When my wife was initially diagnosed with cancer, we immediately called our Bishop. We sat in the living room as my wife spoke of her pain, her diagnosis, and upcoming journey through chemotherapy. The Bishop listened gracefully and patiently. The only question he asked her pertained to her prayer life. In raw honesty she told him that she had been unable to pray since she had heard her diagnosis. She deeply wanted to pray; Prayer, however, just didn’t come.
The Bishop responded appropriately. Instead of instructing her in the finer nuances of prayer, or exhorting her simply to “try harder,” he ran to his car and fetched some prayer beads. He handed them to my wife and said, “It’s ok if words don’t come. Simply rub your fingers over these beads. It will be enough.” For the length of her chemo-journey, and for a long time afterwards, this is exactly what my wife did.
What I hadn’t realized during this visit was how much Iwould struggle with prayer during this time. Each evening I would sit in my chair and attempt to close my day with prayer. Yet I would just sit, prayer didn’t come, or if it did it felt hollow and empty. It felt as if there was no content to the prayers I offered. Every ounce of “me” seemed gone. I would tuck myself in bed afterwards thinking that my time of evening prayer was a waste; I did nothing, I said nothing, I prayed nothing.
The feeling that our prayers are hollow and pointless can be frustrating and disheartening. Our prayerlessness seems condemning and irredeemable. We find it difficult to claim the very grace that we so easily proclaim to others.
Why is it that we believe claiming grace in discouragement is negative and condemning? Why do we equate grace with failure? Why do we tend to believe that true Christians never call for help, never find themselves in struggle, never struggle with prayer? All of this is untrue. There is no shame in grace. Claiming God’s grace is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. It is a bold and radical act of trust. We reach out to the one who sits with us, who incarnates himself in the very depths of our hurts and struggles.
A newborn child need not earn her parent’s affection, attention, or presence. The child is simply called to be who the child is in that moment, in all need and vulnerability. This does not speak disparagingly about the child; rather it speaks to the intimate relationship between child and the one who is bigger than her. When we feel we cannot pray, our heavenly Father extends grace over us. We are given the grace to simply sit in need, in hurt, and in vulnerability.
Our spiritual lives are never static, and thus neither are our prayers. There are times when we are drawn us into great intimacy; where we feel caught up in God’s blessing and grace. Then, there are the times when this blissful connection is less apparent. This is the nature of a life of prayer. The good news is that grace surrounds us in every moment and in every prayer.
Are you struggling in prayer? What might it look like for you to claim grace? Instead of trying to push through your discouragement, perhaps all that is needed is to strip away all vestiges of performance or earning, and engage in the simple of actions. Simply sit with the one who sits with you. No matter what your prayers feel like, the love of Jesus remains, and out of that love flows his grace.