8,000,000,000 Cousins

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what I call, “Prayer Points.” Each day of the week, I make a “point” of spending some of my prayer time on a particular issue– one day a week, I focus on the community; another day on global issues like poverty, war, and the environment. The other day, I was focused on “family and friends,” when I realized something, or rather, remembered something. I began by focusing on immediate family– my husband, our kids and grandkids. Then I spread the focus a little wider–our moms, siblings, and their families. Then aunts, uncles, and cousins…and their families! Pretty soon, I was thinking about second cousins and third cousins– the ones I see at family reunions, or catch up with on Facebook every once in awhile.

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And that got me thinking about my family tree. I research and work on genealogy for my family. My family tree stretches back several generations, and “branches” out several times over. There are nearly 28,000 names in my family tree, and I’ve only scratched the surface! My family tree is a tiny drop in the world population of nearly 8,000,000,000 people (7.96 billion as of this month, and growing). But it represents an incredible mix of people. Some of my family are of European origin; some are Native American; some are of African descent, or Asian. Many of us are a mixture of races, ethnicities, and native languages. Some of us are rich; some are barely getting by. Some of us are tall; others are short. Some are healthy; others have health or developmental issues. But we are all family.

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And, by extension, we are ALL family– all nearly 8 billion of us! We are all God’s children, and when we pray for “family and friends,” we can include anyone! That’s a mind-blowing thought, and I was really excited to be reminded of the fact. But it’s also a sobering thought. I certainly don’t know all of the living people I’ve included in my family tree– most of the information has come from public records and other family’s research, rather than personal knowledge. No one can possibly know 7.96 billion people– we’re lucky if we can remember the names and faces of more than 5 thousand in a lifetime. We could not possibly pray for them all.

But far more sobering is the thought that there are people I do know for whom I might not WANT to pray– people who have hurt me, or people I have judged unworthy of my time or effort. Yet are they not also “my family?” What difference does it make in the way I pray when I remember that I have, not 50 cousins, or 500 or even 5,000 cousins, but almost 8 billion? That the next person I meet on the street or at the post office, or at church–she or he is not just my neighbor, or my friend (or enemy), but my cousin? Shouldn’t I consider how I can pray for them– even a quick prayer? Shouldn’t I listen better, look closer, and seek out opportunities to show love for another of God’s children?

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It’s easy to speak in “relative” terms, but it can be a challenge to really live as “family.” Praying– sincerely and thankfully–for others can be a start.

Beyond Words

The world is filled with language–there are well over 5,000 recognized languages and dialects around the globe.  And within each language are thousands upon thousands of words– nouns and verb forms and adjectives; names and even grunts and sighs and “clicks” that vary from language group to language group.

In spite of this, we often find ourselves “speechless”– unable to find a word or sound that adequately communicates our thoughts or feelings in the moment.  We stammer or sigh, gesture, or scream– but the words either don’t come or they don’t exist.

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God knows and understands our innermost heart– with or without words.  The Apostle Paul refers to this in Romans, chapter 8, when he talks about the Spirit interceding for us with groans that words cannot express (v. 26).  And it’s not always groaning– sometimes there are no words for our joy– only dancing or tears of gladness.  Sometimes, there are wails and cries that come straight from our broken hearts.  Sometimes, our excited thoughts come so fast that we cannot form words and sounds to keep up.

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Prayer isn’t always about words– carefully drafted lists of requests or thank-you’s for our blessings–sometimes prayer is a spontaneous gush of sound or movement; sometimes, it is an intense stillness and profound silence, such that your heartbeat is deafening and the very air sings in your ears.  Sometimes, it is the eruption of pain and guilt, regret and despair–the sound of your soul being pulled up through your throat and ripped almost in two.  And sometimes, miraculously, it is the overwhelming presence of God in all of his Holiness, Splendor, and Might that defies any human utterance, but draws out pure praise, unfiltered by language!

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