“Pray your hardest when it’s hardest to pray.” I saw this quote recently. And it rang true.
I don’t know if I remember the last time I really prayed in this way (in the traditional sense at least). Sometimes I don’t know if I remember how, or ever even knew. It’s like I was always trying to pray in a way that met some unseen, unspoken, unknown expectation or formula or pattern. I don’t know if I ever found much truth or life in it. In certain moments, yes, but as a whole, I’m uncertain. We can live our entire spiritual lives attempting to come to or meet or find God in a way that never makes sense to us; in ways that are never true to who we are. Because we are trying to follow the line or process of another. Because we are trying to fulfill a human-made expectation. Because we are following a person, a church, a ministry, a method, the Bible (supposedly), instead of the person of God as revealed to us. And because we do not know ourselves. Yes–prayer is hard work. But it is also very individual, and speaks an intimate personal language between our hearts and God’s. We commune with and speak to those we love and are loved by. How can it be any other way with God? What other motivation can we have?
We must love God (or at least begin to) before we can truly speak to him. We must know we are loved (or, again, at least begin to) before we can truly hear. Sustained prayer (I am hesitant to use the word “true”) cannot exist apart from an intimate, loving relationship. But it can begin with the simplest words of desperation and emptiness–a truer prayer than a thousand without need or humility. Is this not how Jesus spoke of prayer?
I start with this: “Help me, God.”
“It doesn’t have to be / the blue iris, it could be / weeds in a vacant lot, or a few / small stones; just / pay attention, then patch // a few words together and don’t try / to make them elaborate, this isn’t / a contest but the doorway // into thanks, and a silence in which / another voice may speak.” – Mary Oliver