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Prayer: Why We Struggle (and how not to)

The only reason we fail to pray is because we’ve made an idol out of self. I discover it on a Thursday picking up errant crayons, scattered legos, swiping up crumbs.

I can’t stop. I’d like to. I keep glancing at the clock, knowing it’s time to rest, to close my eyes and pause for morning prayer. Pray like Jesus and all Jews did through the centuries, like the fixed hour prayer of David , the set prayer times like Daniel, the particular hours like Peter and John and the Early Christians.

It’s time to stop to pray, but I’m too busy cleaning house.

Snowball gaining ground, I’m rolling through, picking up one more stray sock, one more piece of paper, arms full and heavy with the gathering, shushing hungry soul with “soon… one more thing… soon…” and time sands keep draining away and soul withers gaunt.

Why doesn’t someone grab me and tell me that a soul can shrivel up and die without prayer? That “praying is more important than eating because your soul is more important than your body.” (Peter Kreeft)

I’m too busy feeding waist-swollen self, straightening dishtowels, wiping off crumbed counter.

Wipe down fridge, and then stove-top and it will just take a moment to slip in another load of laundry… and then I finally should be able to kneel down at prayer bench

SomeOne grabs me. He shakes my mind shoulders and I’m winded, wet cloth in hand. Stopped. Hard stopped. I bow my head and wait for the inhaling.

“You okay, Mom?” Josh’s washing dishes, sleeves rolled up, elbow-deep in suds.

I whisper it out the window, ashamed … appalled… “The only thing that prevents me from praying more is me.” The sparrows line the hydro wires out by the mailbox. “It’s my own inflated sense of self-importance, the elevation of my work, of my agenda, that keeps me from prayer-communion.” I turn to face him.

“That’s called idol worship. I don’t pray enough because I’m practicing idol worship.”

I can hardly look him in the eye.

“You didn’t know that, Mom?” He drops an enamelware bowl into sink, reaches for the scrub pad.

Really? Why didn’t someone tell me that all my excuse making was nothing but a cheap cover for idolatry?

I guess He did.

I never notice it when I just pray after reading Scripture, early or late, when we pray before and after meals. Prayer’s short, convenient. It’s only when I began to follow the way of Jesus and the early church in fixed hour prayer, feeding my soul at certain fixed times like I eat at certain fixed times, and I was confronted with this consistent struggle to cease working and kneel in prayer, that I realized the true ugliness of my lack of prayer.

It’s a startling, wrenching thing to discover that it’s not time, or busyness, or pressing concerns that prevent one from prayer. The extent of prayer in one’s life is a direct function of whether something else has been set up as more important than God.

Since when did I begin thinking my contribution to the world was so significant — uncrumbed counters, unlegoed floors — that I was so necessary, that I couldn’t stop, slow, still and commune with Jesus? God’s the One who keeps the world in orbit, keeps the river running, not the efforts of any human hands. It’s okay to take a moment and close your eyes and pray. Just pause, and exalt God. Even if in the midst of children, if its to throw apron skirt over head to create a quieted island-moment of prayer. No one’s so important that several times a day, even for a few moments, she can’t become small, invisible, in prayer. I am slowly learning.

Since when did I start thinking that “it was too much to go up to Jerusalem,” that idol worship in Dan was preferable — a muttered prayer here or there while I go about the essential, real business of my day? Doesn’t God’s honor not only deserve, but command, that I grow still, leaf resting while river rushes on, that I may know that He’s God… and I am not. I am slowly learning.

I step over swimming bags dropped in the dining room, leave scattered remains of a tea party in the living room. Just as things are, it’s time. I want Jesus more than anything else.

When I bow, idols topple.

Lord God…. what keeps me from prayer with You?
It’s a question I’d like to answer.
Because I’d like more communion with You.
How else does a soul live?

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Every Wednesday, we Walk with Him, posting a spiritual practice that draws us nearer to His heart.

To read the entire series of spiritual practices

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Photos: bits of the daily mess, and leaf stilling below streaming river
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