I have always been a voracious reader, devouring anything I can get my hands on. I have always loved reading a wide variety of books from the classics to brain candy to absolute trash just to have something to read. However, my taste for non-fiction came a bit later. I wanted to get lost in a book, and non-fiction keeps you a bit at arm’s length, thinking about the subject.
Lately however, I’ve seemed to crave non-fiction, and as always I have several going at once. While on any given day I might be dipping into history or science or education, you can almost guarantee you’ll always find some Lewis volume safely teetering in the stack or tucked in my reading bag. Lewis and I have a special friendship that he just doesn’t realize yet. But someday, when the roll is called up yonder, shortly after I pass the pearly gates and dip my toes in the River of Life, Lewis and I are going to have coffee (or perhaps he’ll prefer tea?) and we’ll share that wonderful moment of which he writes when you find someone and say, “Oh what? You too?!?” I know he’s not perfect, or even, strictly speaking, canonical. But I believe he’s divinely inspired and certainly inspirational and he’s my brand of depraved! When he vulnerably speaks of his weaknesses, I totally relate, and when he describes our Savior, he speaks my language. I love Lewis. I have since Aslan.
So, this last few weeks, I’ve been working my way slowly through his book on prayer (again). It’s a series of letters to his friend Malcolm, and while this is not my point, I do love that he and Malcolm clearly come down on opposite sides of the fence on a few points, but they actually enjoy the lively and educated debate of good friends over a deep subject. Unlike our modern era, which seems intent on “unfriending” anyone with differing views while simultaneously forming wild and uneducated opinions about everything.
However, today i was reading the chapter where he speaks about how hard prayer is. They’ve been discussing the whys and hows of prayer, but then his friend’s wife poses the question about how praying is just hard. It’s not necessarily hard to do, but it’s hard to MAKE ourselves pray. We balk at it. We avoid it. We do a minimalist job. We all know we should pray, that there’s power in prayer, that it connects us to our Good Father and True Husband. We wouldn’t go weeks without talking to our earthly husband, but we regularly avoid our Heavenly One. Lewis points out that things that would not distract us from a good book or even a crossword puzzle will readily and happily distract us from prayer.
I was so grateful for his honesty and vulnerability. I actually cried in relief that not only am I not the only one who experiences these “entanglements” that keep me from the rich prayer life I long for, but one of the men I consider “one of the greats” of the faith also struggled with these aspects of prayer.
And I have been struggling with prayer lately. Not, supposedly, out of anger at God, or lack of faith in prayer. Rather, if I’m honest, out of feeling of untethered-ness. I am in a period of waiting. Literally, my “word for the year” for 2017, that I ask God for every December, is “Wait”. I hate that word. I hate waiting. But what’s more frustrating this time, is that I don’t know for sure what I’m waiting for. I’m not sure what God’s plans are for my family in the future. My husband is in grad school getting a higher level certification. My children are growing up and we’re done adding to the ranks. I have nothing on the horizon. Nothing I’m gearing up for. Nothing I’m excited to hope for. For the first time in as long as I can remember, there’s no obvious milestones or changes or hills to climb or ministries to start, or children give birth to, or churches to plant, or…My life has been built on change and what’s coming next and preparing for that. And I have no clear vision.
Therefore, I have no clear thing to pray about. I don’t know what to ask God to do. I am just maintaining. And that leaves my prayer life feeling rote. I believe that growth happens in the waiting room. I believe that faith happens in the rote. I believe that the sacraments and catechisms and liturgies were built on exactly that foundation. That we learn and grow not in the newness of discovery but in the repetition and practice that we have already learned. It’s in the doing it again today that we submit, obey, surrender, trust, lean and learn.
What struck me was that even, and maybe most of all, the disciples struggled with prayer. THose handpicked by JEsus to walk beside him found they had no idea how to communicate with the Father either. What was convicting was they asked for help. I limp along, thinking that JEsus expects me to figure this out, get it together, do my homework, be on the self-study program for prayer. BUt not the Disciples. They just went straight to the source. “Hey, Jesus! Could you teach us how to pray?”
And there it is.
That’s the key.
The asking to be taught how to pray, is in fact praying.
Lord, this is what I need to do, and I can’t do it. Can you teach me how to?
Lord, I need to be patient with my children, but I’m not patient with my children. Can you teach me how?
Lord, I need to manage my anger at my husband better, but I’m failing miserably on my own. Can you teach me how?
Lord, I need to teach my son to spell, but I’ve tried everything and he’s still struggling. Can you teach me how?
Lord, I don’t know how to share your gospel with my neighbors. Can you teach me how?
And thus I have begun to pray. I”m already praying in fact. I admit my humanity, my failure in my own strength, my dependence upon Him. I ask him for wisdom, which He promises to give generously. I confess my sins, which He forgives, has forgiven. I admit my failure, which He has already provided for perfectly.
There in the midst of bringing him my real and immediate problems, and asking for His intercession, I’ve already begun to pray. And with that step towards Him, He takes my hand and together we approach the throne of Grace in confidence, saying together the words He’s already coached me with:
“OUR Father, who is in Heaven…”