Contemplative prayer can be one way that we are filled to the full measure of the fullness of God. Most Christians have not been prepared to understand or experience the love of God in this personal, immediate way.
As an evangelical, I learned about God’s love as one doctrine among many to affirm, a fact to be grateful for, and something to reciprocate. God’s love was something I could experience in theory, but devoting ten, twenty, or forty minutes a day to God’s presence and love was far outside my experience.
If anything, I was trained to be suspicious of anyone who makes too much of love; I thought such people were at risk of losing sight of the many boundary markers that defined a “faithful” Christian.
Duty and devotion may prove motivating for a little while, but for many Christians, resting in God’s love, quietly waiting on God’s love, or patiently enduring the silence of a dark night of the soul sounds a bit off. The church fathers and mothers would certainly be astounded to see such a large segment of the church cut off from these practices and so fearful of even trying them.
Christians have been trained to be full of many things, but love is rarely one of them. As a result, we are anxious wrecks who prove ourselves as insider if we are able to condemn the wrong people and to welcome the right people. We sign doctrinal statements and cut ourselves off from anyone who deviates from them.
In much of my evangelical theology God was often detached and mechanical. I struggled to pray because I couldn’t imagine that the God I’d studied and tried to serve actually loved me. Was this God actively reaching out to me? Was this God willing to hear my prayers?
As I struggled to pray, I assumed that either I’d messed things up beyond hope or God wasn’t real. Some days it felt like a relief to not believe in that God.
The God I found in the writings of modern Catholic writers and the contemplatives from church history who influenced much of their writing revealed a very different kind of God. When I received God’s love first instead of trying to earn it or prove myself worthy, I could finally find the freedom to pray and to experience God’s transforming presence in my life.Jesus wasn’t disappointed in me. If anything, he was the heartbroken lover longing for me to come back to him.
The Psalms tell us to wait patiently on the Lord. I used to read that as a kind of passive-aggressive move on God’s part. Here I was, desperate for God, waiting and praying with all my heart. Would it kill God to show up when I pray?
Through contemplative prayer I have learned that I had everything completely backward. God has been waiting for us all along, but we are often too distracted, impatient, or fearful to meet with him.
God’s love is here and constant, and there is nothing I can do or feel to change that reality.
I can ignore it or obstruct it, but I can’t stop it. Learning to pray isn’t about turning on the tap of God’s love. Rather, learning to pray is about training ourselves to be present for the love of God that is already at work in our lives.
Read More About How to Pray…
This is an adaptation from Flee, Be Silent, Pray. After years of anxious, hard-working spirituality, I found peace with God by practicing contemplative prayer. I’ve written an introduction to this historic Christian practice titled:
Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians
On sale for $8.49 (Kindle)