“If in ordinary life we have a favour to ask of someone who has power and authority, we naturally approach that person with due deference and respect. When we come, then with our requests in prayer before the Lord, who is God of all creation, is it not all the more important that we should approach him in a spirit of real humility and a devotion that is open to him alone and free from distracting thoughts? We really must be quite clear that our prayer will be heard, not because of the eloquence and length of all we have to say, but because of the heartfelt repentance and openness of our hearts to the Lord whom we approach. Our prayer should, therefore, be free from all other preoccupations and it should normally be short, although we may well on occasions be inspired to stay longer in prayer through the gift of God’s grace working within us.” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 20, emphasis mine)
Yay! This is the post where I get to tell you how God loves short prayers! Are you excited?
Ok. So do you know the guilty burden you’ve been gripping since 6:30 this morning when you cuddled with your steamy coffee and burrowed into the couch, with just enough time to thank God for the moment of quiet and the steamy coffee and the possibilities of this new day before suddenly (and without warning!), little Suzy who should have been snug in her bed for at least 30 more minutes (according to your calculations) belted out her loudest, most frantic morning scream. (These children know, I tell you. They know when you’re alone and loving it.) Before you can sip the lovely cup of steamy goodness, the child is begging you to play house with her and your husband is late for a meeting and all his shirts are wrinkled and the baby needs some milk. You didn’t pray for long, did you?
Can I tell you a secret? Do you remember the story Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector? The Pharisee was praying excessively (about his own fabulousness) for all to hear. He assumed that he had all the words right and his prayer order was stellar and his theology brilliant, but God didn’t like the heart of his prayer. The Pharisee was false. He had time to pray and lovely things to say, but his spirit was not justified. His prayer meant nothing.
Do you know what prayer Jesus preferred? The prayer of the broken failure of a man, a thief who recognized his need for God, who beat his breast and shouted, unable to even look to heaven, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
One line. If you’re in the place in life where all you once knew of private prayer was a 30-minute silent dwelling and now you can only see yourself as an utter failure (because that NEVER never happens), I’m hoping St. Benedict will remind you today that God loves a prayer that gets to the point. You don’t need to grovel, you don’t need to think of remarkable things to say. Let your heart say what you don’t have the time or the words for, friend. Take Benedict’s advice and let “heartfelt repentance” and the “openness of our hearts” be your starting and ending point in prayer.
And say it quick, because Suzy is hungry and she’ll start wailing soon.