Thus far, I have shared some pretty dramatic moments from my prayer life. But most of the time, prayer can be dull and boring for me. I spend much of my prayer time in a cyclic pivot from distraction to silence to distraction again. I admit my motivation to pray waxes and wanes because of this boredom.
I have learned that an experience of God’s presence is not something I can make happen. Actually, God is always present, but I cannot always feel or even notice that presence. Knowing this puts pressure on my prayer because I feel like I “should” notice God’s ever-lasting presence. How can I be “good” at prayer if I can’t even do that?
When I do notice God’s presence, it feels like an accidental gift. This gift comes to me without warning and often without my “doing” anything at all to bring it on. Most of the time, I just wait for God's presence and, like most people, I don’t like waiting. To be honest, if not for the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love, I might give into my temptation to chuck prayer all together. For me, Faith, Hope, and Love transform waiting into something bearable and,dare I say, holy.
Faith challenges me to seriously consider what I believe in. And so, I pray with scripture , read the books of spiritual guides, and go to church. I have definitely felt the assurance of these things, especially communing with others on the journey. Ironically though, what comes to mind during these faith efforts, is not what I believe but what I struggle to believe. I know what our faith teaches but do I always believe it?
These doubts can be like an itch I can’t scratch. And since they won’t leave, and I can’t get rid of them, we trudge along together. This uncomfortable journey has revealed some surprising joy, one that consoles the discomfort of waiting.
What is happening in me while I wonder about my belief? I have come to see that God is happening in me. God is present in my struggle to believe. God motivates the question (or causes the itch) so that I may look harder at (or linger with) what is happening in my own heart. I begin to see who I am at my core and what beliefs I hold there. This place of authenticity somehow inspires patience with my struggles, and confidence in their eventual resolution.
This journey of faith is a murky one for sure, and my trust in God (regardless of my doubt) has grown ever so slowly, but enough to help me stay the course. I can't help but believe this trust is also God's gift for my use as I travel. And I absolutely find clarity when I share the details of this journey with my spiritual director.
Hope is harder for me. In my experience, hope requires much more than thinking, studying, and community prayer. It is an act of my will. When I pray, I want an experience of God, some intercession that will console me, bring clarity, or even, just for a moment, ensure that God is with me. It’s an awesome feeling and, once I have it, I want it more and more. But it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes I have to wait for a long time, and this waiting requires hope.
It calls me to stand my ground and continue to live a life I believe God wants me to live and hope that I’m right, even when God seems to be silent. This is my choice, one that sometimes makes me feel a little silly. Here I am believing in God, living a life in one ministry or another, and I can’t feel even the slightest hint of presence when I pray. My journal is filled more with entries about this dichotomy than of the romantic notions of God smiling upon me with love.
I think the fact that it is my choice is what keeps me going. God is in charge of revealing that presence I crave. I, however, am in charge of my choice to wait with patience and trust. Choosing to hope is my job in our friendship. This makes the earnest, hard worker in me happy. It gives me direction.
Even if the direction is uncomfortable (which it is), I know that choosing to hope is something I can do every day. This choice makes me feel closer to loving God just for God, not for anything else. I can carry this uncomfortable choice with me like a precious secret between very good friends, each doing their part to love each other.
Then comes Love. Do I love God? And does God love me? These are two big questions that can seem impossible to answer at times. In these moments of impossible mystery, I am grateful to have a spiritual director whose presence allows me to wrestle with such questions aloud. In her presence, I am challenged to look inside myself and wonder about God’s presence there.
The reason I can do this and she can be present to it with any efficacy, is because of the love of God. This is because the real spiritual director is the Holy Spirit, whose loving presence in both of us leads us in sharing.
In this loving conversation, the three of us can look with love upon my inmost thoughts and desires. (I have learned over time that God speaks to us through our desires. This is also a tried and true teaching of the great spiritual teacher, Ignatius of Loyola). And even in the dry times of waiting, I can usually identify at least one desire that is tugging at my heart. And, for me, it seems that desire often stems from a foundational wish to be close to God.
When I notice this, I’m almost always brought back to a memory of loving God or God loving me. This memory reminds me why I choose to hope and why my faith survives even when it’s dangling from a thread. It’s because of the love that God continuously offers. A tiny sliver of a memory is enough to motivate endurance, even when praying feels like a whole lot of nothing.
I offer the poem Prayer of Waiting by spiritual director and poet, Patricia Leposa who captures this Love and its effects in beautiful verse:
Throughout the years
In time of loss,
You comforted me.
You brought light
Into the darkest
In time of joy,
You rejoiced with me.
Jesus, You are
In the heat
Of the midday sun
In the stillness
Of the day
To be with you.
For this I pray.
Faith, hope, and love are held as virtues for a reason. They are the gifts from God that help us stay the course in prayer when our lives may otherwise turn us away from God or when we just can't feel God's presence.
In such moments, it is never easy to choose to be led by these virtues. Some might even describe it as a painful choice, and only God knows just how to make the choice work for you. I pray that we all have the courage to make it.
I can attest to the power of these precious virtues. They inspire waiting in an expectant, impatient pray-er like me, and if that isn’t good and holy, I don’t know what is.