Psychotherapist Carl Rogers said, "What is most personal is most universal."
What we think we alone struggle with is often that which most connects us to our neighbor. This can, of course be taken to its narcissistic extreme, meaning I come to believe that whatever I think, feel or experience is exactly what others think, feel or experience. But at its most true, Rogers' words simply mean there is something wildly communal about the human experience.
Makes me wonder if my questions, my confusions about prayer are possibly yours, as well.
I was pondering prayer this morning during a slow yoga class wherein the bulk of our time is spent holding yoga poses for several minutes, all while focusing on our breathing. Though I was supposed to stay "in the moment" my mind did not seem to find obedience to this task interesting enough, so she wandered just a bit. I found myself holding a pose, breathing deeply and thinking about prayer.
"What are the basics," my mind asked me? "If you could dumb it way down, what would you be left with?"
As I breathed, these are the phrases that came to mind:
Believe - First, I must believe there is a powerful and good Force willing and able to hear my prayers.
Seek - This Force (let's call it God) must be sought. Seek first a relationship, not just an outcome.
Ask - Once there is some sort of relationship, asking for what one wants or needs seems possible. And if God is big and sovereign and good, asking for what one wants or needs seems sane.
Trust - This is where it gets hard. After I ask, I need to try to trust. Trust that the ask was heard. Trust that the ask was received. Trust that something that looks like an "answer" will be offered.
Wait and Watch - I lied. THIS is where it gets hard. God's timing is not my own. God will not be hen-pecked into acting. God will move God's hand in God's good time. My job is to wait and to watch with both patience and anticipation. I am bad at both waiting and watching.
Surrender - I lied again. THIS is where it gets THEE MOST hard. After I ask, after I trust, as I wait and watch, I must also pray the most profound prayer that can be prayed: "Not my will, but Thine." For receiving answers to prayer is not like receiving the groceries you order from the delivery service at Wal-Mart. Not even close. Receiving answers to prayer is more like opening a series of surprise gifts given to you by your friend, spouse or parent who rarely buys you things off your wish-list, but instead picks out exquisite and surprising gifts you didn't even know you needed.
I breathed my way through the rest of the yoga class, repeating these words in this order. My mind found focus. I used these phrases to help myself pray for people, circumstances, seemingly hopeless situations. It helped me remember why I pray. It helped me remember that it is sane to pray. I helped me remember that asking is the easy part of prayer. And it helped me remember that waiting, watching and surrendering are the real work of a praying soul.
Believe, Seek, Ask, Trust, Wait and Watch, Surrender ...
That was a good yoga class.