For the past few days Quietnun and I have been playing an extended game of lost and found. There are over a hundred boxes of books sitting in the calefactory, waiting to be unpacked; and among them a few boxes which should never have got there because they contain habits, cooking utensils and the like. Accordingly, our methodical (sic) unpacking arrangements are regularly upset as we go in search of whatever is needed at the moment. Usually, we find something else we had been looking for, but in the wrong place.
I suppose that is a paradigm of life for many of us. As St Augustine said (several times), we look outside for what we must find within, or we look in the wrong place or the wrong way. Quite often we receive requests for prayer which make me wonder what the asker thinks prayer is or does. For example, ‘Pray that I receive A grades in all my exams. Thanks.’ is a fairly common one at present. I have no doubt that God is interested in every aspect of our lives, but I don’t think he is going to make up for an absence of coursework or revision. Prayer is not magic: it is relationship. So, when we pray about exam results, we are, as it were, expressing to God our concern about our future, much as we might express our concern to an earthly parent. It is good to express our concerns to God, but there is something more.
Most of us are a bit lost. We may not even know our need of God or be prepared to acknowledge it fully. We are waiting to be found by him, only we are reluctant to admit it. Our prayer is very often more of a barrier to God than an invitation to him to enter our lives — we use so many words, fill our prayer-time with so many requests, that we don’t have enough space to let God speak and be heard. Sometimes doing nothing is the hardest thing of all. Anyone who has had the experience of sitting by the bedside of a dying person, especially a much-loved dying person, will know that a time comes when the words have all been said, there is only the waiting, almost without hope. Everything is turned over to God, silently, even blankly.
I’m not suggesting that such abandonment to the will of God is the only kind of prayer, but I do think it is one that many of us need to practise more. We are half-way there if we know we are lost. We can trust God to find us, no matter how many false-starts and wrong-turns we make, however boxed-in we may feel. Maybe this is something we could try this week-end, the prayer of abandonment and trust?