I was praying about prayer earlier this week. I want to pray, and I love to pray, but days keep going by with just a few God-ward thoughts and maybe a "hey God, help me not to suck today please. I'd like to be kind, and um, to have a good day. Thanks."
Prayer is a helluva lot more than that, and I have been frustrated by how my soul pretends it is satisfied. Not that on-the-go prayers don't have a place, but I am in a season of early afternoons off work with very little responsibility, and I am not satisfied for all of those hours to be spent walking the dog and washing dishes. So I had a chat with God about it at small group on Monday, about why I don't just do what I want to want! And I realized that I don't know how to just be with God, so I avoid it for fear of feeling like a failure, or I over complicate it. It is SO EASY for me to fall into the trap of choosing a strategy: picking a posture, setting a time, keeping silence to listen, and all of those things are good and helpful, but they are not what bring me to God. When I spend time with my friends, generally we plan a time and place to get together, and we may have an idea of what we want to do, but once we connect, we go with the flow! If I change seats because the sun is in my eyes, nobody thinks we need to start over; if I get distracted I apologize, but I don't think we should just give up talking.
On Monday, God reminded me how music settles me and opens my spirit, and he suggested I could start my time with him by singing. "And," he mentioned while I gazed at the prayer candle we had lit for small group, "the candle is a nice focal point." So true - and so much less risky when I'm tired than closing my eyes to pray. So Tuesday I lit our prayer candle, and I did some singing. Then I tried to pray but was too scattered, so I sang some more. And then I tried again. And I realized that I wasn't so much distracted as overwhelmed: where to start? So I said to God, "There is too much for me to even say, and you know it all anyways. I know you want me to pray, but it's too much, so I can't."
And God said, "That candle is filled with so much wax, which is way too much for that tiny flame, but over time it will all get burned up. Let my Spirit soften your burdens and draw them away into myself. It just takes time."
And I thought that was very beautiful.
Monday night I wrote that I was struggling with prayer because I didn't know what to expect. If I didn't have some breakthrough or emotional confirmation of encountering God, then I felt like it was wasted time. I know that's not necessarily true, but it very often feels that way. Remembering that candle helps me get my head around having criteria and expectations and psyching myself out about prayer before I even begin. Indistinguishable amounts of progress are okay; feeling hard and waxy and stuck is okay; feeling like a drippy mess is okay too; the most important thing is to draw near to the flame of God's Spirit and let Him work on me.