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I shut off the mower’s whirring blades, removed my hearing protection, and there it was: the splash and whoosh of the Atlantic Ocean, always restless, continually wearing away the granite at the bottom of the embankment in the back yard where I had been mowing. Clouds above were heavy with rain; therefore, sunset would come early. Even so, I paused for just a minute to absorb the sound of waves, to note the gray, glassy swells, and to soak in the truth that the sound had been there before I could hear it. My listening did not bring it into being, but stopping to hear and to appreciate it had changed my view of the world.
Prayer has the same effect, it seems. God is always present, always moving, continually at work. It takes just a minute to remove my ear plugs (and my blinders) of busy-ness, anxiety, entertainment, and the endless drivel that occupies my gray matter during waking moments. Prayer is the conversation that welcomes God into my life, and lately, I’ve been absorbing the idea that it’s not self-talk that’s going to change me or my way of thinking. It’s more productive for me to turn that stream of words toward the God who is always there listening anyway.
Prayer is a Conversation with God
I am committed to the responsibility of praying for my family, and have embraced the privilege of praying by name each day for those closest to my heart, but there’s an emptiness in a prayer life that ends up as a shopping list. There’s a touch of the audacious in showing up with my list when that’s the only conversation of the day.
Reading Scripture, especially from cover to cover, the narrative arc from Eden to Golgotha shouts God’s involvement in the weaving of a story. The post-ascension Acts of the Holy Spirit set up one book-end on a continuing story, and that’s where we pick up the thread until the second book-end called The Revelation brings the story to its glorious conclusion. In all this weaving of story, God is no less present as the main character in these days of Google and Facebook than He was on Mt. Sinai. In spite of my persistent doubts, prayer is still a conversation with the God of the universe, even if my face does not glow after every encounter.
In C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, he refers to this planet as “the Kingdom of Noise,” and since he was writing in the 1940’s, his readers would have been nodding their heads (and clicking their tongues in disapproval?) about the persistent background noise of “the wireless” in their homes–and maybe a Victrola? It’s no wonder that 21st century believers mistake prayer for a one-sided conversation. After all, podcasts abound, Alexa speaks audibly, and even my antiquated GPS (which I love) gives me spoken directions when I veer off course. In all the aural chaos, how are we to distinguish the voice of God from our own tangled thoughts?
I’m reading A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller, and it’s about time! He writes from such an awareness of my frustration with prayer that it’s practically eerie, and yet I am encouraged by his insights to persevere and to cultivate a praying life that is commensurate with the way I talk (and write) about my relationship with God. For Miller, prayer “feels like dinner with good friends.” There’s no agenda other than simply enjoying each other. That’s the motivation that kept Jesus continually coming to the Father, and if “prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect with God,” (8) and if Jesus felt the need to pray, no wonder we humans are plagued at times by a sense of the absence of God.
Prayer is an Invitation to Come, Weary and Overwhelmed
If “a praying life feels like our family mealtimes,” it’s because “prayer is all about relationship.” (8) When we make it formulaic and tear it away from real life, we miss the point, and it becomes as dry and unappetizing as yesterday’s muffins. In a real relationship, conversations go down rabbit trails, but when that happens in prayer, we complain that we’ve lost our train of thought and are tempted to give up. When it seems as if all our messiness floats to the top like the layer of scum on dirty dishwater, we write ourselves off as hopeless and wish that we could pray with soaring syllables of praise. What a relief to read that prayer is an invitation to come, weary and overwhelmed! The God who made me wants to engage in an authentic relationship with the real me, not some super-spiritual version of me who shows up a few times a day for a quick conversation.
I’m still reading, and A Praying Life may be front and center on my Kindle for a long time, because I have a lot of bad habits to unlearn, and prayer is, after all, the journey of a lifetime.
Thanks for joining me along the way,