by Matt Faley
Prayer has become the only acceptable area of mediocrity in the Christian life.
I know, that hurt for me to read too.
Think about it. Growing up, did your parents say, “You know what, just go to school and shoot for D’s. As long as you try, it’s OK with us, kiddo.”
Or does your boss say, “Just come in, put in an hour’s worth of work and go ahead and send Matt invitations to play Candy Crush all day on Facebook for the other seven.”
Or if you are an athlete, did your coach ever tell you that eating junk food like Buddy the Elf instead of practicing was cool with him because winning is not really a part of the game?
Then why do we Christians think it is OK to do it with prayer?
We care about a lot of things in our life and take care to invest ourselves fully in them, because, well, that is what Christians do. We care a lot about our work, so we are intentional about doing the best we can. We care a lot about vacations, so we are intentional about planning them. We care a lot about our free time, so we are intentional in keeping it sacred. We care a lot about people’s perception of us, so we take care to make sure we look squeaky clean. But with prayer, the lifeblood of our existence as human beings created by Love and for Love, we are OK with being just OK.
If you have been writhing in your seat reading to this point, do not fear. You are not alone.
You and I have joined our voices in the same ‘ol song… Prayer is hard. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t feel anything. I don’t have time. God does not speak back. I only do it when I need it. But we know deep down there is much more to it. And more importantly, we want so badly to know the depths of it!
“Many Christians are aware of the necessity and the beauty of contemplative prayer and have a sincere yearning for it. Yet, apart from the tentative efforts soon abandoned, few remain faithful to this mode of prayer, and even fewer are really convinced and satisfied by their own practice of it.” Hans Van Balthasar
So what’s the answer?
I think its time we change our perception of prayer.
Prayer is often perceived as a battle we will fight until the day we die, always coming up on the losing end. Prayer is often perceived as work that relies solely on us. Prayer is often perceived as a weakness, a last ditch effort when all other faculties have been exhausted. Prayer is often perceived as an obligation we don’t care to make time for. Prayer is often perceived as a useless waste of time that takes away from a thousand other endeavors that could be accomplished in that time spent.
In our brokenness, we see relationship with God in prayer as something we have to learn to conquer. Something, that in our humanness, we have to figure out. We take that mindset into prayer, it doesn’t work, so we then avoid it because it becomes what we think is a glaring problem that points to us being sub-par Christians. So we stick to the things we know, to the things we can control. We stick to things that console us and at the same time show the world that we have it all figured out. But if the things I spoke into existence in the last post about the beautiful reality of Jesus’ words “I thirst” are true then there has to be more than what we can conjure in our humanness. With those words, he not only speaks to the depths of our hearts, but to the depths of his sacred heart. He speaks not only to our longing for the Infinite and but also his Infinite longing for us. This is where our praying heart should rest.
I think it’s time we change our perception of prayer.
1. Prayer is nothing more than becoming a longing for God. There has to be a place where our longing and the Lord’s meet. And that place is in prayer. Like in the story of the Woman at the Well, we go to the well seeking. When we arrive, Our Lord is already waiting, thirsty but at the same time desiring to quench ours. Prayer is nothing more than the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. It is where we take our thirst and our desire to the depths of God where they were born. It is deep crying out to deep. Do you remember the old commercial from the 80’s for Nestea when they would take the Nestea plunge? Check out the video below. It is kind of like that. We surrender all that we are… our wants, our hurts, our joys, our desires. We surrender the depths of our humanity and we literally let it go (let it go, I can’t hold back anymore! Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door) completely into the depths of our Divine Love.
Practical – How do we do this? Think about it this way. He gives us restlessness so we will find rest in him alone. He gives us desire so we will find our fulfillment in him alone. He gives us anxiety so that we will find peace in him alone. When that restlessness comes, where do we take it? Outward on a person, object or idol or do we give it upward to the Lord who is waiting to give it back redeemed? When that desire to be filled comes, where do we give it? Outward on a person, thing or idol or upward to the Lord of our desires? See what I am saying? Desire has a trajectory. Wherever we point it, it will go. Also, prayer is ALWAYS a response. It is never on us. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. That said, we need to actually open the door. While it would be glorious if prayer was always a spontaneous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is not usually the case. In fact, we need to not only open the door, we need invite Jesus in. Simply, it takes time to make time. To pray at all times like St. Paul tells us, we need to pray at specific times. Are you giving the Maker of your heart your best? I challenge you, start today. If you seldom do it, start with 20 minutes of your day when you are most awake, most present and most ready to give the Lord your heart. Do not be afraid.
2. Prayer is where you discover your deepest, truest identity. Often we feel that we need to clean ourselves before we go the to Lord. Like, once I get to this point, then I will be ready to be a good Christian. SPOILER ALERT – it never happens. I know from experience, dude. He wants you right where you are!! Stop waiting and start praying. Prayer is letting Jesus love us like he wants to love us. When I first started to pray, I felt like I had to put on this persona. I would use only words that ended in th. “Lord, mayeth the words that I sayeth bringeth Thou from whence I came…” That is not me. And probably not you. The Lord speaks to you and he speaks to you in the language of your heart. Think of the things you love, the little nuances that make you, you. The music you like, the hobbies that give you life, the language by which you share and receive love. God speaks to you right there and speaks to you like he speaks to no one else. I love the outdoors. I find great life there. I was on retreat a few years ago in the Fall at a beautiful retreat center in PA. The day was perfect and there were ample trails for me to hike and pray. So I am hiking through the woods and I come upon this beautiful rushing stream. I take off my shoes, roll up my pants and Huck Finn my way out onto to a rock in the middle of this stream and I just take it all in. The sounds, the animals, the breeze, the water on my feet. I was in Heaven. Without hesitation I said, “Lord, you are beautiful.” And immediately after, clear as day, I heard, “You are too.” God speaks to you in your language. You just have to find those places in your heart and let him.
Practical – To do this, we have to let go of some things to allow our hearts to come alive to the voice of God’s love in our lives. We have to divest ourselves of all the false belongings that we carry around as our identities. As you take on my challenge of 20 minutes a day and when you get to prayer, I want you to do this. Ask God to show you the language of your heart. Boldly and confidently ask God to show you how speaks to you. And Ask God what is getting in the way. Mother Teresa, when talking about thirst with her sisters, would often say, “hear your own name.” As a woman of deep prayer, she got it. She was telling her sisters that only Jesus could speak to them like their hearts desired. Only Jesus could give them their deepest identity. Boldly ask the Lord in your prayer, what is the language of my heart and let me hear my own name.
3. Prayer is a sending out – St. Teresa of Avila would often say, “God is in the pots and pans.” If you are praying and not doing the dishes at home, then something is wrong. Prayer is a sending out, a call to action in your life and in the world. Mother Teresa, whose order’s mission statement was I Thirst, knew a thing or two about prayer. She understood what it meant to bring her thirst to the thirst of the Lord. But that is not what she is most known for. She is known for changing the world with love. By bringing her own thirst to that of the Lord’s in prayer, Mother Teresa discovered her calling. And by discovering her own calling, she discovered how her calling was meant to satiate both the physical and spiritual thirst of the world around her. Oh, how Our God loves us that we would choose to call us to abundant life in both prayer and in action.
Practical – You are gifted. I know you are. You are beautifully and wonderfully made. In prayer, the Lord will tell you that if only you let him. As you take 20 minutes and as you ask God to show you the language of your heart, I want you to do this. Ask the Lord, boldly and confidently, to show you the gifts that he has given you. Then ask, Lord, where do you want me to go? How can I satiate my thirst by satiating the thirst of those around me? Watch out world when you do. If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.
Brothers and sisters, let me preach to the mirror for a second. I think it’s time we change our perception of prayer. God loves us and wants us to know how much we are known. Let’s stop running from it. Instead of uniting our voices in the common struggle of prayer, let’s unite them in the glory of his thirst for us and our thirst for him. A quote that has stuck with me these last few days speaks to the heart of the matter:
“I’m not afraid to fail. I’m scared to death of dying and having the Lord say to me, ‘This is what you might have done had you trusted more.’” Mother Angelica
Let’s trust that God’s thirst will satiate ours. As we celebrate the glory of his resurrection this Easter season, we know some day it will all make sense. We know we can look forward to that same glory that we hope to share one day when our thirst will be united with his for eternity.
Matt Faley works as the Director of Young Adult Ministry for the Office of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry (YACCM). Matt is an Illinois native who served as a Catholic missionary with FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students at the University of Illinois-Chicago before coming on at the Archdiocese. Whether it be through writing, singing or speaking Matt uses this platform in hopes to re-invigorate the Gospel for college students and young adults and anyone who will listen. Learn more about Matt and his ministry at http://mattfaley.com/