Wednesday, June 19, 2013

truest self.

I've had a few pastoral care conversations this month
that echo one another.

I don't think God hears every prayer 
and I don't think God necessarily cares.

I feel bad because I'm usually asking for stuff when I pray 
and I don't like to be needy.

What's the point of praying, anyway?

Anne Lamott has three prayers: help, thanks, and wow. I have three prayers, too: ugh, why, and yahoo. Prayer can sometimes feel too casual or too awkward. It can be used sparingly or you can sound like a broken record. You might feel like a crazy person talking to yourself or a selfish brat for making it all about you.

Sometimes I try to list a bunch of stuff about other people before I get to the crap about me because I feel bad for only praying for what I want and need.

When people confide in me about this stuff, I get (what my mom calls) diarrhea of the mouth. I have a billion mediocre metaphors and ideas waiting to erupt and I have to remember to slow down and listen. And in listening, God reminds me to pull out the Holy Resume.

These big questions about prayer and relationship and our worth in God's eyes call for a careful examination of God's reputation throughout history and in our own lives. And so, instead of playing court lawyer, I try my hand at storytelling.

God doesn't just invite people to pray, God commands us to pray.

While the Israelites are wandering, figuring out what their new identity is, God breaks in several times to give them a narrative. It always begins with, "I am the Lord your God. I am the one who brought you out of Egypt..." and then it emphasizes how deeply they are loved and that God wants to know and love them well. This, of course, requires communication and relationship.

But it's not like our human relationships, and so we wrestle with what it means to be vulnerable with one who already knows our darkest secrets and selfish hearts. It's scary to think that our toolbox for making friends and being amiable doesn't really apply in conversation with God. There's no one to impress and no narrative to create with the one who created stars and mountains and you and me.

You think your prayers are boring or selfish or infrequent or simple? Stop ranking them. God's tickled that you're in conversation instead of distant apathy. God never demands eloquence or fancy diction. Some dialogue is better than none at all. Some relationship, however awkward or confused or doubt-filled is better than building golden calves or the silent treatment.

Jesus prayed in private, in groups, and gave us the gift of the Lord's Prayer - a template when you have no words. It's filled with needy and honest petitions that give us permission for all that asking.

And so what if you think you sound selfish? God already knows how selfish you are. And what if, because God created you, God sees that selfishness as beautiful honesty. "Oh, my Meta. She holds this stuff in around other people - even close family and friends - for fear of being too needy. But she bears it to me and is willing to be her real self in my presence!"

Our neediness and selfishness is endearing and adorable in God's eyes...because God knows how hard that vulnerability is for us. God knows we need to be truly known in order to be fiercely loved...but that this becomes risky business in our human relationships.

Okay. Maybe. But it just doesn't make any sense. 
Why does God always do things the hard way?

And then I proclaim that God is crazy. God is like a swooning 14 year-old girl who just can't get over us even though we keep breaking her heart and jerking her around. God is in the unhealthiest of all relationships because God keeps choosing to do stuff with us and for us. God keeps calling us into the master plan, using our hands|feet|hearts, and making something beautifully messy out of God's beauty and our mess. It's literally crazy and, according to the Holy Resume, God gets tired and frustrated with us all the time, but will never break up with us.

If I were God's mother, I would get a restraining order, change our phone number, and find a wonderful family therapist. But I am not God's mother and God has instead called me to be the well-intentioned boyfriend with shady tendencies. 

(Whoops. See? I slipped out of storytelling mode and into a half-baked metaphor already.)

So you really believe this stuff?

Yes. I really believe that praying matters and God listens and the Holy Resume proves that God is in it with us. You're right - God always does things the hard way, but it's only hard because we're so damn difficult. And isn't it good to know you're praying to someone who knows how high maintenance and selfish and lovely you are? Someone who will stay in the thick of it with you no matter what?

I guess.

And then we pray. Because that's the only way God can get me off my soapbox - out of conversation about God and back into conversation with God. 

Sorry I went on and on there.

Why do you always choose the difficult path?
And why do you keep hanging in there with us?

Thank you for making her brave in asking those questions.
And thank you for listening to her...whether she believes you do or not.


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