Prayer in the Christian Life
I remember once cooking for my family and being completely stressed out. I’m not a natural cook, and so the idea of figuring out when the chicken would be ready, the effect of a slow heat vs a high heat on vegetables, and what exactly this “Basil” was all baffled me.
I prayed intently, “Lord please help me get through this meal. Help it to taste good. Make sure no one is poisoned or gets sick.” Amen. The prayer was a brief one, but I think I said it enough times inside that it became somewhat of a mantra.
Now as I’m cooking more these days, I find myself repeating the same mantra along with a new one. “Lord help me get through this meal. Make sure no one is poisoned. And Lord, help me to be a better cook.” Amen. There was a little change in the prayer. Yes, I wanted the meal to be a good one, but I also wanted to be the kind of person who could cook well.
This little shift in prayer showed me part of the tension that happens in each one of us as we move through this thing called life. At one level we want help from God. We want to saved from our trials. At another level, we want the sense that we have accomplished something and that we are growing. Part of us wants help. Another part of us wants to stand on our own two feet.
Henri Nouwen in his work Discernment points to these two movements in the analogy of a bird being held by its creator. He points out that the Lord may cup his hands around the bird to protect the bird from storms, heavy winds, or predators.
Yet, all the while, there is enough distance between the hands and the bird, to give the bird the opportunity to learn how to fly. Nouwen argues that God’s desire is to protect us and help us to become stronger so that we too can “fly.”
My aunt once told me that at a certain point she stopped praying for more and more money. Considering that she is not very wealthy I found this striking. She said to me that now her prayer consists in asking God to give her a strong work ethic where she can learn how to be disciplined and responsible with what she makes.
Perhaps here is a small sign of what growing up Christian prayer means. Once, as children we asked for something. Now as adults we ask to be something..