Monday, July 9, 2012

What you learn about yourself by the way you pray: reflections from Giving Birth to Our Dreams

I don't know if you've ever noticed the fact that when you look back on where you've come from, it looks different than when you passed by it the first time around. Walking along a path counter-clockwise will yield a different view than the clock-wise direction. So, I find myself turning back to look at where I've come from this past year as David and I embarked on this adventure of "giving birth to our dream." Of moving and starting an urban retreat center called Sustainable Faith Indy. I'm seeing things in retrospect that are interesting and instructive. I'm especially learning about myself by the way I prayed through out this process of birthing.

The way we pray tells us a lot about how we think of God--a lot about the quality of our relationship with God. Susan Scott in her book, Fierce Conversations, declares that "conversation is relationship." If we carry that thought over into our life with God, then "prayer is relationship." How we pray, what we pray for, when we pray, the tone our prayers reveals and contributes to the substance of our engagement with God. So, I'm looking back over my shoulder at this last year through the lens of my prayer life.

Here is what I see:

I pray to feel more in control.
As I look back over the last year of trying to sell our house, find a property and accomplish the momentous task of moving, I notice the consuming nature of my prayers. I prayed often, feverishly and compulsively. I prayed when we had a showing or when we had no showings; prayed when we found a house that had potential and prayed fervently that no one else would buy it. I obsessed in prayer.

I think it made me feel better to pray--to cover in prayer all that we were going through, feeling and trying to accomplish. It made me feel more "in control" because I felt so out of control. 

I pray to vent. 
Throughout this long, circuitous path I felt a host of strong and powerful emotions. You name it--I felt it: passion, exhilaration, joy, as well as anger, discouragement and depression. I notice that I turned to God in prayer to vent these strong, often overwhelming emotions. I would express to him, over and over, how difficult our journey was and how much desire I felt for this dream; how disappointed and confused I was with his timing and what appeared to be his lack of support.

I'm glad that I feel free to be human with God and honest in my prayers. As I reflect about this way of praying, I see how little God spoke back. Often, I "heard" a simple word or sensed a quiet confirmation. That's all. No venting in return.

I prayed God into a quandary. 
A lot of the content of my prayers related to the selling of our house and the locating of a home to fulfill the purposes of our retreat center dream. In particular, I prayed a lot about a property we had located that we thought--no, we KNEW--would be the "perfect" house for our purposes. The house was an absolute mess. It would have required huge amounts of money, time and effort to even make it livable--more than we could have afforded physically, emotionally and financially--but it had grand potential! So always, as a caveat, I prayed that God would protect us from making a big mistake; from buying a property that would become a nightmare.

I realize now that I might have prayed God into a quandary. He couldn't answer our prayers by providing this "perfect" house to fulfill our dream and protect us from making a big mistake. He knew that if our house sold, we would move on this house like lightning. So, time eliminated it as a possibility (it sold before our house did).

I pray because I can't help it. 
I'm learning things about myself, about God and the mystery of prayer as I reflect back over the last year. I see a lot in my own heart and character that reveals immaturity, willfulness and determination. But one thing I know: it's okay to not pray "right" or "well." I'm free to pray poorly and honestly. I pray because I can't help it. I need God and want to engage with him in real dialogue out of the mess-of-my-own-heart.

And he welcomes me to pray. Like a small child learning to talk, form words, sentences, questions and requests, God invites me to come as I am and talk with him. I pray because I can't help but talk with a God like that.


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