“We could actually have earnest religious beliefs which remained barren because we were still trying to play God ourselves. As long as we placed self-reliance first, a genuine reliance upon a higher power was out of the question. That basic ingredient of all humility, a desire to seek and do God’s will, was missing.” Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
This quote pretty well describes one of the current frustrations in my spiritual life. I have very earnest religious beliefs, but I feel alone, empty, and barren. When I pray, I’m not praying, “only for the knowledge of God’s will, and the power to carry that out.” I’m praying for my own earnest and well-intentioned will. I’m praying for blessings for myself and others. I’m praying for my version of how the world should be. Even when I acknowledge that God must work to accomplish things in my life, I’m still placing self-reliance first because I’m using God to accomplish my version of things. I’m not truly surrendered to God if I’m telling Him how to do His job. A genuine reliance upon God is out of the question as long as I keep telling God what to give me, what not to give me, how to bless others, etc. As Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew, if we who are evil know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will God give to us (Matthew 7:11)? Do I really think I know what’s better for me and those I love than God does? I must, because when I pray that’s exactly what I’m saying: “God, this can’t be your will that my family and I are losing our home; please save it for us! Oh, and it can’t be your will that such-and-such people are suffering, so give them whatever they need…Oh, and…” And on and on I go.
As I write this, it occurs to me that my demands upon God that He should shape the world according to my will is another form of denial: I deny that I am not in control by trying to use God to control things; I deny that I am not God by assuming that a formulaic prayer, or ‘naming it and claiming it’, will get me exactly what I want as if I were God; I deny that there is pain and suffering in life by praying for pain and suffering to cease; I deny that God has a perfect plan for this broken, hurting, suffering world by praying that the world be whole and healed and happy. My prayer life is not surrendered. I am not relying upon God; I am relying upon my personal version of “god-in-a-box”, that big slot machine in the sky that will give me exactly what I want if I pull the right lever.
I once heard a man named Ram Dass speak on the subject of blessing and suffering. He noted that we all recognize that life’s greatest blessing is suffering because of the learning and growth that occurs during times of trial. He also noted, however, that most people don’t pray for suffering, “unless they’re really advanced,” because it goes against human nature to desire suffering. And yet, looking at human history through the lens of Scripture, don’t we see that God’s greatest blessings often came after or through times of intense trial and suffering? How can we claim to be God’s people when all we do is pray for blessing and relief? I’m not suggesting that we pray for suffering, per se, but we should acknowledge that suffering is often part of God’s will and plan.
I must abandon my self-centered, self-seeking, egocentric, good-natured and well-intentioned prayer life for a life of true prayer, the kind of prayer that is truly committed to praying only for knowledge of God’s will, and the power to carry it out…no matter what His will is.