“Say your prayers”, we are told from the time we are old enough to toddle around. We say blessings before we eat. We listen to prayers in worship and give voice to our concerns, our thanksgivings, our wants and needs. Our parents kneel beside our beds when we are young and we put into words what we want God to hear. In prayer, we do that important work of speaking to God. But is that all that prayer is meant to be?
Give ear to me, O my people. We often say in our prayers that God hears us before we state what is in our hearts and that he knows what we aren’t able to tell him. Could it be that the talking is not the only or even the most important part of prayer? Perhaps we are so busy talking that we aren’t able to do much listening to God. But how do we listen to a being who doesn’t talk very much or who doesn’t talk like we do?
Most times in our prayers we are so busy telling God what to do, or asking him to change something, that it’s hard to hear if he were to say something in response. If we are afraid, for instance, we usually offer this kind of prayer: “God, please take my fears away”. Could it be that a prayer of greater integrity is simply this one?: “God, I am afraid”. Maybe the best kind of prayer is one which simply describes to God who we are right now and then ends in listening. Maybe we’re so tied into words that we limit the way God can make himself known to us.
Many of the spiritual fathers spoke of emptying ourselves before God in order to be filled by him. It seems that most times we are so busy telling God how to fill us that we don’t take the time to be empty, to pour ourselves out to him and then let him do his work. How can God fill something that is already full? Maybe our job in prayer is to pour ourselves out and just hold out our cup to see what may flow into it.
In your prayers take a little time and describe who you are right now, what is going on inside you. Take safety in knowing that no one will see what you have described other than you and God. Are you excited, nervous, afraid, angry, peaceful, confident, insecure? Try to think of at least 10 words which describe how you are right now. Don’t worry if the words you use seem not to go together. Sometimes we can be nervous about one thing and very peaceful about another. Don’t worry about what it means for you to be the way you describe or about how long it will last. Just describe down who you are right this moment. Let this be the first part of a prayer.
When you are finished, you are ready for the second part. Be quiet and listen. How is it to have described yourself? What is going on inside your gut, your mind, your heart? Describe that. Be quiet and listen some more. Close your eyes if you wish. What do you hear? What are you experiencing now? What is your heart telling you? What do you hear that could be a message from God? Don’t force it if you don’t hear something. When you are ready, God will speak.
To tell God who I am is the most personal of prayers. To listen to God is to pay respect to the being who created you and keeps you. To listen to God is to be blessed by his presence. Prayer is a holy offering. The more honest our offering, the purer our prayer is. God will take our offerings and do all that is needed.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.