Monday, March 9, 2009

Praying in my real voice

Some have raised the question of how important a concern must be before we bother God with it. This has never really been an issue for me; I tend to be self-centered enough that I assume my concerns are all worth taking up God's valuable time. But this is a valid question, since most of the things that I spend my days worrying about are probably not really matters of cosmic importance.

Even though I know my perspective is often fairly skewed, I truly believe that God wants me to bring my concerns before him. I first came to this conclusion after stumbling upon Psalm 62:8, in which David instructs his hearers, "pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge." We cannot take refuge in God if we try to keep all of the things we really care about to ourselves.

This is backed up, I think, by the fact that a lot of the heroes of the Bible say some pretty ridiculous things to God. How about Job telling God about how unfair he is? Or David harping on how innocent he's always been? And Jacob actually wrestles with God. I know that truly saying what's on my mind might sometimes come across as irreverent, but, since God already knows what I'm thinking, trying to hide those things won't work anyway. (I'm not saying we should be disrespectful; I'm just saying that expressing ourselves to God is a much better option than acting like he doesn't know what's going on in our heads.)

I've frequently found that when I pour out my heart to God, things get messy. Or, more acurately, the messiness that is already in my heart became much more visible.

In Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis' retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Psyche's sister Orual relates her complaint against the gods. After she has repeated her story over and over again, the gods stop her, and she realizes,
the voice I read it in was strange to my ears. There was given to me a certainty that this, at last, was my real voice.... Lightly men talk of saying what they mean.... When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words.
This strikes me as being a pretty good summary of what happens in prayer, when I'm truly pouring out my heart. I often find myself repeating, "idiot-like," the same concerns over and over, and I'm often shocked to find what they reveal about the center of my soul. Sometimes what I thought I meant isn't really what I meant at all. In prayer, God helps me to realize what it is that I truly mean, and through this realization I begin to change.

It's certainly true that my prayers often focus on things that are not all that important in the whole scheme of things. But they're focused on things that I will be focused on, whether or not I talk them over with God. In Prayer: Letters to Malcom, C.S. Lewis writes, "we want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect but how we should pray being as we now are.... It is no use to ask God with factitious earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with the desire for B. We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us." If I pray merely about the things that I think I ought to care about, I will leave out many of the things that I really care about.

God, of course, already knows all of our deepest fears, needs, and desires. But relationships are built when people communicate with each other, not when people simply know information about each other. If we love people, we lay our lives open to them. If we love God, I believe we should do the same.

Henri Nouwen writes, "God wants to be together with us where we really live and, by loving us there, show us the way to become a complete human being." This kind of prayer is not about telling God things he doesn't know; it's about inviting him to be with us in our experiences and, by being with us, to change us.


  1. Thanks for the thoughts. Ketty

  2. Leta
    This is a very well written and well thoughtout piece. Of course I would expect nothing less from someone of your credentials. :) I appreciated the topic, the sentiments and the manner they were presented in.
    As an aside, did you draft, proof-read, research and then publish the final edit, or does it just come out of you this way?

  3. Thanks for the comments. As for my writing process... I usually write about stuff I've been reading about, which I guess sort of means I've researched it. And I do some proof-reading and editing, although not as much as I'd like. If I waited until I were entirely happy with what I'd written, it would probably never get posted, which would kind of destroy the point of having a blog.