Thursday, May 9, 2019

How Can I Pray When I Don't Know "What to Say"?

Sometimes it can be very hard to pray while going through difficulties in life. This may seem ironic, but it can happen, especially during long periods of illness, pain, or grief.

In the beginning, we say things like "Dear God, please change this situation!" Sometimes He does change it, but often enough He simply remains with us within the endurance of things that have to play themselves out in time.

This is when praying "gets awkward." It's especially disturbing for those of us who are trying to live our faith. We know that prayer is (or should be) a regular part of every day. Prayer is “conversation with God.”

But we find ourselves in ongoing situations of exhaustion, irascibility, or just feeling "dislocated" from everything. We may be full of questions we don't even know how to ask, or we even feel like we've forgotten the meaning of our own language.

Prayer is conversation with God. But we don't feel like having a conversation with anybody. Ugh!

One problem is that our prayer tends to be mostly a monologue, in which we praise the Lord, thank Him, declare that we love Him, and (here is often the "meat" of our one-sided "conversation") ask Him to take care of us; we "tell God" what we want, and what we hope for. We bring Him our intentions and the intentions of others.

It's normal and appropriate to pray for all these things. God is good, and He loves us. He is our Father. It's natural for us, as children, to turn to Him and ask Him to meet what we perceive to be our many needs in life.

Trials and sufferings, however, can confuse our ordinary discourse. Suddenly things are not what they seemed to be. And we become inarticulate: "God, I don't know what I need. I can't think of anything meaningful to say. I can only wail away in the dark and be powerless. Does that even 'count' as prayer?"

The truth is that the "conversation" of prayer is one that God initiates.

That does not mean that we are suddenly going to hear Him speaking inside our heads. Rather, God is always speaking, calling to us, drawing us to prayer. He speaks to our hearts. We begin to hear Him when we become more aware of our need for Him.

This is where the conversation of prayer begins: when our hearts cry out, “God, help!" Our hearts open up. We might not even be very coherent in our heads at the time, but our hearts are saying, "Lord, have mercy on me!”

We always need mercy. But the awareness of that need arises and intensifies in times of difficulties and brokenness and suffering. In these times, we begin to listen to God in the depths of ourselves. We begin to give Him space, and we permit Him to work on places within us that we usually try to hide from Him (and from ourselves).

The “ear of the heart” that hears God has a very simple shape: “Help. Have mercy on me. I need You.” We may not be able to articulate these words, but that inward groaning that seeks Him is the foundational response to the love He is continually offering to us.

That love has a name, the name of "salvation," Jesus - "God saves." He saves us by coming to dwell with us.

Jesus on the cross has entered forever, and understood comprehensively and unforgettably, each and every one of our cries. Jesus wants to stay with us.

We are precious to God in our weakness. He is so close to us when we are suffering. He carries us even closer to Him if we allow Him to enter inside of that need that groans within us.

He shapes us, in His way, and in His time.

And so our prayer is renewed as a more profound "conversation" with the God who creates us and redeems us. He develops with us an inner, mysterious dialogue that then gives intensity and real value to whatever words we manage to say, or even just the wordless endurance of our own wounds encompassed in His.