by Charles LaFond
This is the third chapter in my series on writing a Rule of life and it is the chapter on prayer. Again, a Rule of life is simply a series of statements, written by you, for you which, when read every day, (one “chapter” or subject per day) reminds you of how you want to live. The Williamsburg wreath I chose for the blog series on prayer in The Daily Sip, is based on a yoke. When Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” His reference to the “yoke” is an image I have always associated with prayer. What does it mean to use prayer and meditation as an invitation for God to relieve my burdens and carry them for me?
So now it is time for you to try writing your own chapter:
We are ready to consider our Chapter of the Rule of Life on Prayer. This will tempt some to give up on writing a Rule of Life. Don’t. It’s often wasted on monks and nuns! You and I need a Rule of Life too – a map of sorts which reminds us of what path we have chosen for our lives so that if we do find ourselves wandering off course, we will be reminded, by our own written longings, that we need to cut back through the weeds of our poor choices to find our path again.
Prayer can be a very intimidating chapter to write. “Will I get it right?” will be a fear many will feel as they write. Write anyway! Just write about 600-1000 words or less and then worry about getting it right later. If you have trouble wiring this chapter (or any chapter) simply pretend you are writing a letter to yourself. “Dear me, here is what I hope for my life regarding _______. and here is what I know Jesus said about it: ….and here is what I think about _______ and here is what I hope that _____ will do in my life and what relationship I want to have with _____ in my life.” Etcetera.
As you think and Google the topic of prayer, remember the chapter outline questions as a prompt. By answering these questions, you will find yourself writing your first draft of a chapter on prayer:
- What do you see in scripture, church tradition or reason regarding this topic?
- What do you see in yourself regarding this topic?
- What are your goals for how your life will express this topic?
- What measures will you take to encourage the goals you have set for yourself (people, resources, checks and balances, boundaries, etc.)?
- What do you seek from God in assistance regarding this topic?
As you draft your Rule of Life chapter on prayer, you may want to go back to your commonplace or anywhere that you keep quotations you find meaningful and see what you have collected on prayer. If you do not yet have a commonplace (a small book in which you write out quotations you enjoy) I highly recommend you begin this marvelous practice of collection. As I drafted my chapter on prayer for my Rule of Life I went back to my favorite quotes. I did not use them but they influenced my chapter once I began drafting my sh#@*y first draft (SFD).
Here are some of my favorite quotes on Prayer but with a few minutes of googling, you can find your own and begin to collect them for your first draft of a chapter on prayer to guide your life’s choices:
“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
― Mother Teresa
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart
“Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”
― Corrie ten Boom
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
― Thérèse de Lisieux
To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing– that demands real effort. ”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World
“[Praying] demands that you take to the road again and again, leaving your house and looking forward to a new land for yourself and your [fellow human]. This is why praying demands poverty, that is, the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose so that you always begin afresh.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
“We do not want to be beginners [at prayer]. but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life!”
― Thomas Merton
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
― C.S. Lewis
“Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger. Pray not for crutches but for wings.”
― Phillips Brooks
The Final Product
Here is my chapter on Prayer:
Jesus came as The Word made flesh – God’s living word, to break down the barriers between God and God’s people. Jesus modeled a life in which he rose early, hiked up mountainsides and sat in silence and darkness, waiting on God in prayer. I will do my best to follow that model. I will often fail by sleeping in and avoiding prayer. But I am human and weak and fun.
Prayer can be excruciatingly dull at times and at others rich and full of wonder, but not usually. Mostly it is a matter of being present to God and working hard to dismiss the temptation to have anything in particular holy happen. We show up. We show up regularly, daily and we show up even if we do not want to – perhaps especially if we do not want to. We sit and we notice what is going on inside us. Then we offer it all up to God – the good, the bad and the ugly. And our prayers show us what we need to know about those who do not pray while projecting piety or power.
Prayer is less a matter of function and more a matter of disposition. Can I believe – truly believe, that God exists and that that existence cares about me? Furthermore, can I believe that God loves and even likes me? Might I be more inclined than I have been trained to think, that God may be ok with what I want and what delights me? Might, in other words, I show up to a God whom I perceive to want to spend time with me?
I believe God is simply mad with love for us. I do not agree with a theology of depravity – that we are made sinful and repellant to God’s holiness. I am worthy so much as to gather more than crumbs! I can approach God and that is because God made me to long for Him or else this is a cruel trick. So prayer must be the fulfillment of my longing for God and God’s longing for me – just as I am and just as I am becoming.
Prayer will form me and so, showing up will contribute to my conversion. I want to be made more and more in the likeness of my having been made in God’s image. And I believe that as boring and annoying as prayer can sometimes be, that something is happening even though it feels like I am wasting valuable time and am suffering from withdrawal from my electronic toys which can so easily replace God. They respond. They ding and beep and chime and flash words. In that way they are gratifying. But of what!?
I believe that waiting on God in silence is valuable to mindfulness and that mindfulness makes me aware of guilt and pride and is an antidote to its their stepsister, shame. Guilt comes from awareness and I want to feel guilt when I have done wrong. But shame has no place with me nor is it of God. And so I believe that in prayer, God points to guilt and burns out shame. The Holy Spirit is at once both comforter and challenger, wisdom and midwife, Eros and a confining sluice of passions. She shows up when I pray, she hears me when I wail, she shows me when I am being manipulated even if nothing can be done about it. She caresses my cheek when I tear up. She holds my shoulder when my knees go weak with fear. And this work gets done because of the time I give to prayer. I show up. God, give me the strength to show up every morning. That is my hope and God’s call. Just show up with French Roast coffee and cookies that are like toast but better.