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Trade Paperback
224 pages
Feb 2005

Confessions of a Prayer Wimp: My Fumbling, Faltering Foibles in Faith

by Mary Pierce

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Iconfess. I am not a deep thinker. Some authors spend pages and pages plumbing the depths of the universe, cosmic mysteries, quantum physics, the space-time continuum, the origins of species, and the miraculous workings of the mind.

I’m not one of those authors. I take the universe as it comes, one sunrise at a time.

I’m content to let mysteries remain mysteries. I don’t have to understand how electricity works in order to turn on the lamp. I’ve learned it helps to know where the circuit-breaker box is and how to turn off the juice before you replace an outlet.

There’s a lesson you don’t need twice.

Quantum physics? I have enough trouble with inertia, thank you very much. I don’t have any trouble understanding inertia; its properties are painfully obvious every morning when I have to get up. I understand it fine. I just have a little trouble overcoming it.

The space-time continuum? Not my thing. I am content to believe that today will be today and tomorrow will be tomorrow.

Time travel can remain the domain of braver souls than I. Unless I could somehow wind up younger than I really am. Then I might give it a try.

As for our origins, if Darwin wanted to think he came from a monkey, that’s fine for him. We’ve all had moments, haven’t we, when we can’t imagine how we—so brilliant, so charming, so normal—could possibly have come from our family? I wonder how Darwin’s mom took the news of his theory. Maybe she wondered how she ended up being the only normal one in her family.

I’d say Darwin had a little self-image problem. If the choice is accidentally falling out of a monkey’s family tree or being created by a loving God, why wouldn’t you choose the latter? But what do I know? I’m not an expert in the workings of the human mind, or any other area for that matter.

I have a little knowledge about a few things, but you know what they say about a little knowledge. Dangerous. Very dangerous.

When it comes to most things, I’m dumb as a stump.

You won’t get rocket science from me, or even kitchen science.

Most of my ideas are half-baked.

No, I’m not a deep thinker. I’ve plumbed my own depths and found myself to be quite shallow indeed. Especially in this whole area of the spiritual. I’m no spiritual giant. I’m spiritually puny, just a wimp when it comes to having faith. I’m a wimp when it comes to praying too. I’m certainly not one of those prayer warriors I’ve heard about. I’m more of a prayer worrier!

So I admit it. I’m a puny wimp when it comes to faith. A wimp when it comes to prayer. In fact, I’m a wimp when it comes to life. Maybe I should have called this book Confessions of a Prayer, Faith, Life, and Everything Else Wimp!

I’m no theologian. I’m no Bible scholar. I’ve never been to seminary or Bible college. I have never written a Bible thesis or done an exhaustive exegesis (whatever that is) on anything. I never even went to Sunday school as a kid.

I have read the Bible, and even manage to remember parts of it after I close the cover, but I’m certainly no expert. I am mystified why the whole thing couldn’t have been put in chronological order. Wouldn’t that make it a little easier to follow?

And I can’t keep all those Bible guys straight. There are Joshua, Jehoshaphat, Jeremiah, and Job. Jedediah, Josiah, Jesse, and James. Then there are Jaazaniah, Jacob, Jonathan, and Joel. Let’s not forget John, John, and John Mark. And Judas and another Judas, along with Judah, Jehu, Jotham, Joseph, Jonah, Jezreel, Jeroboam, and . . . well, you get the picture. No wonder I get confused.

Enough about who I am not. Here’s who I am: I am a woman, a wife, and a mother. I’m a stepmother, grandmother, daughter, sister, and friend. I take care of a home. I hold down a job. I write. I speak. I laugh. I cry. Sometimes all at the same time. (Especially lately. If you’re a woman over forty, you know what I’m talking about.)

I try to take care of myself, watch my weight, eat right, get enough sleep, and drink enough water. I exercise, sort of. I get regular medical checkups. I get my teeth cleaned twice a year, and between visits I floss. At least for the first week after a cleaning and the last week before the next one.

I’m just an average woman. An average woman trying to figure out what it means to live life, to have faith. I have a lot of questions about life and faith, and I’ve included some of those questions at the end of each chapter. Use the questions by yourself for pondering or for journaling. Use them with a friend, in your book club, or in a church group. Use them or ignore them. It’s entirely up to you. Thinking is always optional.

I’m just an average woman trying to figure out how everything—life, grief, family, joy, God, and cellulite—how it all fits together. I’m just a woman fumbling my way through the clutter, confusion, and sometimes chaos of life. Trying to get my act together. Trying to find the strength for my struggles.

Trying to find my way home.

Maybe you’re trying to find your way too. Maybe we can do it together.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. —Psalm 9:10


Chapter 1

thank God for pine-sol!

Part of my problem—maybe most of my problem—in trying to find my way and trying to figure things out has been this: I’m not a very organized person. I am not neat by nature. I wasn’t born organized like so many other women I know. My more organized friends, especially the spreadsheet-loving math majors and accountants among them, tend to think in neat rows and columns. It’s easy for them to stick to schedules, establish boundaries, and keep things orderly and functioning smoothly. They’re naturals.

I’m not a rows-and-columns type. I tend to think in wide-open spaces (I seem to have so much right there between my ears) and in blobs and splashes of bright color. Don’t misunderstand.

I love making plans and setting goals. I love setting up organizational systems, especially when they involve flashy colored file folders, brightly decorated boxes, and gorgeous baskets. I love setting up a new plan or a new system.

I just hate sticking with it for very long. New is exciting. Old is boring. I have to move on.

I am not neat by nature. It’s been a struggle since childhood to get my act together. And to keep it that way. My mother—sorry, Mom—didn’t help much. She cleaned our apartment on Fridays while I was at school or out playing.

The finer details of the cleaning process, the how-tos of home maintenance, remained a mystery, but I grew up intimately familiar with the smell of “Pine-Sol clean.” To this day, if I get just a whiff of Pine-Sol, I think, It must be clean! I confess that sometimes I skip cleaning altogether and just swish a little Pine-Sol around the sinks and countertops. Then, as company is ringing the doorbell, I twirl the Pine-Sol–drenched rag above my head a few times before I open the door. Fools ’em every time.

My friends have helped me over the years, mostly my blobs-and-splashes friends who have shared their own household hints for the cleaning-impaired: “Spray the front door with lemon-scented Pledge. Anyone who comes to the door will assume you’ve been cleaning.” This variation on the Pine-Sol plan works great.

Another friend said, “Just keep the vacuum cleaner parked in the living room. Everyone will think they caught you in the middle of your chores.” This worked for a while, but then I had trouble explaining the cobwebs growing from the vacuum.

Speaking of cobwebs, one friend swears she heard one of those decorating divas on TV suggest that instead of fretting over cobwebs, you should just spray them with gold paint at Christmas and make them part of your holiday decor. Keen idea.

My friends have been helpful, but for years my housecleaning mentor was Phyllis Diller, who claimed the only thing domestic about her was that she was born in the United States. Her advice? You never have to clean at all if you just keep your bathrobe and a stack of get-well cards handy.

When unexpected company shows up, throw on the robe, scatter the cards around, and open the door sniffling, “Pardon the mess. I’m just getting over the flu.” (You have to practice a little to get the right raspy, pathetic sound in your voice, but it’s worth the effort.)

Since I was not born organized, my childhood bedroom was a disaster area. Every couple of months, I’d hear my mother faintly calling encouragement to clean things up. At least I think it was my mother. I couldn’t really see her from behind my piles of stuff.

My piles of stuff grew as I lived at home during college. I had several years’ worth of Time and other magazines stacked in my room. “I’m saving them for when I become a teacher,” I said during my freshman year. (Did I honestly expect my future second graders to read Time?) I used the same excuse in my sophomore and junior years as boxes full of fabric and yarn scraps for future art projects filled every available spot in the house.

One day in my senior year of college, my mother let out a holler from the direction of the back hall utility closet. I found her buried under an avalanche of empty shoeboxes (for the Valentine’s Day “post office” we’d build in my classroom), old newspapers (for future papier-mâché projects), and a hundred or so empty egg cartons (for my future students’ Mother’s Day tulips, of course).

“What’s going on here? I’m living with Fibber McGee!” she yelled from under the rubble. (She loved that old radio show with the crazy guy with the overflowing closet. I was sorry I hadn’t been around to hear it. I might have picked up some household hints.)

“Creative minds are rarely tidy?” It sounded like a lame excuse even to me, but it was the best I could come up with on such short notice. After college I left my stuff behind to live out of state temporarily. While I was gone, my mother moved to a different house. To this day, she insists the timing was sheer coincidence. In the move, my stuff was “somehow” lost.

Another coincidence, she says. Who knows how many of my second graders missed achieving their full creative potential for want of an egg carton or a copy of Time from 1962. I vowed to get organized once I had children of my own.

Children came. Messiness increased. I now had several people’s piles to deal with. “Once they’re all potty trained” became “once they’re all in school.” Meanwhile, I continued to take action only when the piles became overwhelming or when the family was desperate for clean clothes.

One morning I found my sweet husband, Terry, singing in front of our nearly empty closet, “Oh, where, oh, where has my clean clothing gone?”

“Oh, look, oh, look in the dryer,” I sang back, proud that I had recently done laundry. He went to the laundry room and came back looking bewildered, carrying the rumpled lump of crinkled cotton that had been his shirts. I blushed, knowing three days in the dryer had done the damage.

I tried to shift the blame. “Ha! They have the nerve to call these ‘permanent press’!” I said, grabbing the shirts and heading out to see if I could unearth the ironing board.

I knew I had to change my ways. My hardworking man (aka Saint Terrance, the Patron Saint of Long-suffering Husbands) deserved better. I had promised myself I’d get organized once the kids were in school. My oldest was starting to shave. I was out of excuses. I was the homemaker after all. It was time I made a home.

Things changed when I found a book written by two sisters, self-proclaimed slobs like me. They assured me I wasn’t hopelessly disorganized. I was simply, as their title said, a Sidetracked Home Executive. Their index-card file system was designed for people like me—people with untidy creative minds. People who might be able to keep their ducks in a row if they could just find their ducks. People who love setting up new systems.

And what a system they had. It appealed to me on every possible level. It involved purchasing supplies. I loved that. It involved index cards in various colors—white, blue, yellow, green, and my favorite, pink. I loved that. It required a numeric 1-to-31 index, a January-to-December index, and an A-to-Z index. I loved that. It needed a gorgeous three-by-five-inch file box—in the color and design of my choice! Oh, what fun I had shopping and setting it all up!

The sisters suggested writing each task on a three-by-five card, the color depending on the frequency of the task. One color for daily chores, another for weekly chores, and so on.

What fun! Thanks to the sisters’ system, I began to make progress, little by little. And I learned to delegate. The whole family got involved. I started to like this new, organized way of life. At last I’d found a system that could work for me over the long haul—in other words, more than a week. What a heady feeling.

You’ve probably realized by now that I’m an all-or-nothing kind of gal. Before long I was hooked on getting organized.

I’d discovered a new and fascinating area of study. I started collecting organization books. Dozens of them. I became obsessed with the tools of the organized life. I bought files, caddies, holders, and trays for my office. I hauled home bathroom organizers and garage systems.

In my kitchen, I alphabetized my spices. I established a baking center, a cooking center, and a table-setting center. I designated and labeled the kitchen utensil drawers by frequency of use: the FUU drawer for Frequently Used Utensils, the LFUU for Less Frequently Used Utensils, and the SUU drawer for Seldomly Used Utensils. Heaven help the kitchen helper who didn’t know which utensils belonged where!

I had gone from organizational misery to organizational mania. I was addicted to order. My family worried where it would all end. When I began referring to my children by their chores and responsibilities—Cat Box Boy, Dishwasher Girl, and Garbage Can Baby—the family staged an intervention.

They cornered me one night in the family room.

Cat Box Boy let me have it. “I am not just a ‘pooper scooper’! I am a human being!”

Dishwasher Girl informed me, “We are more than our chores!”

And Garbage Can Baby cried, “Mommy! Don’t call me that!”

Even Terry said I was driving him crazy cleaning up after him. “Can’t you just relax a little, honey? I think you’re going just a tad overboard with this whole thing . . . Hey, I wasn’t done wearing those shoes! Put them back on my feet!”

They were right. I’d gone way too far. I’d come to love the daily fix that being organized gave me. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t care what was going on in my life, in my head, or in my heart as long as the house was neat and clean. That’s all that seemed to matter.

But more mattered. My family’s feelings mattered. My own feelings mattered. What God thought mattered. It was time to stop the madness. I realized I’d been wearing myself out trying to get my act together. I realized that God had something different in mind, something that saner people might call “balance.”

I found the balance I needed in Luke 10:38–42, where Jesus spends time with two sisters. Sister Mary seems to be like me—a blobs-and-splashes kind of woman. The other, Martha, seems to be a bit more of the rows-and-columns type. Jesus tells the organized one, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”

Only one thing. I started to get the message. Spending time with God was what really mattered. Maybe if I let him clean up my life from the inside out first, the rest of my stuff would fall into place. Maybe.

I want to be organized, but I don’t want the nagging of my to-do list to drown out his voice inviting me to sit at his feet and learn from him. “Come to me,” he says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

I hear that invitation even a little more personally: “Come to me, all you harassed and harried, all you confused and cluttered, all you running and ragged, all you messy and meandering. Take a load off. Put your feet up.”

I want to be organized, not as an end in itself, but to give me time for the really important things in life. There is a system, I’m learning, that keeps things in better balance and keeps life orderly “enough.” A system that puts first things first. A system that allows time for doing what God put me here to do and allows plenty of time for what really matters.

Time for hugging. Time for celebrating the love of God, family, and friends. Time for laughing.

I laughed the other day, realizing that as organized as I’m learning to be, no system is foolproof. My friend Kathy, the church librarian, sent me an overdue notice from the church library. She added a personal note: “You checked this book out six months ago. Do you still have it, or is it lost?” I didn’t have a clue.

The name of the overdue book? It was the sidetracked sisters’ sequel: Get Your Act Together!

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. —Matthew 6:33

points to ponder

1. Are you more of a rows-and-columns woman or a blobs-and-splashes gal? Explain. How has your personal style helped or hindered your ability to keep your life on track?

2. How do you stay organized? What works for you? What needs changing?

3. “Only one thing is needed,” Jesus said. How do you think your life would change if you focused on the one thing Jesus says we need? What other “needed” things keep you from doing that?