Most of us spend a lot of what we think of as "prayer time" trying to talk God into seeing things our way. We beg and plead, whine and remind, and generally push as hard as we can to get whatever it is we want. This is pretty much the case, even when we are praying for someone else. We show up before the throne of the Almighty with our dukes up and our terms prepared. We want God to intervene, but only if he is amenable to our details. Otherwise, we'd rather just keep praying, or say that God didn't answer us at all.
Let's get something straight: that really isn't prayer, and God's answer to it is often a very big, very loud "No." I know the kind of desperation and fear that is behind that one-way, my-way-or-the-highway approach. Who doesn't? But I also know that prayer is never aimed at changing God's mind; prayer is about changing our hearts. Genuine prayer gives us a glimpse at things -- and at ourselves -- from God's perspective. The whole point of it is to see things his way so that we can do things his way.
The hardest words to say and really mean are "Thy will be done." They demand a certain humility from us, and more, a detachment from all the results we are demanding when we tell God we are putting everything in his hands. To pray effectively, we must pray with faith. But the kind of faith that moves mountains has more to do with who we believe than what we believe. All the theological education in the world can't make a person trust God. As it turns out, the mountain that most needs to be moved is the human heart.
Prayer is powerful. Prayer has the power to move us, even when we are paralyzed with fear, stuck in unforgiveness, or trapped in sin. Prayer has the power to tame our desire for control and bring our willfulness in line with God's will. Prayer has the power to transform our lives because it has the power to transform us.
One of the pillars of Christian practice during Lent is to pray more. I'd like to suggest that instead, we pray better. As most of us have learned somewhere along the way, "more" isn't always "better;" quantity and quality are two different things. This Lent, I want to stop talking to myself instead of listening to God. I want to detach from what I'm asking for and bond more closely to the one I'm asking. In fact, I want to stop asking altogether, and find a way to give God a few of the things he's been asking of me.
How can we deepen our prayer? Honestly, I don't think we can. But I'm also pretty solidly convinced that God will, if we let him. All we really need to do is to show up -- and frankly, shut up. We need to stop trying to run the meeting, or make our case. God doesn't really want to sit through our PowerPoint presentations. He wants to interrupt what we think we want and show us how to live. He wants to give us more than we would ever dare to ask for. It's just that he knows we can't possibly receive all of that at once.
And that is why prayer is slow. It's slow because we are small. We think small, dream small, and love small. We prefer our own ideas and plans because they are small enough to fit inside us. But when we spend time with God, with one who is so much greater than we can imagine, he opens us up to the greatness he has in mind for every one of us. And we stop feeling small when we begin to feel like we are his.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.