Praying for Others Without Words

Continuing on with the theme of praying without words, I’ve begun to adopt a different method of praying with (or for) others.  I recognize the power of prayer. Also, I recognize a desire and responsibility to hold others before God and invite God’s work in them.  And, I’m still stuck with trying to avoid resentment over failed expectations, and still striving to enjoy the presence of God alone. I have become a cynic of my own words in prayer; prayer had begun to seem like a public show.   What is that I say or do that might not damage another?  That might offer help?  And at the same time, might make me seem faithful and like I’ve got my act together?

For now, I’ve found a path that helps.  I simply envision my bench – from last post – a little bigger. In my imagination, the person I am praying for, God and myself all sit together on the bench swing overlooking the rocky stream.  We sit.  We swing.  God is present. God moves.  God sees.  All of us in silence.  And it is a holy silence.

God is present in the other’s situation before I pray.  In praying and imagining the other and me before God, I am inviting myself to trust in God.  I am placing myself in vulnerability before God as I silently engage.  The silence is an acknowledgment that I am powerless to fix, to save, to change.  I do not have enough wisdom for words, nor am I God’s puppetmaster.  Prayer is not magic – much though I have wished it was.  Prayer is faithful communication with the God of the universe.  And while at times God may respond in miraculous fashion, sometimes a powerful response comes in the form of mysterious silence.

In the midst of whatever storm, I long most to know that I have not been abandoned, forsaken or forgotten.  In the silent communion, I am reminded that I am not alone.  She (or he) is not alone.  God is here.  I am here.  She (or he) is here.  We are here.  We are not alone.  We are not forsaken.  God sees.  God stays present.  God still loves us. God moves.  That faithful exercise feels like progress today.  It is not holiness or profound; for me, it is just a way forward — a step out of the dark.  I still hope for words again one day.

Praying Without Words

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.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Found this post that I wrote in the fall of 2012, and am thinking there’s still some relevance and challenge for me here.  And since I didn’t make it public at that time, I’m now actually putting it out in the web.

I awoke early this morning after a night of poor sleep.  Last night I was up late reading Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water and the contents of book proceeded to cycle through my dreams and consciousness produced a bizarre combination of prayer, restfulness, and wakefulness.  Still pondering the book and trying to make sense of my convictions, I started intentionally praying this morning.  And the thing that most came to my mind (and in light of my own emotional journey with infertility issues) was a need to ask God to be able to experience his Goodness.

That set off one of the most seemingly bad days that I’ve had in a long, long time.  But the bad was punctuated with these nearly euphoric moments with God.  Like I said, it’s been a weird day.  I’m not particularly used to my emotions being quite so up and down and all over the place.

I started the day feeling a sense that I had asked God for something crucial for my faith life.  I try not to make vows to God often, but this morning I felt a call to tell God that I will trust him.  I will trust that God knows what I need and what our family needs and he will not give rocks instead of bread.  My own interior problem is that I deeply struggle with my own understanding that God is good.  It is a deep struggle for me to practice gratitude with God.  I know why that is, but I felt a need to have God start to root this out of me.  In earnest, I asked to Him to show me that He is good.

Over the course of the day, I’ve started to learn the God’s meaning of the word and my interpretation of it, might be completely different things.  I felt a great sense of confidence going out into the world today, only to have the day go rapidly downhill.  The world just seemed to spin off in crazier and further downward ways.

What A Difference 6 Weeks Can Make

Have been scanning through my summer journal for quotes to add to my files for paper and sermon illustrations, and found this journal entry from an angst filled day earlier this summer.  And realizing how grateful I am that God has been gradually carrying me up and away from the place where I was – even if I’m not yet at the place that I eventually want to be. Without further ado, here’s the post.

Sitting here having eaten breakfast and pleading with God.
Here in the sun room with the cat lazily sleeping on my bible and the heat from the sun warming my face.  Feeling hopeful and anxious. This month, as much as I wanted to take the pregnancy test, I also dreaded it.  I long for this to be the month where finally God delivers on the promise.  But after months and years of disappointments I am afraid that there awaits another crushing blow.

Scripture says that you are not a God that gives rocks when we ask for bread.  And I thought I believed that; believed it wholely.  Now sometimes, we get rye bread instead of my favored honey wheat; but the rye will still sustain me if I let it.

But after six and a half years and 3 miscarriages, I feel that crushing boulders and not bread is being distributed.   And I can see how I’ve grown throughout this process, but Jesus – I am tired of the painful growing and kicks in the face.

I want to believe.  I know you are capable of great and wondrous things.  But I begin to wonder if you care about working those things in my life.  Help me overcome my unbelief.  Vindicate me o God.

Prayer is Different Now

“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.” – C.S. Lewis

Back in college and high school I hated this quote. It seemed contrary to who I understood God to be. What’s the point of praying if it didn’t move God to do something about the mess I or the person I was praying for was in? At that point for me, there was none. I went to God with my requests like a daily list of intangibles (and who I am kidding–tangible things too) for a cosmic Santa to fulfill year round. I had good intentions sometimes; sometimes I was just selfish and earthly oriented. But the point was that I fully expected God to hear my petitions and do something about them.

But, in the last couple of months, prayer is different for me now.

At first I tried not speaking to God. I created a sullen wall of silence. I didn’t hear him speaking, and frankly if He wasn’t going to do anything about the messes–I didn’t want to speak to Him either. But then one day in the shower I had a realization.

Whether I feel God is good in this moment or not, wether (to be honest) God exists and is active or not – I don’t much care for the person I become when I am not looking for Him. And here was the double whammy: I found that ultimately I find myself looking for Christ because I can’t abide the person I am without Him. At the end of the day, it is not about whether God likes me or I like him – being in relationship with him is the only way for my life to function.

All this realization did was make way for conversation. These days I don’t make requests and I don’t expect God to do something. I try not to be vested in outcomes. I live. I feel. I rage at God. And at two in the morning when I wake up, I tell him I am sad. I am scared. I am worried. For me. For my dad. For my husband. For my marriage. For my job. For my own future.

For now, this is enough.

I am in a better mood today than yesterday; yesterday was a weepy day. God and I kept having fun chats. Mostly I kept talking to God, and occasionally he’d butt in and correct me. The jist of the conversation was about me being sad and defeated about current life circumstances. I am making active choices to not compare my life to others, and to try not to be bitter. Neither of those choices are easy to live out; it’s a constant war zone in my head. Between the healthy part of me who’s trying be a mature adult, and the emotional me who’s sad, mad and wants what she wants.

These days I keep finding myself praying “God, I really don’t want to be mad at you. It’s not like I can really walk away even if I feel like you’ve wronged me. You’re still God. You’re still the only ultimate safe place, the only true refuge. ” Or when I’m angry and feeling like shaking my fists it’s asking, “What more do you want from me? Because I really don’t know at this point.”

This morning is better than yesterday. I am grateful for the fresh snow that fell overnight and made everything white again. I am enjoying a leftover sweet potato waffle for breakfast, and that’s enough for this moment. Although, really, all bets are off for the rest of the day. I am still trying to mentally gird myself for battle.

I don’t think God is giving me rocks instead of bread. I just think mostly my life is sustained on rye and pumpernickel. Neither or which ever taste good.