Friday, June 8, 2012

I'm A Pray-er: But it's not what you think

 "The most exhausting thing you can do is be inauthentic." 
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne is no longer alive, but I would like to have given her a kiss for so concisely packaging that statement. She is right, pretending is just plain tiresome.

But what does pretending have to do with prayer?

At certain times in my life, everything. The two have been very closely connected until--out of sheer exhaustion--I severed their ties.

I finally reached a place where I was too disillusioned and too weary to be inauthentic. I had no extra energy, so pretending simply was not possible. If you have ever been there, you know what I mean.

I decided to quit trying to sound spiritual and to start being brutally honest. Not just with myself, but with (gasp) God. I was in such a need of a dumping ground for my raw emotions that I finally gave myself permission to let it all hang out. And let it hang out I did.

I now see that was the first step in learning how to pray.

I remember the day it first happened. I treated it like an experiment.

I was sick. Really sick. As a result, I was also really angry. I felt like God was holding out on me. Like he had the magic medicine to make everything all better, but I hadn't said the right "abracadabra" to get him to hand it over.

I set an internal timer and gave myself no more than five minutes to really let him have it. I laid on my bed, face to the ceiling, arms stretched out and pounding the sheets beside me, and I let the anger out full throttle.

The most amazing thing happened. As soon as it was over, I erupted into glorious laughter. I felt this sense of accomplishment. "I did it!" my heart swelled, "I let out my anger! With God."

Since I was happy with the results of the first experiment, I decided to keep pushing the envelope. And every time I did, I realized that God wasn't wagging his finger or raising his eyebrows at me. Even when I didn't use pretty language. Even when my prayers were simply a long strain of expletives.

In fact, the more unconventional I became in my "praying" the more authentic my prayers became.

This level of honesty eventually gave birth to tenderness, and that tenderness grew into a quiet confidence. My heart knew that I was not just talking, I was being listened to. And... he was talking back.

In that place of safety of baring my soul (in whatever state it was in), I started to see God. And I liked what I saw.

I discovered that what I had longed to be true, really was: the God I was baring myself to was good. And He really was there. He had been there all along. I simply hadn't been aware because all the pretending had blocked my ability to recognize him.

But the prayers I was praying sounded NOTHING like the formulas I heard all my years in church. I was coloring outside the lines, no longer worried about rules and decorum. And the more I prayed, the more I lost my desire to conform to the descriptions I had heard of prayer over the years.

That got me thinking. What is prayer exactly? And is it something I actually want to do?

I love the way Easton's Bible Dictionary describes prayer. It's a little bit scandalous. It says prayer is the "intercourse of the soul with God." To say it another way, prayer is the place where I bare myself to God. And the miracle I have found is this: he bares himself back to me.

So prayer isn't just the raw release of anger and frustration, but that's where it needed to start for me. And maybe the reason I can't seem to get a handle on "what it looks like" is because it's just like my soul--in a constant state of flux. 

No matter what shape it takes, the intercourse of the soul with God must start with honesty. So whenever I get too focused on the form, that's where I return.

Prayer is where 
the unfettered heart learns to fly
higher and higher 
until it reaches the hands of God.