Olivia Bauer works with a not-for-profit community organization in Winnipeg, Canada.
Chopping vegetables for dinner, I twice caught a stray mushroom before it rolled from the cutting board off the counter.
You’re so good to me, God! I thought.
Somewhere else in my mind, I was thinking about the apartment rental application I had put in that morning. Please be good to me, and let them accept my application.
I had just moved to Winnipeg, Canada, and the Internet connection at my apartment had yet to be installed, so I was on my way to a nearby café to get online and do some work.
Halfway there, I suddenly wondered if I had remembered to take my wallet and stopped to check my backpack. At that instant I felt a blow against my ankle, and I spun around to see who was “attacking” me.
In the dark of a winter morning, I set off for university. I’m a Distance Education student and needed to pick up the month’s bus pass—the shiny card that makes key connections in my day possible while cutting transportation costs.
I was chatting over Skype with a friend while watching the 4x100 m medley swimming relay at the Olympics, when something one of the commentators said stumped me. “What’s the ‘fly’leg of the relay?” I typed to my friend.
“The butterfly leg. The four strokes are: Fly, back, breath [sic], free.”
One sunny afternoon roughly seventy years ago, a young girl and her friends were watching through the mesh of a barbed wire fence as a group of men played football [soccer], enjoying the excitement of the game and the skill of the players. Suddenly, a kick sent the ball in an arc over the fence, and it landed near the children.
“It’d be great to have a ball to play with,” one of the boys remarked. “Let’s keep it.”
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5 ESV).
This is one of my favorite Bible passages, but for the longest time I had difficulty understanding how “character produces hope.” I followed up to the “endurance produces character” part, but how do the difficult experiences that forge character make us more hopeful?
The cynic in me felt that it was more likely to be the other way around. I realized that life was going to throw me some curveballs. I didn’t expect things to be all sunshine and roses. I didn’t think of that as a bad thing, but it wasn’t exactly “hope.”
About three thousand years ago, a wise man named Agur said, “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand.”
Really? I used to think. Only four? Of course, he did pick four good ones.1
I recently considered some of the ways I benefit from prayer. I was especially reflecting on various aspects of stability and clarity—inner poise and grace—that prayer adds to my life. In keeping with Agur’s group of four, here are my top four gains.
As I was growing up,my parents taught me good habits such as conserving electricity and water, not being wasteful with food, and finding new uses for items that had outlived their original purposes. Our family didn’t have a lot of money, so taking good care of the things we did have was a logical, practical choice. It never occurred to me to equate these practices with environmentalism.
As a teen, mostly through my love of reading the newspaper, I sometimes became aware of environmental issues, but usually only when activists did something extreme to draw attention to their cause or to “right a wrong”—theft, arson, violent demonstration, and so on. To my teenage mind, those issues seemed far less important than the wars, crimes, and other violence being reported on those same pages. Asa result, I associated environmentalism with only the more radical elements, and the term “environmentalist” with those who engaged in bizarre vigilante activities. I continued with the commonsense practices I’d learned as a child, but still didn’t connect this with taking personal responsibility for protecting our environment.