I have never been very good at praying. I am impatient, stubborn, and easily distracted. So, when I pray, I just say what I am thankful for and what I want God to do for me, then I turn away and go on with my life, and I forget about what I had just prayed about. So, I have never been able to hear God answer my prayers, because in a world full of noise, I never think to listen.
So, the spiritual discipline that I practiced this week was “Listening Prayer”. Listening Prayer is a practice in which we seek to quiet the noise in our lives, both inner and outer, to better listen to God’s voice. It is a way to trust in God, that he will speak at a time of his choosing, and that we will be listening. Because, there is always so much going on in the world. We are constantly busy, or worried, or feel that something is demanded of us, or feel pulled in every direction by every single person. So, it is necessary to take time to stop and listen. But the difficulty is deciphering what to listen to. Most everything we hear is outside noise or our inner thoughts that are running askew. Even during prayer, our thoughts can run wild, as our minds are designed to make connections. This is a reason we zone out while praying. But, the most important part of listening prayer is to not get frustrated with the difficulties that come with our minds straying away from our prayers, but rather keep returning to prayer and listening. Listening to God, however, is not limited to hearing God’s verbal words (because I promise I have never heard him speak to me in that way). It also includes praying, and then reading scripture or listening to worship music and searching for what sticks out, and then repeating those words to yourself. Sometimes the most important thing is to not try to make complete sense of it, but just listen to the words. Be patient and listen.
I would love to say that this is an easy practice and that I do it all the time, but sadly, it is one of the hardest things for me to do. I have always been more of an introvert, more comfortable sharing my thoughts with myself than with other people. So, I’d like to think that that made me a better listener, but in reality it has not helped at all. I have been much better at letting my mind go down rabbit holes and got lost in random trains of thought. This was especially true for me in my attempts to practice Listening Prayer. This last weekend, I got to camp and hike around Sequoia National Park. I thought that this would be the perfect time to pray and have time to listen. But, I kept getting distracted, and I couldn’t help but let my mind wander with every picturesque landscape. So the prayers that I prayed became the same kind of prayers that I had always prayed before. I prayed, got distracted, and stopped listening. I never picked up my Bible and I never listened to worship music. My biggest challenge is to give myself time to have no intention but to listen. I pull myself in so many directions in fear of missing out that prayer becomes an assignment to be put off for later rather than a priority and a main point in my life.
This became very clear to me when my English class was discussing the short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”. The story raises the idea that if we truly believe that Jesus was resurrected, then we should have no problem giving everything up to follow in his footsteps. The struggle that there are Christians who are cultural Christians and believe because that is how they were raised. I saw that same person in myself. So, I asked myself, “Do I believe? And if I do, what’s holding me back?” I have always struggled with this question internally, but to actually hear it out loud and to put it into words hit me hard. I decided that that was my new topic of prayer. And, after the Sequoia National Park, trip, I told myself that I would really be intentional about this prayer. So, I prayed. I prayed a simple prayer, and I waited. I waited and I waited. But, as the impatient, stubborn person that I am, I got frustrated and looked to see how much time had passed… less than a minute. So, I tried again… I got frustrated… how much time had passed… less than a minute. Again and again, this happened until I finally decided to listen to some worship music for a new perspective. I found a Christian playlist online and clicked shuffle. The first song that played was “Nobody” by Casting Crowns. Many of the lyrics flew over my head, as they do most of the time, but I heard a certain lyric that stuck with me. “I'm just a nobody trying to tell everybody All about Somebody who saved my soul”. I realized in that moment, I felt like my identity was taken away, and I was left as a nobody, but those are the people that Jesus had died for.
I still don’t have my prayers or concerns completely answered, because Listening prayer is very difficult for me, but I do want to continue it because hearing that one little portion of an answer is so exhilarating and fulfilling to me. The most important thing, I believe, is to keep going back to committing to the practice and continue going back to it.
The UCC Spiritual Practices blog is here for you to grow and develop in your faith and daily time with God. The majority of the articles are written by UCC's own Garrett Le and Hanson Von Flue, with the guidance of Adele Ahlberg Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.