This chapter begins the 2nd section of the book, Reclaiming the Present: Stepping Stones on the Path Out of Despondency. Boy! Do I need this 2nd section! Some practical tips to help me out of this sticky mud!
Chapter 5 on Prayer and Despondency, for me, hits home the fact that my intense struggles in prayer are indeed deeply rooted in this sin of despondency. As I read through this chapter yet again, it was particularly hard hitting. It became ever so much clearer to me what my struggles really, truly are.
The effort involved in prayer hangs on us like heavy, oppressive scales. Slowly, prayer—and the sense of obligation we attach to it—becomes deadening rather than life-giving, atomizing rather than relational.
Have you ever felt this way? Honestly, I feel so embarrassed to admit it, but this is me! I have struggled with these feelings for so long and constantly get so frustrated with myself…”what is wrong with me?” It is so comforting to know I am not alone and that it really is a struggle with a vice, just like any other. The difficulty with this one is that the answer to all vices is prayer, is God, and yet it is praying that we struggle with. But Nicole is saying, it isn’t prayer itself….it is the effort of prayer.
One reason prayer conjures up heaviness within us is that we forget what it is—and what it isn’t. We forget that it is not a “should” or an “ought”; it is life itself. (emphasis mine)
If I could just remember this. If I could engrave it on my mind and heart. Maybe then it would become easier.
Nicole decides to start with prayer as the first steppingstone on the path out of despondency because it is the perfect foundation. She reminds us of St. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;”
We must begin with prayer, and in everything, pray.
Nicole goes on to say success in prayer is more about coming back after screwing up. Getting up, again, and again, and again. We must “keep on in our pursuit of the Kingdom.”
One of my favorite sentences of this entire chapter…
The Resurrection is everything. It is the hope and joy and answer to everything.
Nicole teaches us that prayer has sides: doing and being.
The “doing” of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate, the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer.
The other side of the coin is “being” in prayer. This is the deeper, interior mode of prayer.
What struck me in this section of being and doing was when she talked about monologue vs. dialogue. We all know the difference between a monologue and a dialogue, right? Well, in prayer, a monologue happens when we are just saying stuff, to say stuff. We aren’t really there. We are “doing” the prayers but we aren’t “being” in them.
We may say some words, light some stuff, do some crosses, but we’re not actually there, and we don’t care to be. In many ways, this is the more deceptive. We’re doing nothing less than what we’re supposed to be doing—but also nothing more.
This kind of prayer is fruitless. This kind of communication in any relationship is fruitless.
…but sadly it has come to characterize the way many of us engage with the people around us, not to mention God. We assume we are having conversations and relationships, since we go through the motions of talking, nodding, and responding, but indeed we are stuck inside ourselves, unable to listen or be available to others.
We do this in all relationships including God. I admit to times where I am listening to someone and suddenly I realize I’m not sure where we are in the story. Just like as I read my prayers and suddenly realize I’m half-way down the page but not sure how I got there. I’m stuck inside myself!
And lastly, we are reminded that it is in the little gestures, the little remembrances, that truly cultivates our relationship with God. Any relationship really. Nicole points out that the cultivating truly happens each and every day as we turn towards God over and over and over.
Prayer may not happen only at the appointed time or in the “official” ways. [or in grand displays of emotion and perfect prose] Maybe (hopefully) it also happens when we see a beautiful flower, or when we look in the face of our neighbor. All these things, I think, are moments of turning toward, at least when we remember to perceive them that way.
But we should be honest: we forget a lot of the time. It’s not prayer we forget about—that’s always there, in the back of our mind and on our to-do list, nagging us to follow through so we can check it off our list of accomplishments. What we forget about is the turning. And we forget to be repenting because we have already repented. And sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) we forget about God altogether.
This reminds me so much of my meager efforts to learn to kindle joy. My learning to “look up” and notice all the little things God has gifted us in His beautiful, awesome creation. To notice the flowers, the trees, the sky and all the varied formations of clouds, day in and day out. The streams and the mountains. In noticing these things I am reminded that Christ is everywhere, He is present, and He fills all things. And He is in every moment, when we remember to see these moments.
Nicole ends this chapter with this…
It is in prayer that we learn not only how to reoccupy the present, but more generally how to mark time. It is the way we come to see, gradually and dimly, the life-giving potential of each moment.
There were certain parts of this chapter that I had to read again and again. Not just to grasp but because I want to hold to it. To engrave it in my mind and heart.
But my biggest take-away?
It is the daily turning toward God, over and over and over and over again. And not just standing in my prayer corner, but throughout my day, over and over and over again. Finding Him everywhere present and filling all things. I need to dialogue with Him. Over and over and over again.
What was your biggest take-away?