I had no earthly idea whether the expensive, organic, Kombucha drink I bought the other day, in its shimmering glass bottle, was actually going to “reawaken, rebirth, repurpose, redefine” me the way the label promised. Honestly, that seems like kind of a tall order. Still, you should have seen me striding around that supermarket, drink in hand, feeling like the healthiest, prettiest, most socially conscious gal ever to walk those aisles.
I know perfectly well that I didn’t buy it because I thought it would be good for me. I bought it because I knew it would make me feel healthy. And did it ever. For the duration of my shopping trip, I felt like a whole different person, like the kind of person who is just brimming with good health and confidence, and has really shiny hair.
Well, I am realizing that I’ve been doing just this sort of thing with my prayer life too. Trying out a prayer or habit because of the image I associate with it — because it makes me feel more like the kind of person I wish I was — holier, more humble, more intelligent, more dedicated, more zealous.
I suppose God has been rolling his eyes at me for a while now. Except, scratch that. God can handle a little inauthenticity from me, I think. Heaven knows it’s nothing new. But that attitude can’t be his preference.
So many of us are constantly aware of how we are coming across, even when we’ve already gone “into our inner room [and] close[d] the door, (Mt 6:6)” as Christ said to do. Even when it’s just me and God alone together, good grief, I’m still thinking how I am coming across to him. This attitude must be exactly what Christ wanted us to avoid when he told us not to let our “left hand know what the right is doing” (Mt 6:3).
Yesterday I was standing in front of my crucifix, hands on my hips, and actually yelling at Christ, as he was hanging there. I was telling him that he had to do something, he just had to. Didn’t he see how bad I was hurting? Didn’t he see how utterly incapable I was of solving this problem myself? I told him he wasn’t allowed to stand there on the sidelines anymore. I expected more of him.
A large part of me was utterly appalled at myself, and I almost sat down and shut up. But I thought I heard a tiny, quiet voice in my head saying, “Hey, it’s okay. I can take it.” So I went ahead and let him have it. And, don’t you know, it was a lot better than the rest of my prayers lately, since there haven’t been many of those. When I was done yelling, I realized something. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I hadn’t been thinking of how I was looking to God. I was actually just interested in talking to him. I didn’t give a second thought to what kind of prayer it was, whether it was anything but shocking and laughable, me standing there and lecturing my Lord.
Maybe, by the grace of God, I’ll learn to do more of that kind of praying this Lent — forgetful of everything but God — forgetful of my dignity, my image, and my carefully chosen words. God can take it. Actually, maybe he even prefers it.
Prayer has got to be about seeking God, not about seeking us. I could say a hundred rosaries, but if I did it because I love the way it makes me feel, more holy, more dedicated, or (God forbid!) more deserving of God’s love, I’m not sure it would do much good. God would take it, patiently as he always does, and bring some good out of it, I am sure. After all, God can make something out of nothing. But that’s just what I would be giving him with that kind of self-serving prayer: nothing. Maybe God would be more pleased with my prayer if it’s less about how that prayer makes me feel, and more about having a conversation with him, even if it means he has to listen to fewer polished phrases, and a lot more yelling.