I’ve had varying shifts in my prayer life over the years. I learned to pray by asking God for things. And then, later as I grew I learned to talk with God as a dear friend – about myself, my fears and hopes. Somewhere further along the way I learned to listen for the way God might respond.
And now, I’m beginning to pray without words and with a particular image instead. Friends, this isn’t holiness or profoundness or wisdom. I long for the day when there might be words again.
I’m wearied by the same conversation with God that I’ve had for the past six years. Yes, there’s been growth in the conversation. But, at heart, my prayer life has become centered around the desire for biological children. Some days it’s pleading and bargaining. Some days are lament days. Some days are sullen or whiny. Some days are faithful and full of hope in God’s providence. So many verbose prayers. Puddles and puddles of tears. Fists raised in frustration. And nothing. I’ve come to an impasse. I’m tired of praying over the same subject, and receiving silence in return.
In talking about a seeming non-response from God, Helmut Thielicke, in The Silence of God, notes, “we must ask whether this deathly silence, this constricting stillness surrounding God, is not due to the fact that He wills to be silent because we are not yet in a position in which He can speak to us.” One caveat: I don’t particularly believe this to be true of everyone’s situation. But, I can see within myself a headstrong element that doesn’t want to hear “no” or hear much of anything from God other than something about the arrival of a baby.
In reflection on my prayer life, I’m seeing that I’m more desirous for God to answer my prayers than I am for God’s presence in my life. I want God to be my servant, rather than see myself as God’s servant. I was struck a few weekends ago while we had a houseguest with a 4 month old. On a couple of occasions, I was able to feed baby Elijah. As he gulped down his bottle, he gripped tightly to my hand and stared straight into my eyes. I’ve watched him be fully capable of holding his own bottle, and yet he was so interested in the one feeding him – not just the food itself. When unable to make eye contact, he fidgeted and was super crabby. I want to be that way with God. Not so focused on the “give me, give me, give me” (even for the good, healthy and/or necessary things), and more content in savoring the bonding relationship between us.
To that end and acknowledging the impasse in our communication, I’ve started to pray nearly without words. These days, I imagine myself on a swinging bench (like some folks have on their porches) on a grassy knoll under a tree. The sky is blue overhead and a few puffy clouds drift by. I feel a gentle breeze. A grassy knoll slopes down to rocky stream, and the sound of water bubbling over and around the rocks drifts up to my perch. I sit and swing, and I simply think “I am here.” And then God sits with me on the bench. No face, no form, just Presence. We sit in silence and swing. I am here. We are here. I am not abandoned. There are no other words between us.
In this form of praying, I’m finding a way to encounter God without the resentment of failed expectation. I’m beginning to savor again our relationship – the sense of knowing and being known by God. This is healing.
And yet, all of that doesn’t help with me with how to pray in groups — particularly in situations where I’m supposed to be the leader. I believe the Spirit of God intercedes on our behalf and knows our hearts and actual needs, and thus words aren’t as necessary as we tend to think. In a culture where I’m expected to pray before we leave our gathering, how does that work? What am I supposed to say, “Sorry, peeps. God and I are in period of communion in silence rather than spoken requests.” How does that work? Do I state where I’m at with things? Or just conveniently have silent prayer? Since I’m a person that strives for authenticity in relationship, right now the whole praying in groups thing just leaves me feeling rather phony and hollow. I don’t see a way out that honors where I’m at in my journey without making other people feel weird about their situation or like I need to be fixed.