The troubled man scarcely bothered to take a breath as he poured out his unhappiness over his host of issues. He was a true victim and wanted me and others to share in his pain. And, yes, it was painful!
What I knew from many earlier conversations was that the present 30 minute survey of his broken life (and he, indeed, has a number of challenges) would be similar to those that had gone before: it was massively lopsided. In our exchange of words my few comments were swamped by his sea of concerns. My sole role, I knew, was to say every now and then, “Oh, that’s terrible!” or, “I’m so sorry for you!” Prior efforts in many earlier conversations to confront my friend’s self-consumed pathos, or to redirect our themes to some more constructive pathways, had always been met with anger and more self-pity.
As for the main theme of this call—“where have all my friends gone?”—I already knew the answer: they had to get on with their lives! My friend would call regularly until they were driven to despair by his demanding neediness. So, one-by-one, the bonds were broken. They had all given up on him—even though some were truly compassionate care-givers.
Why am I sharing this downbeat report? Let me respond by asking another question: How do many of us treat prayer?
Is there a balance between our speaking and our listening? Or do we pour out on God all our neediness and insist that he solve things as soon as possible? I ask this because the prayers I often hear in church can be as lopsided and self-concerned as my friend’s plaintiff calls are. And, with that comparison, I can’t help but wonder how our truly compassionate Lord feels as he listens to us. If he’s at all alert he must know that his only proper responses are either, “Oh, that’s terrible!” or, “Okay, I’ll get right on that for you!” Responses, by the way, that would actually undermine his standing with us.
What if, on the other hand, our prayers are meant to be part of a much bigger conversation? What if our new life in Christ has opened the door for us to be included in God’s own Triune communion? So that our variety of challenges and concerns are well known by the Father and are being engaged by the Son? Would that invite us to start asking some real questions and to start offering heartfelt reflections instead of just listing our woes? Could our prayers lead to a real conversation with God in which he begins to open our eyes to see him more clearly and to know him more fully?
Job, for instance, certainly had real issues. And as he poured out his complaints he managed to drive all his friends to silence. But not before they beat him up with angry—and unfounded—character charges. We the readers know all along, of course, that God was not only aware of the issues; he was the ultimate instigator of Job’s troubles as he pulled Satan’s tail to stir an attack. And by the end of the book we find that Job finally shut up and started to listen. God then sharply challenged him; yet this part of the conversation generated huge growth in Job and, potentially, in all of us.
I’m sure we all can engage God as better listeners; and ask our questions or make our requests in light of what he has already shared about himself. Why, for instance, do the Scriptures call on us to tell God, “Thank you!” as a refrain for everything else we pray? Is it because that’s an appropriate response to our being invited to share in the communion of God’s love as we speak?
So let me end with a question to you, the reader: how do you pray? Can you offer some relational insights about how prayer has become a lively and life-changing part of your faith? Is there a pathway out of our self-obsessed litanies into something more mature and satisfying?
If you have any prayer insights to share with us, insights about how prayers are part of your own real relationship with Christ, please comment!