Saturday, June 8, 2013

When prayer is a struggle

We are all grateful when prayer lifts our hearts and souls, when we have times of spiritual refreshing, when we experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as a real and powerful anointing, when the sense of the Lord’s presence brings joy, comfort, healing and strength. 

That can happen when we are deeply moved in worship with our church family; it can happen when we are alone in prayer. The Scriptures clearly teach that God gives us times of spiritual refreshing. In those times we should linger gratefully, just as we would if we had been trekking through a desert and came upon a beautiful oasis. We should drink. We should rest. We should allow ourselves to celebrate exuberantly. We should make the most of it. We should thank the Lord and intentionally use the blessings of the oasis to strengthen ourselves in case a drought-stricken wasteland lies ahead. That’s the rhythm of life; and it’s very often the rhythm of the spiritual life, too. 

We must be honest enough to admit that we have times when God seems a million miles away, and we cannot explain why. Our prayers, to use T.S. Eliot's expression, feel like “dead letters.” Then there are times when we have to deal with tragedy and undeserved suffering in our lives or in the lives of those we love. Even as Christians - especially as Christians - we try in vain to work out why life is so unfair, so unjust. Where is God in all the pain? Why didn’t he help? We search for answers and can't find any. Like the Psalmist we go through stages of being very angry with God. On top of all that, many struggle with cycles of ordinary depression and fear. It’s no wonder that sometimes we don’t even want to pray! 

We have to remind ourselves that the heroes in the Bible, as well as the great Saints and spiritual guides down through the centuries went through these same times of struggle and frustration in prayer, not to mention pain and suffering far more intense than what most of us will ever have to experience. Actually, the remarkable thing about Christian history is that the hard bits haven’t been edited out of the story! But from the writings of these men and women we know that whatever the problems are - physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual - God’s love can and will win through, eventually. Our part is to persevere and hang on in naked faith, surrendering to God and allowing the mystery of his love to do its healing work in us. That’s how we grow. We shouldn’t give up just because we find it difficult. 

We WILL have problems and struggles. Our relationship with God is a bumpy road some of the time. So it’s a good idea for us to ask those who have been on the journey a little longer for support. Seeing our priest is a good start. We should speak to him about our joys as well as our sorrows. He might suggest that we meet with him from time to time, or with another priest, pastor, religious brother or sister, or a lay person who has special gifts in the ministry of “spiritual direction” (even if that's not the term they use). Confiding in a such a person on a regular basis can help us begin to understand what God is doing in our life.

Even when praying is NOT difficult for us - when we feel as if we are living in bliss at the oasis - it's a good idea to have someone like that from whom we can learn.

I now share with you one of the best no-nonsense passages about our varied experience of prayer. It is from the little book Rule For a New Brother, written by by Dutch Blessed Sacrament Father, H. Van Der Looy. Rule For a New Brother was given to me in 1974, and it has been a mainstay of my life ever since. Subsequent editions have a foreword by Henri Nouwen. It’s well worth purchasing HERE.

“The Lord Jesus himself will teach you
how you should pray.

“He is the creative word
which you may receive 
in the silence of your heart
and the fruitful soil of your life.  
Listen attentively to what he will say;

“Be swift to carry out
what he will ask of you.

“You have been promised his Spirit
who will bear your poor little efforts
before the throne of grace;  
and into the intimacy of the Living God . . .

“Your prayer will take countless forms
because it is the echo of your life,
and a reflection of the inexhaustible light
in which God dwells . . .

“You want to seek God with all your life.
And love him with all your heart.
But you would be wrong
If you thought you could reach him.
Your arms are too short; your eyes are too dim;
Your heart and understanding too small.

“To seek God means first of all
to let yourself be found by him.
He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
He is the God of Jesus Christ.
He is your God,
not because he is yours
but because you are his.

“Your prayer is therefore not so much a duty
as a privilege;
a gift rather than a problem
or the result of your own efforts.

“So don’t tire yourself out 
looking for beautiful thoughts or words, 
but stay attentive before God 
in humility and expectation, 
in desire and purity of heart 
full of joy and hope. 

“Your prayer will take countless forms. 
because it is the echo of your life, 
and a reflection of the inexhaustible light 
in which God dwells. 

“Sometimes you will taste and see 
how good the Lord is.
Be glad then, and give him all honour,
because his goodness to you has no measure.

“Sometimes you will be dry and joyless
like parched land or an empty well.

“But your thirst and helplessness 
will be your best prayer
if you accept them with patience
and embrace them lovingly.

“Sometimes your prayer will be an experience
of the infinite distance
that separates you from God;
sometimes your being and his fullness
will flow into each other.

“Sometimes you will be able to pray
only with your body and hands and eyes;
sometimes your prayer will move
beyond words and images;
sometimes you will be able
to leave everything behind you
to concentrate on God and his Word.

“Sometimes you will be able to do nothing else
but take your whole life and everything in you
and bring them to God

“Every hour has its own possibilities
of genuine prayer.”


Post a Comment