Category: prayer

a happy button

I wish there were a happy button. You know, a button on the inside of you that you can push, and there you go, you’re “happy.” I don’t have one of those. I’ve often heard talk of such a mythical thing. You’ve probably heard it too – “Choose to be happy, you deserve it,” something like that. Every time I hear that, or something like it, I wonder where this mysterious happy button is and how it works. Does it actually work that way for some people? It’s in their “chooser?” They get to just make up their minds and choose to be happy?

I find that incredibly hard to believe. Impossible, actually.

First, or second of all, whichever number, this happy we speak of today, in this culture, here, now, is really just a construct. I don’t believe it’s something that exists in and of itself. I don’t think it floats out there waiting for us to grab hold of it and stuff it inside ourselves. It’s an idea which has developed over time, and we have come to collectively believe in it.

Now, even if it did exist somehow, in the way we think about it, to think that we can reach through the deep complexity of our human existence and simply “turn it on” is, honestly, kind of ridiculous.

Certainly there are things we can choose. We can choose, most of the time, what actions we will take, or not take. Even that is more complicated than we often imagine. But, sure, we can maybe choose to do more things that are positive as opposed to negative. We can choose not to speak when we obviously shouldn’t. We can choose not to drown ourselves in dark things when we feel (those of us who struggle with such things) the darkness coming on (and it does just “come on” for mostly no reason). I don’t have to close the curtains, turn the lights out, and listen to The Cure and The Smiths all day, or God forbid, Bright Eyes or Elliott Smith.

Yes, we can choose some things – for some things and against some other things. But I would be in favor of banning the phrase, “just choose to be happy,” or anything quite like it.

Wrapping this deal up, I’ll say this: As a Christian, I would echo both Scripture and Tradition by advising that we pray always. Never stop praying. If your prayer is simply groaning to God, not knowing what to say, do that. If you can only mumble the memorized prayers of your faith training, do that. Throw your hands out wide and let your heart speak. Do something!

I’m not that good

Have you ever prayed the Psalms? I mean, not just read them like “reading Scripture,” but prayed them as if they are your own prayers? If you do or have, you have likely come across some interesting passages. Interesting as in, not very comfortable to pray out of your own heart/mind/mouth. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about…

Though the proud may utterly deride me
I keep to your law.
I remember your decrees of old
and these, Lord, console me.

I am seized with indignation at the wicked
who forsake your law.
Your commands have become my song
in the land of exile.

—Psalm 119

Sounds good enough, right? Praying that, though, as myself, makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I certainly do not always keep His law (even the new Law of Love). I’m not so perfectly good that I sit around being angry at all the wicked folks around me. Uhm, David, you may need to chill.

I think we fairly often take too much of Scripture like this as prescriptive, as something we should emulate, simply because it’s “in the Bible.” Sometimes, we are reading thoughts and prayers of those who are thinking and praying out of brokenness, out of sinful self-absorption. In other words, David (or whomever wrote whatever Psalm we may be reading/praying) may be writing/saying things that aren’t necessarily good – that aren’t things we need to think or pray.

Sure, we should read them as part of the purposeful message of God to us. We should understand them as something God wanted us to see, to take in, in the context of everything else. But we can’t always be seeing everything that is written as a positive example for our own internal direction.

So, read the Psalms, please. Pray them – I would encourage you to do this. Let the prayers become yours, as you are able. But understand them as they were written. Get that David was pretty messed up a decent bit of the time. He was scrambling for God like we all do, and he didn’t always get it right. He may well have thought too highly of himself from time to time. Mostly, though, we see that other side balancing things out – the humble side – the yearning for God as the deer pants for running water side. This, I believe, is what we should allow ourselves to be drawn to.

prayer and expectation

Prayer is not always comforting. It does not always cause great Peace from above to flow into our souls, our minds, etc. Prayer is not always what we want it to be, what we expect.

Expectations can be a touchy, dangerous business, whatever they’re aimed at. All the more in prayer, probably, because of the mysterious, not entirely knowable nature of what we’re doing. “I will pray this nine times a day, and ‘X’ or ‘Y’ should happen, will happen, must happen!” Well, no, not necessarily. As we are able to perceive things, “nothing” may happen. What and how things happen is something we would do well to admit we don’t fully understand.

One of the best things we can do with and in prayer, I think, is to tame our expectations. Even when we are praying something we think is “Scriptural,” we may well not be grasping everything we need to in that particular instance, in our particular situation, etc. We don’t know everything. We know very, very far from everything. The sooner we get that straight, the less worn out we will be in this whole deal.

Pray. Pray in different ways. Pray, as the saying goes, “as you can, not as you can’t.” Pray with words. Pray with thoughts. Pray in silence. Pray with others. Pray using a book. Pray with beads in your hand. Pray walking through the woods. Just pray. And don’t get too caught up in what will or will not happen when or as you pray. I promise, if you do, you will get your proverbial bubble burst.

Sure, ask for things, expect things, but don’t make that what it’s all about. Again, go in knowing that you don’t know. You don’t know everything, even about your own situation. You don’t fully understand how God does things. Many things remain hidden to us, but are nonetheless, very real.

So, be humble; modify (not lower necessarily) your expectations; pray in spite of not feeling anything or getting what you want in the way you want; realize that your perception of how things are working out is very imperfect. Trust.


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