Yesterday I sat down next to my pastor and friend Josh and he asked me how my studying was going. He had just spent the last weekend very articulately and wisely making a compelling and academic case for the Bible. It’s a fine balance, someone who can present at a high intellectual level on huge topics like the trustworthiness of scripture and yet invoke in a congregant the honest truth of questions. I know Josh has well formulated answers to all my questions, and yet he would so silently listen to my elementary angst and find ways to relate to my struggle.
I told him that this whole contemplative prayer study was not working or I was doing it wrong, but either way I was really missing the lesson in it. I explained the ways I tried to pray like I believed God listened and responded when I’m just not sure he does, which feels more like pretending and less like faith. I described the only thing that has changed in me which is a deep grief over the brokenness of this world from mass shootings to lost loved ones, and how things have affected me in a disproportionately personal way so all I can utter is, “Lord have Mercy”.
We explored a couple of ideas, the first being that it may be that I am not naturally wired to experience God in this way. Just like anything else in life humans variate on what ways of interacting with God they’re more inclined towards. The idea we explored was that contemplation isn’t an end in itself. Prayer is only meant to change us so that we become compassionate for the brokenness of this world.
I was talking to my friend Annette about this at dinner tonight. She would tell me sometimes that she would wake up in the middle of the night with a deep empathy for someone and find herself praying for them. I have been on the receiving end of this prayer many many times before and it has always meant so much to me, so much that I wish I could be that for others. But I can't figure out how to.
I’m on these hormones for our IVF treatment and they are giving me insomnia. Typically I’m the type of person that could pretty much always sleep. I never wake up in the night, fall asleep quickly and could probably nap every day too if I had time and no goals. Sleep and I have a happy relationship, we welcome each other with open arms and I’m pretty sure people that have a hard time sleeping hate me, because I brag about my long nights of unconscious bliss. So Annette hates me a little I think, she would never say that but when we shared a bed in New York and she fell asleep at sunrise I can’t help but think she glared at me across the darkened room for leaving her alone in the wake.
The universe is paying me back for all of my cat-like sleeping so now I get to stare at my ceiling and contemplate life’s great questions while the hours slow to a snails pace. I got up the other night at 4:00am and started doing lunges around my house, because why the hell not? I read a book, watched a few episodes of Gilmore Girls (don’t judge me, I can’t handle that right now), did some instagram stalking, laid in pigeon pose for a while and finally sleep found me…for a hot second.
When I woke up again I remembered how Annette uses her time to pray for people. I thought about how generous that is and the great use of the endless minutes in the middle of the night. I thought about using my time wisely like her, then I got mad about being awake and went in the living room to waste more time. Ok so I failed.
The hard thing about intercession is that is really forces the question of God’s intervention. I cannot say with any sense of clarity whether or not God intervenes in this life, essentially whether or not prayer changes things. It seems to passionately pray for someone means that you believe that your prayers will do something, that prayer is not in fact, only a tool used to change who we are but could actually change circumstances. I told you about this woman I have been following on instagram who has five children and her husband has been sick with stage four melanoma. They are very young and vibrant and he was a body builder and now looks like a pre-pubescent boy. I have been watching him slowly loss the battle with cancer via social media and although I have no idea who this woman is I cannot stop thinking about what a tragedy this is. It’s really weighed on me in abnormally personal ways and when she finally posted that he has passed away I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking of her and repeating, “Lord have mercy.”
I cannot say if this prayer mattered or if was just an unharnessed amount of empathy, but if there is anything to say to the brokenness of this world it’s that, “Lord have mercy.”