by Jonathan Janzen
Living From The Heart – Module Four – March, 2015
Book read: Foster, Richard J. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
Well God, you know how I have hated praying for as long as I can remember. You know the reasons for that better than I do. Part of it has to do with off-kilter expectations as a result of speakers and stories I’ve heard in church and elsewhere. Tied to that are disappointments I’ve experienced in prayer. And another related piece is lack of training in prayer. The list could go on, couldn’t it?
What is emerging through my Living from the Heart reading is that at the root of things for me, prayer has somehow become an exercise in self-absorption. It was as if a light bulb went on when I read this piece from Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet:
Prayer is, or ought to be, letting God love us. In prayer we pay attention primarily to God, not to ourselves….But faulty previous training,…or a misunderstanding of the Christian life can lead us to focus primarily on ourselves, and thus to find prayer extremely difficult and painful. Prayer, strangely, becomes a mirror we hold up to show ourselves how awful we are. Every Scripture text, every religious thought, immediately becomes an indictment of our sinfulness…
Such prayer becomes too painful to continue…We cannot endure a prayer that leaves us always liking ourselves less (55).
That’s been so true of my experience. I end up feeling guilty that I’m not praying enough. I kick myself for not learning how to pray earlier so that I wouldn’t find myself blind to your ways and deaf to your voice. I find myself all tied up in emotional knots as I analyze whether I’ve prayed appropriately. And on and on and on. Of course, the focus is on me…
Having said all that, I’m grateful for Richard Foster’s book on prayer. Through him and his writing you’ve been sorting me out bit by bit. I suppose the most significant thing is that prayer is, in a sense, being simplified for me. Foster says that you thirst to be thirsted after (85). In another place Foster writes,
We most often begin by tackling prayer in the same way we have been taught to tackle every other problem—by hard work. We grit our teeth, intensify our willpower, and try, try, try. In reality this is a pagan concept of prayer in which we rouse the gods to action by our many incantations and vain repetitions (96).
Instead, Foster urges us to simply bring ourselves before you just as we are (9). And so—as you well know—I’ve been doing more of that. I’ve been sitting quietly with you. I’m not trying to sort things out. If thoughts or concerns arise, I talk about them with you. If my mind wanders, I try to see if perhaps you were leading me to think your thoughts. You know that I desire to be a better friend with you, so I’m simply offering myself to you, and then letting things go where they will.
The image that comes to mind here is that my relationship with you is looking a bit more like that of my relationship to my wife. In the warp and woof of life she and I will sometimes go a few days without having a major conversation. We’ll touch base on the fly about day-to-day concerns like getting kids to piano lessons and which bill needs to be paid. Sometimes the best we can muster is sitting together on the couch, enjoying a half-hour TV show. And then there are times when we need to set aside time to talk through some bigger decisions. At other times we’ll have space for a good date. All of this is to say that I’m beginning to understand (with the help of brother Foster) that my interactions with you can be similar. That’s tremendously freeing.
Perhaps the most significant way this freer posture of prayer is working itself out in my life is in the area of rest. Foster notes that the literal translation for “pray always” is “come to rest” (96). There seems to be something of a ripple effecting going on here: pausing for ten minutes of “agenda-less prayer” here, being quiet and still for twenty minutes there—those times seem to be making it easier for me to set aside tasks (especially those related to work) and take a day off, or to be more relaxed when I’m at home in the evenings. In fact, on the days when I’ve had my wits about me, I’ve found myself acknowledging that my decision to not do work at this time is an act of prayer.
In other words, I’ve been choosing to rest as a way of praying, and by choosing to pray I’ve been finding myself at rest more frequently. I must say, that’s been sort of weird, but cool and surprising. What’s even better is that my wife has commented on more than one occasion that she’s noticed I’m more relaxed and more present to her and our children—even though the last number of months at work have been particularly stressful!
God, the thought just came to mind that I’ve been experiencing something of what Foster describes. He presents a picture of someone falling into a pool with a thirst-quenching sense of “ahhh” (48-49). It’s almost as if I’ve been easing myself into a hot spring. I’m relaxing more, enjoying your company more, having gentle conversations more, and finding myself rejuvenated more.
Relax. That would sum up what has been happening in regards to prayer as a result of you and Richard Foster.
These are good gifts, Jesus. Thank you.