Presbyterian pastor and writer Frederick Buechner reminds us that the most important thing about prayer is to keep at it. Even when it feels like no one is listening, or when we wonder what, if anything, it accomplishes. Sometimes we stop praying because we don’t know what to say, or we’ve given up when it seems that prayers go unanswered. Or, we stop praying because we feel guilty praying for anything at all when we consider the world and all its problems. Surely God is busy, or ought to be, tending to more important things. Yes, we’ve all been there before.
But scripture tells us otherwise. God wants a relationship with us at all times and places, and prayer is essential communication. If I think God is too busy for me to care about my prayers, then I’ve limited God and my faith to my own understanding. God’s mysteries are unfathomable, as this scripture from Job (11:7-9) reminds me:
“Can you find out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth,
and broader than the sea.”
Yet the story of Job goes on to say that while my head cannot fully grasp God’s mysteries, if I “direct my heart rightly I will stretch out my hands toward God.” Praying is how I direct my heart rightly. In the act of prayer I reach out towards God by speaking from my heart, where my deepest yearnings, fears, misgivings, and doubts live. In that place, I am completely vulnerable before God–no hiding behind faulty logic or shallow intellect or even beautiful words. In silence I wait just as I am. Perhaps God will speak, or perhaps God will sit with me in the silence. Either way, my heart-faith, not my intellectual belief, assures me that God’s presence abounds. I’m not promised that God will answer my prayers the way I’d like them to be answered. But I am promised that God cares about me enough to listen and empowers me to do the same.
Praying, by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
How do you direct your heart rightly?