Though I continued to try to pray through the suggested reading for my day, I soon became discouraged, feeling I’d failed in my attempt to connect with God. Then the thought came to me. What if these pesky distractions buzzing around my head, attempting to highjack my attention from God and the things I was “supposed to pray about” were the very things that I needed to pray about? That God was inviting me to pray about?
This wasn’t an all-together new thought. I’ve been aware in the past that my most vital and engaging times with God are when I bring my real self and the real stuff of my life to him in prayer. When I process with God both the small and big things; the things I worry about, dream about, and wonder about--that’s when prayer becomes a deepening and enlivening experience.
I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in my work as a spiritual director. I sit with individuals and listen as they talk about their relationship with God and important experiences they want to process. I pay particular attention to where God is at work, inviting their participation. It’s common for me to ask questions as my directees describe what’s going on.
One question that I often ask is, “What has it been like for you to talk to God about this? Or have you been able to?” Sometimes I notice enthusiasm and energy in their response. But often I see a crest-fallen expression or sheepish look as they say to me, “Well, I guess I really haven’t.”
The Prayer Compartment: What Belongs and What Doesn’t
- Why is it that we often separate the content of our prayer into compartments of “what belongs” and “what doesn’t”?
- Why is it that sometimes the very things that mean the most to us—our collection of hopes and dreams, fears and attractions—are kept in a private room in our minds, excluded from our conversations with God?
Do you think it’s possible that we push our true feelings, doubts and interests to the side because we believe that God isn’t interested or would judge them? Or maybe we show up in prayer as the person we think we should be, or God is expecting us to be, or others for whom we look for approval would like us to be. The typical effect is that when we dismiss from prayer these aspects of our lives that matter to us, large or small, our engagement with God is weak. That’s why we become distracted and disinterested in God and prayer.
So, back to my fly swatting. Once I had the thought that maybe these distractions really belonged in the middle of my conversation with God, I opened the divider. I let them in—my to do list, the questions I had about my work, and my good friend who was struggling—and I let them migrate into the present moment I was sharing with God. I told God how I felt, what I didn’t understand, what I needed help with and I asked him what he thought. I sat and listened and heard. It wasn’t long before I felt honest, whole, integrated and more attuned to him.
Note to Self
If prayer is foundational in cultivating a relationship with God, why do so many of us struggle to pray? Is it because we leave our real selves and real lives on the sidelines of prayer instead of front and center? That rings true for me. So, I’ve made a “note to self” the next time I hear the flies buzzing.
Here’s what it says:
- Remember: to root my mind, body and soul in the present
moment. That’s where I experience the Presence of God.
- Imagine: God or Jesus right there with me, looking at me with a long, loving and interested gaze.
- Remove: the divider between “what belongs” and “what doesn’t.” Be honest. Talk about what matters to me, concerns me, and how I really feel and think. Remember that “everything belongs” in prayer.
- Be: still and listen.
Collage by Nancy Goodman Lawrence