By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
Grace in Prayer
By Rev. Kyle Norman
“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26)
When my wife was initially diagnosed with cancer, we immediately called our Bishop. We sat in the living room as my wife spoke of her pain, the cancer diagnosis, and her upcoming journey through chemotherapy. The Bishop listened gracefully and patiently. The only question he asked her was about her prayer life. In raw honesty, she told him that she had been unable to pray since she had been given her diagnosis. She deeply wanted to pray, the words, however, just didn’t come.
The Bishop responded beautifully. Instead of instructing her in a technique, or exhorting her to “try harder,” he handed some prayer beads to my wife and said, “It’s ok if words don’t come. Simply rub your fingers over these beads. It will be enough.” For the length of her chemo journey, and for a long time afterward, this is exactly what she did.
What I hadn’t realized during the Bishop’s visit was how much I would struggle with my own prayers during this time. Each evening I would sit in my office and attempt to close my day with prayer. Although this has been my habit for years, it seemed as if everything had changed. Even though I attempted to use a liturgy, with words written down, the words still wouldn’t come; I felt hollow and empty. Every ounce of my spiritual energy had been used to get through the day. Each evening, I would tuck myself in bed thinking that my time of prayer had been a waste; After all, I did nothing, I said nothing, I prayed nothing.
Have you ever felt anything like that? Have you ever found yourself struggling with your prayer life, feeling as if you are trying to pray through a great cosmic wall? The feeling that our prayers are hollow and pointless can be frustrating and disheartening. Our prayerlessness seems irredeemable and, in these moments, it’s hard not to condemn ourselves.
The Apostle Paul knew about these experiences. He himself struggled with frustration in prayer. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells of a time when he felt afflicted, burdened by a torment that would not go away. Although he prayed for the thorn in his flesh to disappear, it remained. How disheartening.
Yet amid this experience, the words of Jesus came ringing clear “My Grace is sufficient for you, my power is shown in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Grace. Grace is not reserved for the perfect and put together; it is designed for the needy. It reaches down to those who feel low, burdened, and overwhelmed.
There is no shame in claiming grace. Claiming God’s grace is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. It is a bold and radical act of trust. We reach out to the one who sits with us, who incarnates himself in the very depths of our hurts and struggles. When we feel we cannot pray, our heavenly Father extends grace over us.
When all we can do is just sit before God, running our fingers over our Bibles, or our prayer beads, it’s enough. Our time before the Lord is never a waste. After all, Jesus knows what it is like to weep in the night. He is recognising the agonizing cry of “Abba Father!” and “my God, My God why?” He is a man familiar with sorrows, and so in response to ours, he meets us where we are, not where we feel we should be.
Intersecting Faith and Life:
Our spiritual lives are never static, and so neither are our prayers. Yes, there are times when we are drawn into great intimacy, where we feel caught up in God’s blessing and grace. Then, there are the times when that blissful connection is less apparent. There are times when we find ourselves suffering the fallenness of life. These times are not comments on our spiritual ability or state before God. They just are part of the life we live. The good news is that grace surrounds in these moments. Grace surrounds us in every moment and so grace surrounds us in every type of prayer.
Are you struggling in prayer today? What might it look like for you to claim grace? Instead of trying to push through your own silence, perhaps all that is needed is to strip away the vestiges of performance or earning and engage in the simple of actions. Just sit. Hold your bible, close your eyes, and sit with the one who sits with you. No matter what your prayers feel like, you are not alone. Jesus is with you, and he surrounds you with grace.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/pcess609
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.
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