Yes, I’m still here, still struggling away 🙂 and if you are reading this, perhaps you are too. May God bless us and sustain us in our struggles.
I found myself intrigued by the very first excerpt from the Fathers for this chapter, in which St. Macarius addresses the question of whether we should force ourselves to pray if we feel no inclination to do so. This is a very rich question for our spiritual lives – so I thought I would begin typing and see where God leads.
(I discovered a little dialogue developing in me as I pondered this question and it went something like this:)
T: Of course you must make yourself pray, whether you feel like it or not! If you wait until you feel like it, you will probably never pray.
S: But what is prayer for? Isn’t prayer to be the loving union of my heart with God? What kind of lover forces themselves to be with their Beloved?
T: That is valid point – or so it seems on the surface. But how will you come to know God if you wait around for your “inclinations”? With human loves, you have factors such appearance and personality to naturally attract you to want to be with the other. God is different.
S: Yes, it is different with God. But isn’t it true that God seeks us out? I’m not going to get to know God by my own efforts, forcing myself to recite prayers or attend church services. If I feel the inclination, I see that as God calling, inviting me to be with Him.
T: That desire to pray, to be with God is a gift and an invitation. But I am wondering about this…if you do not push yourself to pray, might you not fill up your time and your thoughts so much that you could fail to notice some of the invitations?
S: Hmm… I can see how that could happen. But I also don’t want my prayer to become a bunch of empty words or rituals. I see too much of that. People say the words to get them said but it seems like their hearts are far away. If I force myself to pray, it seems like my heart won’t be in it.
T: It seems like it would be that way, doesn’t it? And that can happen. But the opposite can happen too.
S: What do you mean?
T: Have you ever forced yourself to do something you really didn’t feel like doing out of love for the other? Something like getting up in the night with a baby or listening supportively when you’d rather be doing something else?
T: Was your heart “far away” when you did these things?
S: Sometimes. At least, at the very beginning. Inside I’d be irritated and complaining.
T: And then?
S: Well, then there usually comes this point where I, like, surrender and accept that this is how it is. I’m going to do what I don’t want to do instead of what I do want to do. There is a sudden feeling of relief and the love pours into my heart. And I know at that moment that love is more important than all of my other wants.
T: And this is why we should pray even when we do not want to. As difficult as it is, this time of prayer is when we begin learning to surrender our will. This opens us up to greater love.
S: But why are you always talking about surrendering my will? I don’t understand. Aren’t there enough people in this world trying to crush each other’s wills? Does God demand this too?
T: No, He doesn’t. It is not a demand.
S: I don’t get it.
T: As you yourself said earlier, God invites. He invites you into His love. He has already surrendered His will in an act of love for you.
S: Oh. That’s right. Jesus didn’t want to suffer and die.
T: He most certainly did not. But He surrendered His will. And now He invites us to do this same.
T: What kind of “loving union” do you imagine you could have with God, if He surrendered everything to you and you didn’t give back?
S: Yes, yes. I see.
S: But how can I pray, what can I say or do, when my heart feels cold or my mind is distracted or my body is tired and bloated?
T: The exact words probably don’t matter so much. But you can begin with, “God, help me pray. I want to pray.” Or, “God, help me to want You more.” And remember not to judge your “success” but simply do your duty – the duty of love – which is to attend to the Beloved regardless of how you feel.
S: God, help me pray. Thank you that I can pray. Help me want to pray.
(May all be blessed and welcomed into prayer. Share any comments or questions – though I may be offline for a couple of days.)