Recently, I shared some thoughts about listening in a column. Ann has asked for thoughts on listening in prayer this week. So, I share them here, with the hope that they may bless.
It’s summertime and the living is easy — at least that’s the theory. Schedules are more relaxed; there is more time for leisure; our calendars aren’t crammed to overflowing. There are spaces, pockets, places of unstructured time. Perfect. May I make a suggestion? Let this be the summer of prayer. Take the gift of those pockets of time and do something genuine with them. Learn to pray on your summer vacation.
So often, our prayer looks like it did when we were 9 years old. Dear God, here I am. I really want a new bike. Please make my grandma feel better. I’m sorry I picked on my little sister. It’s all about me. Me. Me. What if instead this were the summer we made it all about Jesus?
In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul writes, “It is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives in me.” Can you imagine emptying yourself of you completely and then being still long enough to fill yourself with Jesus? Can you imagine becoming a completely new creation inside your old body? So often in popular treatises on prayer we are asked to imagine ourselves walking alongside Jesus, to use our imaginations to place ourselves next to Him. What if, instead, we abandoned ourselves entirely and let Jesus Himself fill our very beings?
We need to learn to make prayer about Him and not about us. We need to lose our lives in order to find life in Him. In her excellent book, Come Meet Jesus, Amy Welborn poses this pivotal question: “If I seek to meet Jesus in my prayer, is he at the center of my prayer, or am I? Am I really ready to listen? How open am I?”
The most beneficial prayer of all is probably not the prayer where we pepper God with all our thoughts. The most beneficial prayer might be the quietest, the prayer where we throw open the doors of our souls and invite God to come in and make a home in our very being. Prayer is about emptying and opening.
Pope Benedict invites us to open ourselves to Christ in prayer in just this way. He writes:
“It seems to me that this gesture of openness is also the first gesture of prayer: being open to the Lord’s presence and to his gift. This is also the first step in receiving something that we do not have, that we cannot have with the intention of acquiring it all on our own.
“We must make this gesture of openness, of prayer — give me faith, Lord! — with our whole being. We must enter into this willingness to accept the gift and let ourselves, our thoughts, our affections, and our will be completely immersed in this gift.”
We don’t know how to pray. We seek God constantly, because we were created to seek Him. And the very restlessness of seeking is a prayer, but we tend to flit from thought to thought and rarely to find the union we seek. Prayer is the intentional act of uniting ourselves with God in order to know His will for us and to know the grace and strength He will give to live in that will. But God knew we’d struggle with this. He knew that we would not know how to move from the weakness of restless, seeking prayer to a settled, constant prayer of unity. St. Paul told the Romans, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” When prayer is difficult, the Spirit takes our very expression of that difficulty — sighs too deep for words — and makes it a prayer to the Father for us. The Son and the Spirit request from the Father what we need, not what we want. What we need is always, always to be filled with Christ Himself.
Knowing about God is not the same as knowing God. He doesn’t ask us to know about Him; He exhorts us to be still and know Him. So seize a quiet summer pocket of time. Empty your busy brain of all fancies of your imagination. Throw open the doors of your soul to the warm breeze that is the Holy Spirit. Sit with your Bible open (Psalms perhaps?) and let God pour His mercy like oil over your very being.