From Nouwen’s book Reaching Out, 94-95:
So, the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift. We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive him either. This paradox of prayer forces us to look beyond the limits of our mortal existence. To the degree that we have been able to dispel our illusion of immortality and have come to the full realization of our fragile mortal condition, we can reach out in freedom to the creator and re-creator of life and respond to his gifts with gratitude.
Prayer is often considered a weakness, a support system which is used when we can no longer help ourselves. But this is only true when the God of our prayers is created in our own image and adapted to our own needs and concerns. When, however, prayer makes us reach out to God, not on our own but on his terms, then prayer pulls us away from our self-preoccupations, encourages us to leave familiar ground, and challenges us to enter into a new world which cannot be contained within the narrow boundaries of our mind or heart. Prayer, therefore, is a great adventure because the God with whom we enter into a new relationship is greater than we are defies all our calculations and predictions. The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many ‘safe’ gods to the God whose love has no limits.
Wow. Prayer as a gift. Prayer as a risky surrender to the God whose love has no limits. Prayer is not something we turn to only when things go bad and we need to manipulate God, but rather prayer is a way of the heart that acknowledges the deepest presence and absences of God in life. Prayer is the place where the heart and mind come together and meet God- and that is the gift of prayer. It is not simply a tool, not simply a method, not simply a formula, but the gift of a relationship that often surprises, often mystifies, and always loves.
How do I pray? How do you pray? Perhaps this changes how any of us pray from what we need alone to adding in gratitude, or moments of silence, or celebration, or perhaps it means we need to speak honestly to God in our prayers (I prayed with a guy one time who prayed in tears God, don’t take my daughter for my damn mistake!). For me, it is an insight that reshapes prayer. Every protest, every request, every gratitude all is centered in the reality that prayer is a gift to me. It changes what I pray for because I can no longer pray in good mind for things that feed my illusions that I am in control, that I know best, that what I want matters more than God, that I know what life is all about, or that I can determine the values of life. But prayer as a gift and risky surrender- that changes prayer from a tool to a way of life. If prayer refocuses on God, then no person garners so much significance that any loneliness, any despair, any disturbance, any failure, or any hostile word keep me from the presence of God. Prayer is that kind of gift of a way of life. No matter what, how does prayer as a gift and prayer as a risky surrender change your prayer life? Encourage our prayer life? Deepen our prayer life? All good questions. May God bless your prayer, the prayer of your heart.
God, you are my God, I am seeking you, my soul is thirsting for you, my flesh is longing for you, a land parched, weary and waterless. I long to gaze on you in the Sanctuary, and to see your power and glory.
Your love is better than life itself, my lips will recite your praise; all my life I will bless you, in your name lift up my hands; my soul will feast most richly, on my lips a song of joy and in my mouth, praise.
On my bed I think of you, I meditate on you all night long, for you have always helped me. I sing for you in the shadow of your wings; my soul clings close to you, your right hands support me.