I’ve just returned from Florida where I attended the annual conference for Disciples of Christ pastors. After a full day of intensive meetings, dialogues and lectures, we had a two-hour break before dinner. I pulled on my tennis shoes and headed out to the beach for some exercise. When it was time to finish the walk and come inside, I found myself unable to step off the beach without pausing on one of the boardwalk benches for a silent prayer of gratitude. It wasn’t a planned prayer. I had no real agenda with God. It was more like God had spoken through the waves, wind, horizon, wide expanse of sand and I was gripped by the need to respond. Like the surge of the tide, a prayer naturally arose.
Most mornings when I am “supposed” to pray, I find myself distracted with the day’s urgent to do list or the beeping of incoming electronic messages or my own monkey mind of concerns. Prayer feels like hard work. Like a medicine that you know you should take because it will make you feel better but you are not sure you want it right now. But maybe the disciplined prayer prepares us to receive those moments when prayer naturally arises?
One of my friends and seminary classmates also serves as a sort of spiritual mentor to me and so I asked her recently, “What are your spiritual goals this year?” I was sure she would mention prayer or Bible study.” But she didn’t. She mused, “I am working on letting go of my need to control the people around me and just receive them as they are.” It took me aback. And yet it felt like an authentic hunger. A surrender of sorts. A willingness to receive. Perhaps that is prayer after all. Maybe prayer is not a set of words we offer to God. Maybe prayer is recognizing what God gives us. Maybe prayer is paying attention.