Monday, November 9, 2020

What does ‘praying well’ look like?

Prayer is one of those things in the life of a person that one often struggles to properly define and for that matter, properly carry out.  There are of course, many other areas in our lives that we face similar struggles with – fidelity, righteousness, justice, charity, mercy and love, to name a few.  

But while all of those areas mentioned are experienced when we relate to one another, prayer is different because it is experienced and lived out between ourselves and God.  That God, who is the object of prayer, isn’t physically present to us when we pray makes prayer much harder to define, and also therefore, harder to actually do.  

That beings said, how do we pray well?  One way to define prayer is the ‘lifting up of our hearts and minds to God’.  But the way that I hear many people describe their prayer, it is often a very edited and tidied up contents of what is in their hearts and minds.  God is often treated as a very strict and foreboding parent, and before lifting the contents of our hearts and minds to God, they need to be first cleaned up, or at least go through some serious spiritual Marie Kondo-ing before it gets the ‘all clear’ to be lifted up to God.  This means that what is deemed unholy or too worldly is tossed out of the heart before one can do any serious praying.  But this would then mean that we aren’t all that fully transparent and open to God, who really does see all that he has created.  


At the core of this problem is that we have a very narrow view of what we think God considers suitable to be brought to him in prayer.  Maybe we have been taught that we are praying well only when we have good thoughts and don’t have aches and pains in our hearts that come from the fact that we have hardness and smallness of heart.  We think that we should only be praying when we feel at peace, generous, kind and centered in life.  


While these may be good feelings and emotions to have on any given day, when they are not there, when we cannot help but feel some anger, uneasiness, or even acrimony or bitterness, what are we do to then when praying?  We’d like to turn them off like we can the switch when we don’t want the brightness of the light from the lamps in our rooms, but sometimes we just cannot. Besides, together with these, there are other thoughts or mental images that can flood our minds as well, especially when we had not been too careful with what our eyes landed on earlier in the day.  Many would think that having these on our minds would somehow invalidate our attempts at prayer.  


The spiritual masters do not say that we should only be ‘lifting up our hearts and minds to God’ only if they are edited or scrubbed clean.  It can and sometimes should, include those things that we might wish were not there at all.  Doing this makes us admit of our weaknesses and, as it were, our foolishness as well. In fact, isn’t it true that it is precisely at these weak moments, these cloudy moments that we need prayer the most? Wanting God’s presence at these moments reveal to us just how weak we are, and that we can only get stronger in love of him if we but try.  


If you feel small of heart, and aren’t afraid to admit this to God, lift this up to him.  Ever noticed how little children don’t edit their feelings or sentiments when they speak to their parents?  Even when they are having a meltdown, they don’t edit it away. They come to their parents and have a certain hope that their parents will deal with it.  


When Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God belongs to little children, and that we need to be like children to enter the Kingdom of God, it is this aspect of being a child that we need to learn to establish in life.  Just as children are honest and bare all in their feelings and what is in their hearts, so too do we need to do this in our prayer life.  The child who goes to the mother with his aching heart doesn’t first consider whether the mother has the wherewithal to deal with it. He just goes.


God, we need to realise, has the wherewithal to handle all that we carry in our hearts, and that includes those bits that we’d rather Marie Kondo out, for whatever reasons.  


Sometimes it is to our detriment that we make God to be so weak, and so small minded, causing us to be weak and small minded ourselves.

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