LORD God All-Powerful, my King and my God,
sparrows find a home near your altars;
swallows build nests there to raise their young.
I was nursing my Littlest in a room full of wise women today as I sat in bible study. Conversation had come around to the catastrophes of the world, the multitude of hurt and suffering that so easily overwhelms us. We were being urged to remember these global issues in prayer. Our discussion covered a lot of ground, and somehow we had landed here, on this verse in the middle of the Psalms. I don’t even remember how it fit with it all. But I do know that this was a word for me to hear today, as I gathered the Littlest in my arms.
I am building a nest. I am raising young. And we, my young and I, are welcomed to be in His presence, to make our home near his altar.
My daily battles are fought and won, not by me, but by my God who redeems all. To talk about the problems of the world, while completely critical, sometimes feels abstract and difficult to understand. What I understand is that there is a four-year old wanting to “help” with dinner, a two-year old who has quietly tucked herself away someplace, probably with markers, and a newborn who cries loudly if I put him down. These are my immediate concerns, and this takes all of my attention. Even my prayer attention. Especially my prayer attention.
In my best, most “spiritual” moments, for instance in college when I served in a leadership position for our Christian fellowship group, I was sort of disciplined about using my prayer time. I typed up a chart that listed all kinds of concerns that I wanted to lift up to God, and I rotated through it regularly. Some things were standing prayers, others changed as needs changed. I had big things, like famine, and war, and poverty, and small things, like a dating relationship or a big project for a class. And I was actually pretty diligent about praying through these things.
I can’t do that now. Nor do I suppose that is what God has intended for me now. Of course I know that there is no formula or trick to earning God’s favor in prayer. I don’t think if I click my heels three times after I say “amen” that my prayer will be magically granted. But this time of mothering little ones has taught me that the form that my prayers take, the words I use (or even using words at all) is so much less important than recognizing the presence of God in all of this. It is the stirring-the-pot prayer, the nursing-the-babe prayer. It is the filling-the-bathtub prayer, and the driving-down-the-highway prayer. It is the middle-of-the-night prayer, and the hold-my-tongue-prayer. It is offering to God all those moments, and seeing Him in them all. If my nest is at His altar, it is all prayer; it is all an act of worship.
God knows that my own little world in so all encompassing to me now that it is hard to see the World. I know that if I can’t form the words to pray eloquently asking for relief of famine in the African horn, God isn’t going to be disappointed in my love for His people. I’m loving His people. He has called me to build my nest at His altar. If me and my Little Ones are hanging out at His altar, in our nest of blocks and crayons, school and storybooks, temper tantrums and sleepless nights, than we are constantly in His presence. If I am welcomed to raise my young at the foot of His dwelling, than it is a Holy place, and Holy work.
This all just makes sense to me. That my prayers now are different, that my needs now are different, that my life now is different. In many ways it is so much more real. How can I hang out at His altar and not be transformed by His Grace? My need is too great.
The Psalm continues to talk about His blessings: to those who sing Him praise, to those who depend on Him for strength, to be water in the dry places. He makes His people grow stronger, protecting His people. He blesses those who trust Him. When my nest is in His presence, it is easy to see His hand and receive His blessings.
Our LORD and our God, you are like the sun and also like a shield. You treat us with kindness and with honor, never denying any good thing to those who live right. –Psalm 84:11