Have you ever struggled with your prayers? Ever struggled with what words to say, or what form to use? Ever wanted to grow in prayer, but just did not know where to start? You are not alone. Prayer is one of those things that we all struggle with. Even the holiest of saints have experienced frustration and discouragement.
When we are discouraged in prayer, we often believe the way forward is simply to master a technique. We believe the problem is one of form or wording or form. Yet in doing so, we make the matter of prayer far more complicated and difficult than it needs to be.
So, how ought we pray in our times of discouragement? We pray in love.
Without love, prayer is dry and lifeless because it is masked by whatever façade of “appropriateness” we place upon it. Without love, prayer becomes rooted in a fear that we will not be received, not be heard, not be responded to. Yet this goes against the scriptural witness. Jesus receives us as we are, not as we should be. This assurance is not applicable only in times of blessing and thanksgiving.; it is also true in the places where our prayer voices what we would otherwise hide. Love gives the boldness needed to approach our Lord in prayer.
Of course, we are not talking about thin sentimentality. Praying in love is not about masking feelings or denying discouragement. In Christ, God entered the fullness of humanity. This means that it is the fullness of our humanity that is offered in our prayer. God’s love, poured into us, allows us to expose the unkempt and ugly parts of our spiritual lives. In love we can be confident that we reach out to the one who receives us. Like Job and Jeremiah, we can scream and cry; like Mary and Martha we can question.
This is akin to any relationship in our lives. The love of friend, family member, or spouse invites us to articulate our struggles or hurt. Love unlocks lament. Love allows anger and frustration. Love never hides away or masks what is uncomfortable.
To pray in love means we do not pray in duty; rather we pray out of a heart that yearns for Jesus. Prayer opens us up to be filled with Christ’s love. Praying in love rests not in words or forms; it is the cry of the heart. Thomas Merton once wrote that we must believe that the desire to please God does in fact please God. The same principle applies to our prayers, particularly in the times of spiritual discouragement. In prayer, we daringly believe that the loving desire to pray, regardless of whether we can muster words or not, is in fact prayer. It may even be the deepest form of prayer we have ever prayed.
If you are reading this from a place of discouragement, a place where your prayers seem all dried up, dare to believe that this prayer of love is the prayer that Christ invites you to explore. In bold and radical trust, hold before the Lord the fullness of your life, the good, the bad, the raw, the painful. Offer to Jesus the tapestry of your experiences. Rest in the firm promise that, in love, you will be received and accepted.