I am really bad at praying. I will readily admit this. Here’s a typical session for me (also, just so you’re not confused, my name is Jess):
Enthusiastic-and-ready-to-roll Jess: Okay, God, here I am again. I’m going to try this yet another time. So … what’s new since yesterday?
A-little-less-enthusiastic-and-not-so-ready-to-roll-two-minutes-later-but-still-talking-to-God Jess: So, I really screwed up THAT situation, and I’m sorry. Forgive me? Thanks. At least, I’m saying thanks, but I really didn’t feel any sort of overwhelming experience or emotion or burning in my bosom or anything, but I’m still going to work on the assumption that You have forgiven me even though I don’t feel that forgiveness and I don’t really feel all that guilty to begin with.
Alternate-ENFP-here-comes-the-tangent Jess: Okay, I assume that the whole burning in the bosom thing is what it’s supposed to be like when we experience the Holy Spirit?
Trying-to-concentrate Jess: I guess so. Hey, I’m trying to talk to God here, okay?
Contrite-but-still-curious Jess: Oh, sorry. But seriously, if they feel like that, can we trust any of our emotions? If we’re Christians but we all feel something, can we really discredit them due to their feelings? SHOULD we even try to rely on any of our emotions?
Being-drawn-to-the-dark-side Jess: "They?" Really? That’s how you’re going to refer to Mormons? That’s just wrong.
Decidedly-less-contrite Jess: Sorry. Didn’t mean to be insensitive. I’ll work more on my PC sensibilities.
Full-on-now-I’m-using-the-force-on-the-dark-side Jess: Whatever. And you know what happens when we assume things, right? (Insert snicker.) What I REALLY want to know is why we still use the word "bosom." Seriously. Say it a few times.
Fully-enthusiastic-and-ready-to-roll-on-completely-irrelevant-topic Jess: Bosom bosom bosom bosom bosom bosom bosom bosom bosom bosom …
And thus my well-intentioned time set aside for God turns into a narcissistic combination of farce and fiction. Three minutes later, I’m probably thinking about how to differentiate between a crocodile and an alligator or something equally asinine, and my prayer time gets checked off for the day.
Note here that as I’m starting to drift, I’m still trying to keep it God-focused. I’m not really talking to God, but I’m at least using the excuse that I’m still talking about God. They’re not so far removed from each other, right?
But then notice the digression. I fool myself into believing that it’s still time with God since I’m considering “serious theological issues” and that those considerations are as valuable as praying. Which they aren’t. And that I’m truly communing with God. Which I’m not. (I do think God probably still laughs at the assume joke, though, and don’t you want to picture Him sitting on a throne, surrounded by adoration, softly whispering “bosom bosom bosom” over and over to Himself, trying not to be overheard? Now that’s a good mental picture.)
And just like that, I’ve done it again. I’ve gone from some serious consideration of the fact that I’m not talking to God to some analysis to completely derailing the whole moment with immature (yet still often quite funny) humor. I am a master at this.
This is my excuse. I start, and then I stumble along, and when I get off track, I don’t really refocus myself. I use the fact that I’m thinking about “God-ish” ideas to mask the fact that I’m not really in any sort of conversation with God.
My husband and I are currently reading Richard Foster’s Prayer for our weekly devotions. In it, he writes that “none of us will keep up a life of prayer unless we are prepared to change. We will either give it up or turn it into a little system that maintains the form of godliness but denies the power of it—which is the same thing as giving it up.” According to Foster, it appears that I give up. I think I frequently have the form of godliness, the appearance of moving towards God, when in reality I’m not prepared to change. This in turn sabotages my prayer life, and I’m the one performing the sabotage.
I’ve loved Jesus for as long as I can remember; I just don’t seem to get around to telling him that often. However, that’s truly not what I want. I don’t think that’s what anyone wants. I think it can be easy, even when we desperately love and adore our Creator, to fall in and out of intimacy, even when that intimacy is not just what we truly need but also what we truly desire. So what do we do?
We grasp hold of that intimacy. We grasp hold of the times when we remember what it feels like to be close to Him. We struggle through the distractions, the lack of emotion, and sometimes even the boredom because these are the times when struggling in prayer is most important. We talk to God instead of just thinking about God stuff. And when we start to wonder what makes alligators and crocodiles different, we stop, take a breath and try again to change, to get rid of the “little systems” that turn prayer into something that lacks true communion.
It’s that easy. It’s also that difficult. There’s both shame and hope in the fact that we’re going to inevitably mess up because those struggles can bring us closer to intimacy with Him. We work on changing ourselves but know that ultimately God is the one who changes us. We wait on Him, and in the waiting, try again.
Jess: Dear God … Change me. I don’t want a little system; I want intimacy with You. I love You.