Friday, August 21, 2009

The Art of Being Still

Being still does not come easily to me. Oh, I can sit still with the best of them, but quieting my mind is nearly impossible. I am constantly thinking about something, if not multiple somethings. There is so much "noise" in my brain, and I've grown so accustomed to it that I don't know how to tone it down.

When I was dating my husband, I remember riding in the car somewhere with him in silence, looking at him and wondering what fascinating thoughts must be in his mind. Upon asking that common question "What are you thinking about?" (which I rarely ask anymore), the reply was "Nothing." "No, really," I said. "What are you thinking about?" I couldn't comprehend that someone could really be thinking about nothing. And the battle for a more peaceful mind rages on today in my spiritual life.

I'm convinced that, despite my struggle to do so, it's essential that I spend time periodically making a specific effort to be quiet in God's presence and listen to Him or just enjoy being with Him. Or to empty myself of everyday thoughts to make more room for praising His attributes.

The question is, in the midst of our cluttered lives, mentally and otherwise, how can this happen?

Getting out of my house and away from other people tends to help me, though it happens very rarely. Finding a secluded area in a (safe!) park gives me a connection with nature and removes me from anything that might call to mind my to-do list. Even in those circumstances, though, my mind wanders. Sometimes I try to find one single thing to focus on, like a flower, so that I can weed out the junk from my mind.

What I'm really curious about, though, is how can this state of mind and soul be accomplished on an everyday basis, in my own home? If you've got something that works for you, please post it in the comments. Thanks!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Prayer's Block

It all started an embarrassing number of years ago when I heard a radio reading of the day's My Utmost for His Highest devotional. My dad was struggling with yet another health issue, and moments before I had been praying that God would heal him and just let my parents enjoy their remaining time on this earth after all they've been through. Cutting through my previous understanding of prayer were these words (excerpted from May 3 in the book):

"...we may find that our obedience to God in intercdeing is going to cost those for whom we intercede more than we ever thought. The danger in this is that we begin to intercede in sympathy with those whom God was gradually lifting up to a totally different level in direct answer to our prayers. Whenever we step back from our close identification with God's interest and concern for others and step into having emotional sympathy with them, the vital connection with God is gone...Identification with God is the key to intercession, and whenever we stop being identified with Him it is because of our sympathy with others, not because of sin...It is sympathy with ourselves or with others that makes us say, 'I will not allow that thing to happen.' And instantly we are out of that vital connection with God."

Honestly, I'd always thought of "emotional sympathy" for others as a good thing. Really, it's that concern for others that motivates me to pray for them in the first place. I hear of a situation and imagine what it would be like in that person's shoes. I empathize. I am moved to pray. To me, muting that sense of concern would hinder my ability to love others as I should.

But it got me thinking (and has, on and off, ever since): what if what I think is best for someone isn't what God considers best for them? What if He's allowing a difficulty in someone's life to make him stronger in some way, to draw him closer to God, or to make him better able to minister to others?

We can easily agree that God's plan and mine are not always the same. Which leads to another question: How can I see things more in tune with God's perspective? Chambers makes it sound so simple, but for me it seems much harder to lay aside my bias. I don't like to see those I love experiencing any suffering.

These questions have plagued my prayer life periodically since that day I happened to turn on the radio. The result -- a serious case of prayer's block. I've had no shortage of prayer concerns and requests. In fact, I've got lists and lists of them. But my problem isn't the what as much as the how. As I bring my mind and heart into supplicational prayer, I've become so insecure about what to request that I have sometimes given up. It's become quite a roadblock in what is already a stumbling point (spending large chunks of time in prayer has never been easy for me, which I'm sure I'll mention in a future post).

One approach that has been helpful to me has been to look at the prayers in the Bible for inspiration. Paul, in particular, often focuses his prayers on spiritual blessings, so I often pray for those types of things (see Ephesians 1:17-21, for example) for those who request prayer.

Recently, I've determined to push through the blockage by cutting myself some slack and letting myself pray without so much analysis. I won't push aside the issue because I think it's worth consideration, but it's not necessary to let it hold me back so much, either.

I don't remember where, but I once read that prayer is like hanging out a "Help Wanted" sign for God. That's exactly what I'm doing internally and externally right now -- God, I need your help, every moment of every day, in every way. It's definitely a state of being.

I have some other "prayer's block" issues, too, that I'm not touching on now, such as "do my prayers actually change anything?" but I'll leave those for another day. I am reading Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey right now, so I'll probably wait untiI finish it.