Day #19 Prayer: A New Place to Begin

We turn our thoughts for the next few days to prayer…an integral part of our Lenten journey. I know some of us may cringe when prayer is mentioned because we feel like we are so bad at it, and we feel guilty for not “measuring up.” If we are honest, we might admit our experience of prayer feels obligatory, one-sided, and boring.

At times, I find myself pushing and shoving in prayer feeling like all the work lies with me. My prayers constantly get tangled in “oughts.” I imagine there is some proper, polished, sophisticated way to pray that I need to learn. Often, I find myself trying to use prayer to manipulate God…if I say it loud enough, long enough, and with just the right words, I could coax God into doing what I wanted Him to do. At times, prayer feels more like drudgery, perhaps because my prayers have become stale from being so uncreative and unnatural. No doubt prayer is much vaster and more expansive than we have yet realized or experienced. Perhaps starting at a new place can help us.

Often, I find myself trying to use prayer to manipulate God…

Instead of functioning as a technique or a formula, prayer is about deepening our friendship with God. So, then, prayer is seen as not so much an activity for God but an orientation of the soul; more about living into a deeper awareness of God’s activity in our lives and the habit of turning our hearts toward God throughout our day. In this way, prayer becomes an act of attention. Author Leonard Sweet notes, “Prayer is not getting God to pay attention, but learning to pay attention ourselves to what God is doing.” (Sweet, Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who is Already There, 52.) Thus, prayer can take an infinite number of forms, all throughout our day, or depending on the need of the moment. This might explain the invitation of the Apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

In this way, prayer becomes an act of attention.

What I am also discovering is that prayer is more about what we hear than what we say. Thus, prayer is also a means of listening. We don’t have to use eloquent words; in fact, we don’t need words at all.

Author Henri Nouwen explains, “Listen to your heart. It’s there that Jesus speaks most intimately to you. Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t thrust himself upon you. His voice is an unassuming voice, very nearly a whisper, the voice of a gentle love. Whatever you do with your life, go on listening to the voice of Jesus in your heart. This listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world Jesus’ loving voice is easily drowned out. You need to set aside some time every day for this active listening to Jesus, if only for 10 minutes. Ten minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in your life.(Nouwen, Show Me The Way, 28-29.)

So, perhaps our real task in prayer “is to attune ourselves to the conversation already going on deep in our hearts.(Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, 33.)

Lent is a great time to establish a personal rhythm of prayer. To begin, set aside 10 minutes each day for prayer. Perhaps commit to praying with family members (or a friend) once a week, or even every day, for the remainder of Lent.

Reflection Questions:

What word would you use to describe your prayer life?

In what ways is this a new way of praying for you?

Where do you want to begin in developing your prayer life? When will you start?

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