Three and a half years ago, I shared about my almost-nonexistent prayer life.
I talked about how it’s hard for me to pray while in a perpetual state of doubt as to who, if anyone, is listening. More than that, I shared my fear of being transformed, challenged, and changed in the act of prayer. In short, I fear the intimacy it calls me to experience.
After this summer, though, my prayer life changed in dramatic ways.
It changed, because I finally decided to stop trying to save the world.
Back in June, I went to a vigil to honor the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting. The participants met in front of the circuit court building as a summer storm brewed in the distance. I saw a few people I knew, but they were with their own friends and families, whereas I had come on my own. There was a group prayer and a few speakers.
But in the midst of all of this, I felt a deep loneliness.
I felt no fire in my bones, even though the circumstances under which we were gathered caused me great grief. The speakers’ words, meant for empowerment, encouragement, and action, went in one ear and out the other. An oncoming storm threatened to crash the party, so while a good number persevered through the rest of the event, I slipped out.
I got into my car, and as I drove home through the torrential storm, I wept.
I cried tears of exhaustion, with myself and the world around me. I wept, because I went to the vigil seeking empowerment to save the world, but all I found was the same message I had heard elsewhere: those people are bad, we are good, and if we could just do this, then everything would be OK. The meeting had an agenda, and my grief wasn’t part of it. I only saw a need to control the world out of deep fear and anger, and it finally sank in that this was not enough.
So in the car on the way home, I decided to give up on saving the world.
Instead, I decided I would start praying again.
At the time of this vigil, I was halfway through a couple of courses on spiritual formation, which involved group and individual prayer and spiritual direction every day. A different student or professor would lead worship each morning, and we concluded our day with examen, in which we reflected on how we noticed God’s presence in the day. I took a class on spiritual direction, which involved both giving and receiving direction with my classmates. I took a class on worship and how it must be handled with care and joy when teaching a congregation how to do it well. We went on a retreat soon after I experienced an intense weekend of anxiety, and the practices I engaged began healing my wounded and weary soul.
Initially, re-engaging with prayer was exciting and life-giving. But as I continued, I realized that in the act of praying, I do something I fear and hate: I submit.
As a female leader, men and women alike threw this word at me like a weapon, demanding that I remain subordinate and let the men do the hard work. But this isn’t the submission to which I am referring.
I realized when I pray, I submit my desire to be God.
I want the control that prayer calls me to relinquish. When I meditate, I allow myself to relax into God’s presence, which requires me to let go of my desire to control the experience. When I pray the morning prayer from my Book of Common Prayer, I ask for God’s will to be done, not my own. Every practice of prayer is an act of surrender to God.
But I don’t want God to be in charge, because I don’t always trust that God knows what’s best for me or the world. God seems too slow to bring about the change and growth that need to happen now.
This is why the story known by many as “The Fall of Humanity” is irksome to me. I am angry that God punished humans for seeking to be God-like, because most days, I think I could do a better job. If God won’t do the work that needs to be done, why shouldn’t I? Every day, I pluck the fruit from the tree of knowledge and put it on my lips, but before I take a bite, I challenge God: “If you don’t want me to be like you, then start doing your job right.”
This might be considered blasphemous, but I doubt I’m the only one who does this.
I keep trying to pray, though, and do what I can to push through all the resistance I put in my way. I do this not to earn points with God, but because I know how much I want control everything and how little control I ever have.
I can’t control people or most of my circumstances. I can’t control the students in my Sunday School class, my family, my friends, or the weather. I can’t control the election, the Church, or the decisions made in those contexts. Some days, I feel as if it’s hard to even control myself in the midst of my obnoxious, intrusive thoughts.
But when I pray, I remember that I am a creature, not the Creator. I am a creature with my own flaws and failures, strengths and beauties, and as I am, I am enough for what is before me. When I remember that I am a creature, I can stop trying to be the Creator. I can, day by day, word by word, breath by breath, begin relinquishing the control that was never mine to have.
I continue to pray, and as I do, I hand the fruit of knowledge back to God and even let God touch it.
I still hold onto it, though.
It’s a work in progress, and I’m trusting that there will be grace enough for the journey. I’m going to need it.