In October, the Sidewalk Theologian challenge was to incorporate prayer into our daily rhythms. I found it to be deeply unsatisfying. And I had to assume that you did too if you participated.
Whether praying before meals, praying the daily office from the Northumbria Community or finding new and creative ways to pray like through making something tangible I had hoped that this challenge would remind us of what God is doing internally. Maybe it did for you, but as I was thinking about how unsatisfying it was, I felt nervous- if prayer is connecting with God shouldn’t it be exciting? fullfilling? something? anything? I think one of the difficult things about the prayer challenge is the contrast to last’s months challenge to strive for five and hit a goal of eating five fruits/veggies a day is that prayer is so unquantifiable. To count the number of times I pray seemed far too formulaic- as if I prayed a certain amount of times then I will get X amount closer to God.
I know when I’ve eaten an apple, carrot sticks, Brussels sprouts, a grapefruit and a handful of blueberries- I had a calendar on my fridge to highlight my healthy activities. But how do you see evidence of internal fruit- generosity, patience, love, peace or contentment?
When I was on the silent retreat last week I was sharing about this with a spiritual director I occasionally meet with while I’m there. For those of you who aren’t familiar with spiritual direction, it is “the contemplative practice of helping another person or group to awaken to the mystery called God in all of life, and to respond to that discovery in a growing relationship of freedom and commitment.” Basically it’s a person who helps me to be aware of the presence of Jesus in my life and reflect on the internal realities of his presence to illuminate and make sense of our relationship. When I was sharing with her about how unsatisfying last month’s prayer challenge was she reminded me of a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book The Weight of Glory:
“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
As we talked, my director affirmed that doing something like strive for five seems more satisfying because I can control it, quantify it, see how I’ve accomplished the goal or have lost a few pounds in the process. When my director described how I seemed to feel about the seemingly lame prayer challenge she said “the internal world of faith is like stones on the shore- who is to say which wave has made it smooth? which drop of water caused it to crack or has made a hole in the stone? Who is to say which prayer made the difference in your relationship with God? It’s the collective act of faith that over time slowly shapes who you are until you look back and realize that you’re a different person.”
I loved her description of faith & it made so much sense to me- faith is like water over stones. And when I did look back on my month of praying the compline with Dave each night and the number of other ways I prayed I could see moments where my actions or attitudes towards others had changed. Places of struggle where God had given me strength. Places of irritation where I was experiencing peace. Worries and fears that had been lurking in the back of my mind I was able not only to trust God with these, but to read my journal from the past 4 months and declare about my mad scribbling of anxiety- “what a spaz!” I could joyfully surrender these worries to the God who has never failed me or left me, who always works out his plans in my life for goodness even if it seems weird or difficult at the time.
It was hard to realize how, like the child making mud pies in the slum I am far too easily pleased with the things in my life that I can quantify and control. My director’s reflections were a timely reminder that though a relationship with Jesus is uncontrollable, mysterious and for crying out loud- invisible it is and does result in infinite joy whether I’m experiencing his presence while doing dishes in the midst of a toddler meltdown or meditating on the beauty of Lake Huron in a forest filled with cedar trees.
So- this month stay tuned for the challenge of Practicing Thanksgiving. It will be one of those internal challenges again but I’m going to make it a little more quantifiable- I’ll post the new challenge on Tuesday night. I hope you’ll join me in being intentional about being thankful instead of grumbling or complaining- we could all use a little help with that now that it gets dark at 5:30 at night thanks to stinkin’ daylight savings. But hey, I’m not complaining 😉