I’ve been stuck in moving my prayer life to another level of intimacy with God. Recently, I started this spontaneous conversation with myself that I think gave me a few small breakthroughs.
Someone needs to read this, I feel. Someone else may be bored. Maybe someone needs one part of the conversation I had with myself that follows, and someone needs another part. But I felt like I needed to get this out there. Moreover, it’s a good example of the power of questions to get you looking in places you need to in order to judge your heart and let God expose your attitudes for their transformation.
Journaling entry: I’ve had to face the fact that to some extent I’ve been avoiding these studies [my Ignatian prayer exercises]. I’m avoiding the frustration, the sense of failure, the feeling of pointlessness. I thought last night to myself, “Would you be better at finding time for these exercises if they were a joy and blessing?” You bet. But now, as I reflect on that, I have to respond, “So what?” Does it have to be?
[And now starts an extensive dialogue of truth telling with myself, and self coaching]
Me 2: So God wants our relationship with Him to be boring.
Me 1: Of course not. He wants us to press in to find the true relationship.
Me 2: Feels like a lot of unnecessary work. What about, “Come to me all ye who are weary?”
Me 1: Don’t ask me. You may have to work hard to be able to look back in the end to realize you didn’t need to work at all.
Me 2: That makes a lot of sense, partner.
Me 1: Then how about this: God is strengthening you and in the yoke with you as you seek after Him.
Me 2: Nice and poetic. If he were with me in the yoke, it shouldn’t be necessary to seek Him, then would it?
Me 1: I didn’t think of that. Then maybe you are overlooking Him and He really is right there with you.
Me 2: I’ve never suggested God has abandoned me, at least not that I am aware of. I just don’t understand how to cooperate with Him in this dance. He has called me to, if I could jump metaphors.
Me 1: Brilliant. So it feels like tilling, and God wants you to see it as a dance.
Me 2: That would be great if I had a lead partner. Feels like I’m taking all the initiative.
Me 1: Then stop it immediately.
Me 2: Stop what?
Me 1: Stop doing whatever feels like you driving the agenda.
Me 2: Who’s driving the agenda in my doing these prayer exercises?
Me 1: You tell me.
Me 2: I took it as God ordaining them for me in response to the cry of my hear for intimacy with Him as I submitted to His man for the hour in my life, Bill O’Byrne.
Me 1: Don’t get it. God gave them to you, but He was “responding.” That’s not the role of a lead partner.
Me 2: Don’t confuse me. God put the thirst there, didn’t He?
Me 1: Sure.
Me 2: I don’t get credit for the thirst this much is plain to me, and for which I am very thankful, because fundamentally I have no other explanation for why it’s there, but by His initiative. So does that mean He took something away so as to give it back later when I most acutely felt the need and could appreciate it?
Me 1: I thought I was asking the questions.
Me 2: Sorry.
Me 1: I’ll turn it back into a question: Did He take it away, or did He just withhold it in the first place?
Me 2: It’s certainly not like I’ve never experience God’s love, care, forgiveness, etc., but I have this deep conviction that there’s another level of Him that I haven’t yet known or experienced. So in that sense, withheld is appropriate.
Me 1: So it sounds like we have established that God has given you a thirst for Him that He has also chosen to not yet satisfy.
Me 2: Fair enough.
Me 1: And beginning these prayer exercises was not your initiative, but God’s.
Me 2: I suppose, but the actual doing of them has become tedious and more to the point, one-sided.
Me 1: You don’t sense God’s participation in them?
Me 2: Heck, I don’t even sense my participation. Well, I take that back in part. I have tried very hard to engage the material, and even this has brought many blessings, but at the crucial point – communing spirit to Spirit with my Lord – it falls apart. There was only about one glorious moment when I felt God’s Spirit leading my meditations, and that at the very beginning a year ago now.
Me 1: All work and no play?
Me 2: Something sets me off about your use of the work “play.” Like I’m expecting a reward here.
Me 1: Well?
Me 2: I want to be as honest as possible here. It’s just that I wonder whether these exercises are built for me.
Me 1: Any evidence of that?
Me 2: Just my responses to it. Maybe it’s that there’s a missing skill in being able to slow down and focus on God and his leading, etc., that I have to learn.
Me 1: And these exercises are supposed to do what?
Me 2: Well just that I guess. But they haven’t after a year.
Me 1: Have you somehow taken the initiative away from God?
Me 2: You tell me.
Me 1: You’ve said they are work and that you are giving input with little output.
Me 2: Sounds like I have. And yet, what alternative is there?
Me 1: Who’s driving this dialogue [that we’re having now]?
Me 2: God, which is ironic, given the fact that He is ostensibly not included.
Me 1: Why do you say it’s God?
Me 2: Because it feels fruitful like it has a flow of its own.
Me 1: But you’re using your brain.
Me 2: Yes and no. The conversation is passing through my brain, but I’m only trying to record what is going on up there.
Me 1: Up where?
Me 2: If I say “in my brain,” then you’ll say, then how can God be driving this conversation? And if I say “in my spirit,” then you will wonder why the confusion. How about I say, the Spirit is helping my brain get renewed and come into agreement with it?
Me 1: Sounds like a kind of left brained process the Spirit is taking, wouldn’t you say?
Me 2: A condescension to my limitations.
Me 1: How is it different from journaling when you dialog with God more directly?
Me 2: I guess not substantially. Maybe the additional advantage of freeing me up from wondering is this from God or not. What’s your point?
Me 1: You accept one as valid, so why not the other?
Me 2: It’s valid for what I’m doing today, but doesn’t magically make me able to jump into the right-brained way of relating to God.
Me 1: Meditation, visualization, letting Him guide the process.
Me 2: Precisely, I stink at that.
Me 1: So let God teach you.
Me 2: I’m all ears.
Me 1: Don’t look at me. I said let God teach you.
Me 2: Just tell me how to let Him.
Me 1: First stop taking the lead.
Me 2: Back to this. What does that look like? Didn’t we establish that doing the exercises are a given?
Me 1: So it’s how you do them. Where exactly do you trip up?
Me 2: I don’t know if it’s in quieting my spirit, being able to focus on the subject matter, or being able to let Him take the reigns in the meditation.
Me 1: You don’t know after recording over 150 of these?
Me 2: The 1st and 2nd ones are almost the same thing. I need to add another though – engaging all of my being.
Me 1: Which means?
Me 2: I sometimes have thoughts/meditations that may even be God-led, but they feel like I produce them because they are without my emotional engagement.
Me 1: What’s the difference between your mind wandering and God leading the meditation?
Me 2: Sometimes, maybe, nothing. Sometimes obvious backwash from the day. The point is I can’t control it.
Me 1: And should you?
Me 2: These are spiritual disciplines, right?
Me 1: What sort of discipline, then?
Me 2: Trick question, right? To make me a disciple, right?
Me 1: Keep going.
Me 2: And a disciple is a follower.
Me 1: Who administers discipline? The child?
Me 2: Never thought of it that way. So God is disciplining me to let go of control.
Me 1: Sounds like a winner to me.
Me 2: Except that I said I was not in control.
Me 1: Based on what you said above, wouldn’t you say your emotions are controlled?
Me 2: They are usually placid, if I can use that word. But once in a while God opens them up and I experience an acute awareness of my need or sin or of His grace and greatness.
Me 1: And are you happy with placid?
Me 2: No. I’ve long said that there is joy bottled up in me that would more regularly flow if I could find out how to unplug it.
Me 1: So the “plug” controls them.
Me 2: If you press me.
Me 1: And who controls the plug?
Me 2: Maybe Satan? Just kidding. So I have to find out why I am plugging them.
Me 1: Or let God show you.
Me 2: You know what I meant.
Me 1: Can’t be too careful about these things. Anyway, are we done for today?
Me 2: Bear with me friend. This is easier said than done.
Me 1: Oh, really?
Me 2: You want me to just ask Him?
Me 1: You never cease to amaze me.
Me 2: I guess I’m a little scared.
Me 1: Of what?
Me 2: So what if it’s not the right moment?
Me 1: So what if its not?
[Interrupted for lunch. Two days later, during the last two hours of a personal retreat:]
Me 2: Obviously, that wasn’t the moment.
Me 1: The point is God will take care of those moments.
Me 2: Fair enough. I think I’m ready today.
Me 1: What are you aware of having gained from your time in prayer, silence, and listening to [the recording you got of] Graham Cooke on the way over here?
Me 2: From GC the theme was the “suddenlies” of God. God does things in our lives to call us to a whole new place of being and living, and we may have no preparation for its coming. But, he underscored, that doesn’t take away the need for process and discipline. But it reminds me that God like to intervene in our rhythms and “mess with” our thinking to get us to a new place. So I’m eager for God to do such a number on me. I prayed over these things in the park, and asked Him to do some “suddenlies” in my life, Diana’s life, [my brother] Jonathan’s life. I also thought about the Czars and their families, who are no longer who they were, owing to some national “suddenlies” back nearly 100 years ago, that when God calls us to a new place or calling, we can never be demoted, but by our own sins, and even that may not be a demotion, because God knew our hearts all along. God views me, as GC said, through future lenses, so all attempts to view external roles as a measure of God’s favor are suspect at best. There are some spiritual laws, however (this is me reflecting now, not GC), such as sowing and reaping, and that of stewarding little to get to steward more. So I’m not looking so much for a big ministry (though I sometimes do say I want to be highly leveraged) so much as I want not to miss the lesson of the hour. I want to speed up my learning curve, and I know that the key to this is my relationship with God. Now here I go again sounding like I want the relationship as a means and not an end itself.
Me 1: Where did your logic break down?
Me 2: Well asked. I don’t see that, but when I step back and analyze it, it seems to break the rules.
Me 1: When you analyze.
Me 2: Then I’m just going to shut up and let God show me when I get out of line.
Me 1: My thinking exactly.
Me 2: Can we get back to the emotional plug?
Me 1: Is that where you heart is today?
Me 2: My heart is on being where God wants me so He can do what He will do.
Me 1: Are you where God wants you to be?
Me 2: I’m remarkably at peace about the shape and direction of my ministry here. I’m not at peace about my intimacy with God.
Me 1: I didn’t ask about peace. I want to know if you are in the right place.
Me 2: And how do I know?
Me 1: Are you under conviction about being someplace else?
Me 2: You don’t know how much I want to answer that in terms of God’s work, the end result of my relationship with Him, so I see your trap. You want me to accuse God of not doing His part.
Me 1: Can’t put one over on you.
Me 2: Since I’d be happier with God, if he would hit me with some Alka-Spirit to get me over my cold, but I’m not aware of any fundamental disappointment.
Me 1: Then how do you feel towards Him?
Me 2: Confused, if honest. And I hate it when my clients use that word.
Me 1: At least it gets us started.
Me 2: The thing is, I know there is more of God for me, and I know I need it. I know He’s doing a lot of good and important work meantime to strengthen me. Ask me if I 100% trust Him to give it when I need it.
Me 1: You beat me to it.
Me 2: Well, you notice I already said I need it. So there’s a disagreement between the employee and the Employer.
Me 1: Anything you can do about that?
Me 2: The easy answer is repent and tell Him I’ll take His position from now on. GC used another term this morning that got me thinking. “It’s the kindness and mercy of God that brings you to change your way of thinking.” He’s so good at that kind of thing. That acknowledges the fact that a mere prayer of repentance does not mean a change of heart or a way or pattern of thinking. So I need some more kindness and mercy, it would seem. Any idea where to fill up on some of that?
Me 1: Can’t say as I do. Let’s re-visit…. No, wait, maybe this is a good place to ask Him Himself. what do you say?
Me 2: Gird thy loins, self.
Me 1&2: Lord, you Word promises that your kindness and mercy are what lead us to change our way of thinking. Obviously my way of thinking is wrong, since I am thinking you need to be giving me something I don’t have now. What do you want to say on this subject, Lord?
Lord: Son, your thinking is good. I love your brain, since I made it, and I have given you the ability to figure out things may never know. This one thing I ask of you: Dwell in my house, all your days, and I will show you sides of me and my nature that will amaze you.
Me: Sounds so long, Lord. Have I not been dwelling with you, even in my pitiful own ways?
Lord: Yes, you have.
Me: I feel you pulling away, even now.
Lord: No, your fear is pushing me away.
Me: Take it away, Lord. Help me trust you more. I can’t stand the thought of being estranged from you.
Lord: That’s your fear. How does that line up with my Character?
Me: Where did it come from?
At this point I got a rather direct and startling answer. It’s a bit personal, so I won’t share it here, but I’ll be looking into it further, to say the least, to confirm or not what it’s about.
Now, anyone who reads this will find a hundred things to question. I’m just trying to share with you some of my process. I’m a work in progress here; bear with me.