“And then I decided prayer doesn’t work. I asked God for things over and over and He doesn’t do it,” she said as she was sharing her story with me. This was one of the many stakes in the ground on her path toward atheism. Prayer didn’t work.
I have thought similarly during seasons of my life when I thought that God was a transactional god. She’d been devoutly religious throughout her entire life. Two years ago, her spiritual foundation shattered, initiating a spiritual deconstruction.
Anger, disillusionment, her world feeling like it was coming undone at the seams. The deconstruction of her beliefs left her bereft of faith. Her god had failed her. Her religion and leaders had failed her. My empathy toward her intermingled with an ache for her.
An ache for her to open herself to the idea that there could be a loving, just, and kind God. An ache for her not to resign herself to the belief that nothing is true because the church she’d known to be true had failed her. An ache for her to taste the reality that the Creator of the universe is a reckless lover who created us for union with him rather than a transactional existence with a formulaic god.
It’s difficult to unwind from a transactional vision of God when you don’t have a paradigm for God being a lover who has been pursuing his beloved creation—inviting us to return to a life of union with Him since Adam and Eve went looking for life outside of Him. Take the relationality of God away and we’re left with an aloof Creator who sometimes withholds and sometimes gives, reducing us to living a life that unlocks His formulas of favor. And doesn’t.
In this space, we aren’t far removed from the ancients who made offerings to their gods to get what they wanted or needed, in hopes of opening the floodgates of the numerous gods’ favor upon them.
Like much of my theology over the past 28 years, my ideas about prayer continue to evolve. As my view of God as a transactional lover in my formative years matures toward the fullness of Lover (the Father), Beloved (the Son) and Love Itself (the Spirit), I taste and live into the deepening intimacy this brings to my life with God. While reading Opening to God the past several weeks, David Benner has invited me to shift my paradigm of prayer, and God, once again. I know I’ve heard this before, but it’s as if I never had. It hadn’t stuck to me.
If we are honest, most of us have to admit that prayer is often more of an obligation than something arising spontaneously from desire. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that prayer is frequently presented as a spiritual discipline. Disciplines are things that we do not naturally do but feel we should do because they are supposed to be good for us. But our problem is deeper than merely thinking of prayer as something we should do. The real problem and the core of the misunderstanding lies in thinking of prayer as something that we do. Understood more correctly, prayer is what God does in us. Our part has much more to do with consent than initiative. That consent, as we shall see, is most simply saying yes to God’s invitation to loving encounter.
As we move into this reality, Richard Foster writes, “We pass from thinking of God as part of our life to the realization that we are part of his life.” And then every expression of prayer—from silence to tears to petition to listening—is a nourishing communion.
I desire for this reality of prayer to replace the remnants of my old ways of thinking. I want to God’s come to replace my I’m supposed to. So when the shoulds or supposed to’s arise in me, I am inviting Jesus to replace my pressure-filled old ways with my Yes to His invitation to loving encounter. And then I exhale in his light and easy yoke.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’l show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it? Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. —Matthew 28:18-20
Attune to your ideas prayer. Does it feel like a burden, a supposed-to, a solicitation? Practice prayer freedom this week. The sky is the limit when seeking communion with the God of the universe.
Written by Lisa Brockman.
To read more of Lisa’s writing, visit lisabrockman.me. Her book, Out of Zion: Meeting Jesus in the Shadow of the Mormon Temple is available at https://www.amazon.com/Out-ion-eeting-hadow-ormon-book/dp/B07SVCWTCB/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1634829281&sr=8-. Instagram: lisabrockman_me.
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