Breathing The Jesus Prayer

I met with my spiritual director, Debby, yesterday morning. Have I mentioned yet that she’s my hero? I have this amazing gift of becoming a weep machine every time I talk about anything that matters to me. So, in our few Tuesday mornings together, poor Debby has dealt with way more tears than any spiritual director probably signs up for.

Yesterday was less teary than our meeting two weeks ago. That’s probably because when I met with her last I was in the thick of prayerlessness, feeling like August’s sleep issues were thwarting my ability to connect with God. It’s the same lesson I’ve been learning over and over: My relationship with God doesn’t have to be determined by my son’s depth of need. Whether or not I’m satisfied with the amount of time I have alone in prayer or study, the lack of that early morning time doesn’t shoo the Lord out of my day. I have an unhealthy sense of God’s disappointment in me, which probably stems from all the times in youth group I internalized some nonbiblical guilt-sauce about how God was disappointed in me every morning I didn’t have a “quiet time.”

Yesterday morning as I started my time with Debby, we sat in silent prayer and I sensed God’s nearby hovering. The words that came to my mind? “The presence of the Lord is KIND.”

Kind. Not angry. Not disappointed in my failures as a mom or as a woman of prayer. But kind.

So, how do I begin to retrain my mind to actually believe in God’s kindness toward me? I need to pray. And I need to do it in a way that doesn’t require silence. Because Lord knows that if I’m lucky enough for the boy to sleep till 7 and disciplined enough to get out of bed before that, I still only have thirty minutes to pray in a silence. In order to be a praying mama, I need help.

Debby offered me a prayer I already know. It’s called The Jesus Prayer, its words taken mostly from Luke 18:13, when Jesus praises a tax collector who actually understands more about prayer than a showy religious leader. As the tax collector beats his breast in humility, he prays, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The Jesus Prayer, then, is this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Debby’s encouragement is that I simply begin to use those words as a moment by moment connection with God. As I wash the dishes: “Lord Jesus Christ…” As I walk up the hill with August: “Lord Jesus Christ.” Soon, she says, speaking those words to the Lord in my mind will become such a consistent act that the words will constantly be underneath what I’m saying or thinking or experiencing.

What I love most about this practice is a little addendum Debby learned from a friend who, as she gets to the word “sinner,” leaves it as a fill in the blank. In every moment I thought to pray these words yesterday, it was usually pretty clear what I was.

As I walked back from our long distance parking spot, thinking about how much I needed to accomplish in my writing time that afternoon, I prayed: “Have mercy on me, a worrier.”

As I nearly lost my temper with August and his new game of “scream at the top of your lungs while you run up and down the hallway!” I prayed: “Have mercy on me, I’m quick to anger.”

While we strollered over to Macy’s so I could return a couple of shirts, I realized that for a couple of blocks of walking, I’d been hankering after those new red and white striped Tom’s wedges in my mind. “Have mercy on me, I’m vain.”

The beauty of it is how exposed I feel in those short prayers and how in that exposure, I am clinging to mercy. This is God’s kindness. In the midst of recognizing my own reality, my own need for healing, I may just come out of those moments of prayer as an actual believer.

And that, my friends, is how prayer is going to beat up on my Crazy.

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