Stop asking God for what you think you want.
What God is waiting for is not a right conclusion to a matter but for our suppleness in falling into His hands for Him to work in us.Benedicta Ward, Discernment: A Rare Bird
When I ask people what they say to God, they often tell me they ask God to change their, or other people’s, attitudes, behaviours, and situations.
A manager asks God for more patience (with her difficult colleagues).A mother worries about her adult children’s standing with God and prays God will make them come back to church (which bores them stupid).
A man feels guilty that he feels angry towards his husband (who never helps out at home) and asks God to help him be kinder.
A vicar (who is harried by a demanding congregation) asks God to help her enjoy visiting the sick.
A city dweller (who is fed up with the frenetic lifestyle and noisy, dirty streets) asks God for help to find a place to live in Cornwall.
I’m feeling a lot of fear at the moment (more on this another time). I want God to stop me being afraid.
This is the pre-emptive strike. I make my request before giving God an opportunity to comment: “I know what is wrong. Please sort it out.” Not that I think I know what I need better than God does; rather, I fend off being vulnerable with God.
I can expend a lot of mental energy trying to sort things out, alone or in discussions with friends, and never lay the situation before the “affirming source”.
What is going on? What do I fear?
I fear shame and confusion: weakness, fragility, failure: the mess I am. I fear being seen, under judgment. I fear realising that I am not ok.
I fear loss of control: recognising I am not in charge of my life, that there is so much I cannot know, that there are bigger forces at play in the world, that I am powerless to affect so much – my condition, my circumstances, my self.
I fear being loved: love undoes my self-sufficiency; love invites intimacy and honesty; love accepts the reality of me that I cannot accept. I am the prodigal clasped with wild and clumsy arms before my protestations of remorse. I fear this love will dismantle me.
The preemptive strike upon the Divine daintily side-steps these alarming realities.
I don’t believe we can let go of our fears. When we come with our fears, “yielding not to an alien will but an affirming source”, we find that God is trustworthy. Ultimately we are safe, accepted, affirmed, empowered.
So, how could prayer go? Perhaps like this:
- What is the situation? How does it affect you? Imagine laying it out in front of you.
- Acknowledge your fears.
- Now show it all to God. Talk to God about it. Be as honest as you can bear.
- Wait and listen with as much trust as you can muster.
- Do not assume to know the right answer, the right course of action, or what you (or others) need.
- How does the situation look as God looks at it? What is it like when God sees you? What is God’s response to the situation? How does God respond to you?
- Wait. Listen.
And now what happens?