Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Great Expectations (not about the book) (08/25/11)
TITLE: The Lion and the Light
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Dawn’s hazy glow filters through the slats of the blinds, calling me to reluctant rebirth from night’s death-like slumber. Personal expectations simultaneously jump to their feet like wild animals predisposed to assault: hopes, dreams, preferences, misconceptions, and inevitable lusts. They snarl and pace, eager to devour me in my weakness. Pride, the beastly king, roars with his fangs extended. Fear, the queen of accomplices, stands nearby.
The sinister atmosphere shakes me; these prowlers threaten to define the new day. My hands robotically push back the sheets. I cringe to ward off a presumed mass-attack as my toes touch the cold wooden floor.
However, the creatures seem deterred, if not disabled. I stiffly shuffle to face a dog-eared Bible atop a low dresser backed by an oval mirror framed in hand-carved oak. The bed creaks as I sit on its edge, facing this crude, homemade altar. In the mirror my face appears drawn, my hair disheveled. Surely I have aged overnight? The prowling beasts growl while rubbing against me, and each other.
I strike a match and light a candle, inviting the Light of the World to join us. The wick jumps to life. As is my habit, I verbalize a paraphrased version of a prayer to my Lord – one my Russian Orthodox grandmother recited every morning when I was a child:
“In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Lord, have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Grant me peace as I rise from the mini-death of sleep to face this new day, and grace to submit to Your will. Prepare and lead me as each hour progresses. Encourage me to calmly accept whatever comes my way, since both the anticipated and unforeseen originate in You. Manage my thoughts, feelings, speech, actions, and self-limiting expectations. Teach me what it means to interact with others appropriately so I do not confuse or sadden anyone. Give me strength to engage with the day, and continue through it, without growing weary. Lead my will. Teach me all things, especially how to pray, believe, hope, suffer, forgive, and love. Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!”
I then turn to Psalm 51 and read excerpts aloud:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love…Create in me a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
A slip of paper with a long list of handwritten names trembles in my hands. I speak each one with its case-specific prayer request. The candle’s flame flickers and bows submissively behind my breath.
“Oh Lord, I throw myself, and all of these I have mentioned, at Your mercy! Allow each of us to transcend our limitations and inadequacies by Your grace and mercy - the agents that set us free! You are the eternal NOW. You offer freedom from self-absorption and defeat NOW.”
My own misplaced expectations, manifested as snarling foes, steadily recede into dark corners as they seek escape from the budding dawn and ever-growing Light within me. Even the prideful lion shrinks, unable to survive in the presence of my renewed heart and the promise of God’s mercy. My eyes, reflected in the mirror, testify to inner quickening.
As I extinguish the candle, the Light continues to glow within. My greatest expectation has been rightly placed in Him; all others will therefore defer to His sovereignty. Disappointment, frustration, and hopelessness - the expression of battles with internal beasts of prey - will not define my day. Rather, as I submit to the eternal King and Lord of Life, perfect love will cast out fear.
Author’s note: This first-person piece is fictional, and yet draws heavily on the author’s belief that our greatest expectation must reside in God to sanctify us by grace and mercy - His agents that transcend our humanness. Also, ancient daily prayer/worship traditions can be vital tools in releasing self-imposed handcuffs: misplaced expectations shaped by human inadequacy, pride and fear.
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