Monday, March 7, 2011

Chapter 18 - Prayer

When we listen to the formal prayers given at church as well as those offered in family and other group settings, we tend to get the impression that our prayers must be that formal and carefully spoken.  For me, the result was that I spent most of my life expressing in my prayers, those things I felt the Father wanted to hear.  Not until much more recently did I discover that prayer should be much more intimate and disclosing than that.
Picture what you would express to a respected acquaintance compared with what you would tell your closest confidant.  Personal prayer should be much more like the latter.
Only when we feel free to approach God with our deepest fears, our most intimate concerns, our broken hearts and our scariest confusion, can we fully address them with He who would deliver us.
I eventually discovered that I could only recover from addiction, by praying while I was using, not just during some remorseful moment afterward.
The first thing Adam and Eve did after they partook of the fruit was to hide from God.  As ridiculous as that notion sounds, we do it all the time.  And, like the ostrich with his head in the sand, we are much more exposed than we think we are.  The purpose of full, open disclosure is for our benefit, not God’s.
Of course we are ashamed of the circumstances we place ourselves in.  Of course we’d rather God not know about it.  God knowing about it is not at issue though.  Certainly He knows.  So, believing in Him and believing He can help, would we not be well served if we just approached Him and said, “Here I am again, doing something that I know Thou dost not approve of.  It doesn’t make me happy.  I wish I could stop.  Oh, Father, what is it that makes me so weak and irresponsible that I cannot quit this behavior.  I am so sorry to offend Thee like this.  I don’t want to.  It’s as though I just can’t help it.  Could Thou please open my heart and mind to an understanding of my foolishness?  Could Thou please grant me a measure of grace that I might overcome my natural inclinations? 
I remember the first time I did this.  It was as though my heart was a smelly can of worms.  Figuratively, I ripped open my chest before God and said.  “Okay, here it is.  I’m ashamed of it.  I wish it weren’t so.  I have no one to blame but myself.  My heart is corrupt and I am mortified by it.  But, here it is.  Would Thou please change it?  Clean it up?  I can’t.  I’ve tried.”
I was sitting in a Sunday meeting once when we were admonished to pray always.  I had heard that admonition often in my life.  That particular day though, it occurred to me that I was always having a conversation with myself.  Why not, rather, have a conversation with God.  Should that require more effort?  I don’t think so.  In fact, practicing it, I have discovered that it actually requires less.
My conversations with myself are usually negative.  Negative self-talk they call it.  In AA they call it “stinkin’ thinkin.”  Here’s a recent example of how that works.
I happened to be driving down the road and noticed someone wave at me.  My automatic response, of course, was to wave back; which I did.  Then the conversation started in my head:  “That was a nerdy wave.  You’ve got to come up with a cooler wave than that!”
I spent the next several miles in the car practicing a “cool” wave and berating myself for being such a nerd.
Had I been conversing with God instead of myself, I’d likely have had a much more positive, productive conversation.  For one thing, God is not about comparisons.  It probably doesn’t affect Him at all if I’m a nerd.
The morning after making this discovery I determined to put it into practice.  I determined that I would converse with God all day and never with myself.  Easier said, than done.  Still I was determined to try and though I quite often had to reorient myself to my new purpose, I did converse with God a good deal more that day.  A good deal more than I ever have.  I began to see myself as Tevye from The Fiddler on the Roof.  I consider him a good example of constant prayer – constant conversation with God.
I was working that day as a delivery driver.  As I approached one of my stops I came to realize that I was going to be in an awkward situation with my “constant prayer.”  This particular stop was a business who had hired a very attractive receptionist.  Other women in the organization were openly displeased that the boss had placed a sexy “ornament” at the front desk.  They felt that her only purpose was to attract ogling men to the enterprise.  They were probably right.  It is difficult to admit, but I had been one such.  She did not dress modestly and she seemed to enjoy being ogled.  Each day as I approached her desk with packages and requested her signature my conversation with myself was one that embarrasses me to recall.
On this particular day, though, I wasn’t having a conversation with myself.  I was being accompanied on my rounds with my companion, the Holy Ghost.  I was conversing with Him.  As I approached the front desk I found myself explaining to God that I was uncomfortable with the situation, given my track record.  I felt the Spirit point out that she was a daughter of God and that objectifying her was just as displeasing as I knew it to be.  When I handed her my clipboard I turned slightly to look elsewhere.  When she returned it I looked into her eyes and genuinely thanked her.  Seeing her as a daughter of God, I felt a measure of respect and concern that had not accompanied previous encounters.
From then on I took my Holy companion with me every time I entered that office.  The next time was interesting.  As I approached she discreetly covered her cleavage with her hand.  Later, she began wearing more modest outfits.  One day, she put photos of her children next to her computer.  I commented on them and how sweet they seemed.  Then one day she made a very startling statement:  “You probably don’t remember, but you used to be my Home Teacher when I was a little girl.”  I did remember, though I certainly hadn’t made the connection.  As we remembered those days, her eyes misted up and I sensed that while she had become a different person on the outside, inside she was still a sweet, hopeful person of value.  How thankful I am to be spending my days viewing life from the perspective of Heaven rather than that of the flesh.
Heavenly Father knows how real our lives are.  He is not na├»ve about out “natural” tendencies.  He desires that we approach Him with honesty and candor.  How can He help us with our problems if we refuse to discuss them with Him?  It is so important that we express our fears and frustrations.   Identifying them before God puts them in a new perspective as He shines the light of truth into our darkness.  Having done so, the spontaneous outflow is gratitude as we acknowledge His hand in all things.

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