantrum in one tiny or a heart-to-heart with another or even just a rainy day of boredom, I’ve learned to put babies into the bath and let the ministry of bubbles baptize us into a renewal of sorts.  I don’t do the holy and hard work of long prayer, that’s not my gift, but I light a small votive in my house after I listen to a friend on Voxer, after I meet with another friend from church, after I  walk out of the doctor’s office with another prescription for antibiotics for a strep throat in the tinies, after I read the news, after I am hurt, after the dissatisfaction and the longing for God to come near to us rises up in me like an altar begging for fire to descend. It’s one of the habits of my heart: I light the candle in the middle of the house and every time I see it, I breathe out the names and their places, the people I’m carrying for the day. Maybe this little girl taught me to pray this way, I don’t know.

And then I sing the old songs. I didn’t grow up on hymns like some others, I grew up at the kitchen table of grateful baby disciples humming happy-clappy choruses of the renewal movement, so I sing into the cavern of the bathtub with my hair bound up and my hands slippery with soap, hanging onto the last few baby dimples that remain in our house.

I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. It makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. It opens prison doors and sets the captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.

The little candle is lit today for a handful of friends and for Syria. Maybe for me, too.

Tomorrow, it might be for someone else or someplace else. But the  candle is lit for a few hours, I’ll remember you and put on faith and hope, my prayers are joining with yours, life can be a little unsatisfying – it’s okay to admit it out loud – and I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.


In which I will become more undignified
In which I'm into some stuff (August 2013 edition)
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  • Bev Murrill

    I also began my spiritual journey with the happy clappies… some of it was wonderful so I stayed, even though some of it was not. HOwever, I have also come to know there is life outside of my tradition… and life in other traditions of faithful people. But… I haven’t thought of lighting a candle when my heart is heavy… Ima do it!

  • Corley

    You have become one of my favorite writers of all time.

  • Allyn

    My prayer of choice when I’m overwhelmed with the evil in this world, of the hurt and pain and war and rape and tragedy that I seem to read and hear about daily, has become to let my heart fill with all of the sorrow and pain and righteous anger I feel on their behalf, and then to repeat, over and over and over, “Lord, hear their prayers.” It’s become the only way I know of to handle all that I feel. Now I think i’ll add a candle to that prayer.

  • Sometimes we need to go back to the beginning. Go back to the simple act of lighting a candle and whispering someone’s name. Finding the most important, the sacred, in the simple and everyday. This is another great post Sarah, just beautiful & yet so challenging, as always. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • mizmelly

    Thank you. That is all. x

  • In my own explorations I stumbled into the Anglican church as well, and one of the gifts that I’ve found with more liturgical traditions is the relief that simply lighting candles or reciting ancient prayers brings me – I don’t always have to come up with it all on my own, especially when I’m without words. It’s the intention that matters, even in the unorthodox ways, like baptizing bubble baths 🙂 That might have been my favorite line.

  • Ruth

    Wow! I bought a beautiful votive candle holder that has the nativity on one side and Jerusalem on the other, and the light snows up these scenes. I felt drawn to it, just looking at it makes me happy, so, Now I know why I was meant to buy it…and I shall use it, amd sing the wonderful scriptural hymns I grew up with. A word can trigger the words to a warm and meaningful one, love hymns written by struggling believers, victorious believers and missionaries who have been through fire for their faith. To read the history of a hymn is to love God even more. Mind you as with everything, there are some awful hymns, choruses and songs out there, just to show us the true heart of meaningful ones. ‘it is well with my soul’ is ome of my favourites, sung at full lung power and crying at the same time…..rock on, the heritage of our past! I cry in church, writing this amd when singing, it sounds odd, it Jesus knows what I mean. Thank you Sarah, bless you for blessing others, you open my heart in a wonderful way! Crying again, ah well. 🙂

  • Exactly what I needed this week. Thank you. Also, I just finished “Chasing Francis” and it made me want to have more ancient in my life.

  • Liz Colver

    i love your writing. it is so honest, fresh, pure, and simple. someday, i hope we will meet and be dear friends. until then, thanks for opening up to us strangers working in ministry together 🙂

  • fiona lynne

    Yes yes yes. To understand just how much I love this, you’re going to have to read my She Loves post tomorrow (which I wrote weeks ago). The light of all those little candles can surely chase back the darkness.

  • Sarah,
    I’ve been learning this lately, and it’s been healing and hard. It continues to shock me, though by now it shouldn’t how God speaks similar things to people over distance. I’m in the process of going back to my Anglican church (I can’t stay away). Always love the strength truth and beauty in your words, friend.

  • pastordt

    Such a tender, thoughtful post. Thank you. And thank you for the link back – I LOVED that post and was surprised to see I failed to comment on it two years ago. This is pretty much how I pray these days. Names/faces/the name of Jesus. Round and round. There is much to be learned from 2year olds. And 30 something happy-clappy lovely redheads. Thanks.

  • Love this.

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  • Deb RN

    I love the prayer from Anglican tradition, “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” Simply eloquent. It is refreshing to hear any positive words about Anglican liturgy.

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  • Kristina

    Thanks for sharing this Sarah. It reminded me very much of a cool book I just started reading, “Against an Infinite Horizon: Seeing the Finger of God in our Everyday Lives” by Ronald Rolheiser. He talks at length about our permanent sense of being slightly less than satisfied as we are “infinite souls in a finite world.” Embracing this feeling is important and you showed us a way to do that – small simple rituals that remind us and connect us. Thanks again!

    Kristina Skepton
    Founder, SeeingGod Ministries