Chapter 8 – More on Struggle and Constraint, pp. 181-187

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.

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(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?

S: Sure.

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.

(pause)

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.

(pause)

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.

T: Amen.

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(May all be blessed and welcomed into prayer. Share any comments or questions – though I may be offline for a couple of days.)

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3 thoughts on “Chapter 8 – More on Struggle and Constraint, pp. 181-187

  1. “my heart feels cold . . . my mind is distracted . . . my body is tired” — could these very words become prayers? Or at least prayer starters?

    I hope so. They come to mind a lot. As will from now on, I pray, that final series of pleas from “S” (Who are those two persons anyway?)

  2. Yes, yes, yes! Wonderful ways to begin praying. To begin where we are rather than where we think we should be. Acknowledging our weakness, or as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus would say, our “littleness”, is so important, because it is then that we allow God to help us. I often forget this.

    However, I am learning that when I start at these points and ask God to help, He does. Sometimes (when alone) I have even said out loud to God, “I want to talk to YOU, but I’m not. I’m just thinking my own thoughts. Help me talk to You.” And He does.

    It seems that when my prayers don’t get answered, it is because they were never uttered in the first place. God is just waiting for me to ask, to move a little bit in His direction.

    (I just made up the “T” and “S” designations, T became like the teacher and S the student in the dialogue. However, they were both parts of me and both teaching and learning in the process.)

  3. Talking aloud to God: I have done that spontaneously only a few times and then out of frustration and disappointment with my myself, my hollow repetitions of formal remembered prayers while my mind was drifting elsewhere–and it seemed to change everything. For once prayer seemed real. Short, but real. Honest, Simple.

    I’m sort of afraid to try that deliberately, as part of what some call (but I prefer not to) a “prayer rule.” I fear that talking would eventually become just as shadow and cursory as the other. Besides, what if someone hears me, or sees in the mirror my lips moving energetically in the car behind.

    (I almost added, “that’s how sorry my prayer life is.” But I heard in my head a warning, and a reminder to reread the blog entry above, then go back over the others–often.)

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