What if prayer were way, way, WAY more than praying for everyone and everything you can think of from 7:00 until 7:05 and feeling bad about the interrupting and distracting thoughts of to-do-list items and projects, wants and needs?
I remember one day's prayer time in when I was a sophomore at Michigan State University - when I was DETERMINED to pray for five minutes without interrupting myself/distracting myself even once. I was going to sit there, and not let my mind wander even once ... if I did - then I was going to start over. Oh halp!!! You KNOW how that turned out. At one point in that process I started making a little hash mark for every time I distracted myself ... About 40 minutes later I was so frustrated and felt so ... broke. *sigh*
There are people in the history of faith who reveled in LONG prayer times - ever wonder how they did that? I grew up in the church - my dad was a country preacher - but as a freshman in college - I seriously thought this was impossible or if it were impossible - it would feel exhaustingly torturous. I was pretty sure that people who swore up and down that they loved praying like this were praying at "420" if you're picking up what I'm laying down. Hmmm.
What's going on here though?! I mean - Martin Luther is sort-of famous for saying "I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." Mother Teresa is purported to have spend copious amounts of time in prayer. I remember a white-haired old man named at my church as I was growing up named Claude Small who was said to have been a "real prayer-er" ... but I was only 10 when I met him and didn't think to ask him how until he'd passed away. I've met some people who will hand you something that looks like it came out of a calculus book on how to pray - but I'll tell you a secret ... that gives me the willies.
Then there's the "prayer can be mowing your lawn types" - which on so many levels I absolutely agree with - and if you read the post last week on Frank Laubach you already know this. But sometimes those efforts fall hard into lawn-maintenance and not so much into the heavenlies. I'm just speaking for myself. I haven't found lawnmowers to be particularly helpful - or long walks, or prayer shawls or any of that. I mean I'm not saying you can't pray long or meaningfully with lawn mowers, long walks or prayer shawls - I'm just saying that those things - in and of themselves - just speaking for myself - haven't contributed to the sort of rich and meaningful prayer life that Laubach or anyone else who doesn't give me the willies refers to. Those things also didn't lead me straight to the sort of prayer life where on my busiest days my go-to solution for a non-frenzied peace of mind was not - so sadly - to pray longer.
But there MUST be a way to enjoy that sort of prayer time.
You and I might google search, or amazon search for prayer methods - and find a lot of sites that say "here's a one-minute method." - and there's a place for that - but that's not this conversation.
Honestly - I do truly hope that there are MANY ways to step into such lengthy, sweet, and transformative prayer times. I do not, however, believe that the doors to such a prayer life are unlocked by lists. I know! I know. I too, am personally a big fan of lists ... but lists, as good as they are at getting all the taco ingredients from the store in one trip, and as glad as I am that people like pilots and surgeons and such use them as much as they do ... wouldn't it be weird if you were hanging out with your bestie, your squeeze, or your mentor - and they busted out a list? Mood. Killer.
So - no more talk of what isn't "the door".
There might be many such doors - and I am open to finding them all. The door that I have found that keeps luring me back in, over and over again for longer and longer stays - is the door labeled "Curiosity About God's Love and Grace".
I wish I could say that I found this door through some sort of brilliance. Nope. I found it first while in a place that felt beyond lists ... a place and time in my life when I felt that not even the most brilliant list could put the humpty-dumpty parts of my life back together again. I found that door by saying one day - truly - on accident - to God - "please prove to me your love is greater than all this mess." It was not a sunny vista. This was a low down, empty, broken place. I entered feeling this ...
... and I believe, again - just speaking for myself - that when we're addicted to fixing, and addicted to presenting a tidied-up, fixed-up, perfect life to everyone as a justification for freedom from judgement or as an immunization from feeling too humble or small - that this is possibly how we see the world. This might even be - how it is - if we reduce God to a list.
But having no fix-its left in my hands, having no more answers that involved my own strength - and coming to a place where there was nothing but God's Love towards me - Goodness towards my life - and Grace to warm me - I found that prayer that focuses on God's infinite good will towards us - that stretched back to before the dawn of time - that put a to-do list into action on a date so far back in God's day-planner that I can't comprehend the date. I found stepping into a space of prolonged awe and wonder that the Infinite, Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnipotent King of the Universe who spends every moment of His infinity in every particle of the universe at every moment of every particles existence drew on a motive like Love to plan my redemption is a thought that reduces my inadequacies to a blip on a cosmic radar of infinite "I Got This's" from God. I think that door that I fell through on accident one day - because the two or three I'd been trying over and over again were just ... tired - has become my new go-to door - and time spent in reflective and meditative prayer there - telegraphs God's hopeful calm - and somehow - reduces my to-do lists, my fixit-addiction to a simple walk. I do not have words for the gratitude I have for God as I've come to experience Him through this "door."