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.

  • Sarah

    My favorite line: “This is how prayer is going to beat up my crazy.”

  • M.K.

    Perhaps one extends God’s loving kindness by being kind to oneself.

    I love the shoes! I once read something written by Madeleine l’Engle. She really wanted a pair of gold earrings. She kept thinking about them and thinking about them. And then said in a sort of prayer to God something like, “Aren’t I allowed to have something pretty?” And the response she heard was something along the lines of “Yes, buy them, just don’t spend all the time you could spend with me thinking about them.”

    I’ve always found that story memorable & encouraging. That the thing that was in her way was not wanting gold earrings, it was letting the gold earrings consume her thoughts. Her thoughts were getting between her and God – not the earrings. It is so easy to make a lot of thinking about how bad we are, how we do things wrong, etc. And it is that very thinking which perhaps prevents one from sensing God’s hovering kindness as you say. God is not hovering by, being petty or judgmental, right? “You didn’t pray today! For shame!” I sense it more as a constantly approachable kindness. But if we hold on to those thoughts in which we are hard on ourselves, how can we sense that nearness? The thoughts become a rampart.

  • M.K.

    Perhaps one extends God’s loving kindness by being kind to oneself.

    I love the shoes! I once read something written by Madeleine l’Engle. She really wanted a pair of gold earrings. She kept thinking about them and thinking about them. And then said in a sort of prayer to God something like, “Aren’t I allowed to have something pretty?” And the response she heard was something along the lines of “Yes, buy them, just don’t spend all the time you could spend with me thinking about them.”

    I’ve always found that story memorable & encouraging. That the thing that was in her way was not wanting gold earrings, it was letting the gold earrings consume her thoughts. Her thoughts were getting between her and God – not the earrings. It is so easy to make a lot of thinking about how bad we are, how we do things wrong, etc. And it is that very thinking which perhaps prevents one from sensing God’s hovering kindness as you say. God is not hovering by, being petty or judgmental, right? “You didn’t pray today! For shame!” I sense it more as a constantly approachable kindness. But if we hold on to those thoughts in which we are hard on ourselves, how can we sense that nearness? The thoughts become a rampart.

  • http://www.jasonboyett.com Jason Boyett

    “Nonbiblical guilt-sauce” is the best phrase I’ve read all week.

  • http://fwhite.wordpress.com/ Felicity

    Very nice post.

    Hi, I’m Felicity. I’ve been reading your blog off and on for a while now. I teach spiritual formation classes, so your blog theme is just my style. It’s so nice to find a simple tool to help us navigate the “crazy” of life. This little prayer changes a lot.

  • http://fwhite.wordpress.com/ Felicity

    Very nice post.

    Hi, I’m Felicity. I’ve been reading your blog off and on for a while now. I teach spiritual formation classes, so your blog theme is just my style. It’s so nice to find a simple tool to help us navigate the “crazy” of life. This little prayer changes a lot.

  • Erika

    Hi Micha,

    Couldn’t find you on FB, but found you on twitter and that lead me here! Now you have my email. You raise some very interesting issues! I will read more.

    Erika (and Ruby!)

  • Erika

    Hi Micha,

    Couldn’t find you on FB, but found you on twitter and that lead me here! Now you have my email. You raise some very interesting issues! I will read more.

    Erika (and Ruby!)

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    I also am loving the phrase “guilt sauce” – so perfect. I feel like I have totally lost the way of my own prayer life, so I’ll be asking Jesus to have mercy on me, fill-in-the-blank.

    Also, I really like your commenter MK. She seems to admire Madeleine L’Engle just as much as I do.

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    I also am loving the phrase “guilt sauce” – so perfect. I feel like I have totally lost the way of my own prayer life, so I’ll be asking Jesus to have mercy on me, fill-in-the-blank.

    Also, I really like your commenter MK. She seems to admire Madeleine L’Engle just as much as I do.

  • http://www.thestubbornservant.com Nicole Unice

    I’ve loved the Jesus prayer for a while…and like you, I found it’s power while raising toddlers, the ultimate undoing of every “powerful” woman. I particularly like the fill in the blank suggestion. Great post!

  • http://www.thestubbornservant.com Nicole Unice

    I’ve loved the Jesus prayer for a while…and like you, I found it’s power while raising toddlers, the ultimate undoing of every “powerful” woman. I particularly like the fill in the blank suggestion. Great post!


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