I’ve been reading the just released Prayer Journal of Flannery O’Connor and came across this little gem last night:
Anyway it all brings me to thanksgiving, the third thing to include in prayer. When I think of all I have to be thankful for I wonder that You don’t just kill me now because You’ve done so much for me already and I haven’t been particularly grateful. My thanksgiving is never in the form of self sacrifice—a few memorized prayers babbled once over lightly. All this disgusts me in myself but does not fill me with the poignant feeling I should have to adore You with, to be sorry with, or to thank You with. Perhaps the feeling I keep asking for, is something again selfish—something to help me to feel that everything with me is all right. And yet it seems only natural but maybe being thus natural is being thus selfish. My mind is a most insecure thing, not to be depended on. It gives me scruples at one minute and leaves me lax the next. If I must know all these things thru the mind, dear Lord, please strengthen mine. Thank you, dear God, I believe I do feel thankful for all You’ve done for me. I want to. I do. And thank my dear Mother whom I do love, Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“…I wonder that You don’t just kill me now…”
I love that. It’s so Flannery. It’s also me, though I usually substitute the word “take” where she used “kill”. But it’s all the same. There have been many times in this life where clarity breaks through like a bright beam of sunshine that blinds me and makes my pupils shrink to little black dots, dimming out the immediate outside world. During those times of what I can only describe as a complete self-awareness (or what some might call being “at one with the universe”) I am able to see the big picture of all that I have and all I’ve been given. It drops me to my knees in thanksgiving in gratitude. It causes me to stop walking on whatever street sidewalk I’m walking. Or it strikes while sitting at a red light in my car and causes me to miss the signal change to green. When this happens the motorist behind me is none too thankful and honks me out of my revelry. The point is that it does happen. And when it does I wonder:
Why don’t you just take me now, Lord?
If I’m feeling really dramatic or playful, I’ll clutch my chest like the Redd Foxx character Fred Sanford used to do in the 70s sitcom Sanford & Son and cry out “I’m coming home! Take me now, Lord!” Fred Sanford always struck that pose whenever his son Lamont would threaten to move out or things were not going Fred’s way. A widower, he’d fake a heart attack and say “You hear that, Elizabeth? I’m comin’ to join ya, honey!” He called it “the big one”.
Ok, I don’t really do that. I want my children to eventually move out on their own and be self-sufficient and for the most part I can’t complain about how things go. I take responsibility for those things that fall within that realm and don’t sweat over the things that do not.
So for me to ask to be “taken” before my time is, of course, selfish. Because while I have been given the grace to see just how much I have to be thankful for, and perspective has been granted me to see that no matter how bad I may think I have it, it really isn’t. And there is still work here for me to do. Actually there is a ton of work to be done and it can all be overwhelming in size and scope if I don’t narrow my focus to making a difference in my own little corner of the world first. If I try to eat the elephant all at once, that is take on all the world’s problems and strife and misery and hardship, I find myself striking the Sanford pose. My mind can’t absorb it all, nor can my heart.
What I am really and selfishly saying during those times of clarity is “Why don’t you take me now, Lord, while life is good for me and before things have the chance to get worse?”
I have a purpose in this life and in the lives of others. There is meaning and mission and work left undone. I just don’t know what it is all the time. It is The Big One.
So perhaps the better prayer request would be the line Flannery wrote a little further down in that prayer. It is a prayer for preparedness for all that’s to come and of gratitude for all that has come.
If I must know all these things thru the mind, dear Lord, please strengthen mine. Thank you, dear God, I believe I do feel thankful for all You’ve done for me. I want to. I do.
I already am.