Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hope and Pray

I want to talk about a spiritual disconnect that occurred to me the other night when I was...sort of actively engaged in it. It is the disconnect between hope and prayer.

I find it difficult to pray under the excited burden of hope. It feels like here I am again, coming to God to ask for something I think I want in a season in which I think I want it. Begging for a specific door to open. Talking His ear off, wanting this thing so desperately to work. I have never liked those kinds of prayers because I think that cheapens, to some extent, the relationship I want to have with God. It's not that I cannot ask for the things I want, but a truth I've come to realize is that when I pray for the worldly specific - this thing or that one - I miss out on something wholly (and holy) special that may be unfolding right before me.

It's like praying for a certain man to look your way, certain that he would love you the way you want to be loved. Maybe he would. But the real prayer for God is not your want of the man; it's the want of the love. It's like praying for a certain job, an application you've put in and had your fingers crossed since. Maybe that job would be perfect for you. But the real prayer for God is not your want of the job; it's your search for purpose and place. Those are a couple of common examples from the heart of a woman. I just...when you try to pigeonhole God into your life the way you want Him, it seems you miss out on your life the way He intends it. So I don't like those kinds of prayers.

Which isn't to say I don't pray them. It's a series of stages, I think. My gut instinct is to pray such a prayer - a prayer for a specific thing. These days, when I hear that instinct rising, I pull back and consider the bigger questions. I think about what I'm hoping that thing will speak into my life. I think about why I want it, particularly that thing, and what it might mean to have it. Then I pray about the bigger thing. As time passes, however, and a certain thing is not coming, I start to panic and just repeat obsessive prayers about the thing because I know the window is closing.

That's the curse of time. As time passes, you become aware that the time is passing and may soon be past and that the chance for this or that particular thing to happen is dwindling fast. Soon, there will be not even a sliver of a chance. Soon, it will be over. Soon, you will know that you've missed this chance. Rather, that it has passed you by.

It's not a good moment. It's hard to accept that certain things could just...move on. That they wouldn't even stop for a heartbeat to entertain the idea of us, especially when we have so fervently entertained the idea of them. There are things that seem perfect to a's hard when those things are foolishness to God. Where is faith in all of this?

It's still in the prayer. In the contrite heart that bounces back and forth between knowing there's a bigger question but still holding tightly to the little thing. In a heart that hates itself even as it hears yet another prayer for the same old thing that just isn't coming, but maybe there's still time. In a heart that wants to ask the bigger question but is afraid of the emptiness it might discover. So it puts the emptiness off into this thing we call "hope."

This is really what I realized the other night. This hope thing. Because I was lying in bed trying to figure out how to pray again for the aching of my heart, which was in one sense tied to a very tangible, specific thing (an opportunity, perhaps) but in another sense was begging for the affirmation of calling that had seemed so certain only a few months ago. I was caught between the bigger question and the little thing, and my heart of prayer was paralyzed. And somewhat defeated. After all, it's not like I hadn't been praying about this very thing for a few weeks now. I closed my eyes and considered the time. Not that it was almost 10 p.m. but that the time was passing and was almost assuredly now past, and I came to the hard realization that with each ticking second, it was more and more likely that this certain thing had passed me by.

And yet, I am the eternal optimist, and I don't count anything out until after the door is locked, deadbolted, chained, and a dresser pushed up against it. In my heart, it's not enough to just slam the door; you have to really convince me I'm not getting in before I give up. So in the same breath that I resigned myself to passing time and came to some measure of peace in my spirit, I also found I was holding out hope for the improbable. It was not, however, a spiritual hope. It was not a holy hope. It was a fanciful hope, a way to put off answering the emptiness that would be revealed in the resounding silence that seemed to be answering my prayer.

I realized that in general, my hope lasts longer than my prayer. This is the spiritual disconnect.

For what is hope if it is not rooted in the relationship of man to God? What good is it to hold onto a thing so tightly that you wouldn't have open hands to gracefully receive it? Hope without faith is....magic, at best. It's a belief in...what? The universe? Some other god, for certain, whatever you may call it. There is no hope without prayer. I firmly believe that. Although I'm not entirely sure I can articulate any better exactly why. 

It's hard for me because I still thing agonizing prayers of hope are often shallow (not always, but often). It's a product of my fallen nature that, despite having written the book (ha!), still doesn't always know how to pray. It's wanting so desperately to ask, but knowing the question is bigger than I even imagine it to be. And hoping to stave off the emptiness for a little while longer when perhaps, what I most need, is for God to speak into the resounding silence.

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