Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Wrong Paths in Prayer

"Forgive me in those areas where I have failed you, and strengthen me further wherein I have served you well. Save me from complacency and smugness over my spiritual successes as much as despair and guilt over my spiritual failures..."
~ This Day; A Wesleyan Way of Prayer

This prayer that appeared in the devotional guide I'm using these days, articulates the struggle I find myself in quite frequently in my spiritual life. Richard Foster, in his wonderful book, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, talks about the different types of prayer. One is what he calls the "prayer of examen." Examen comes from the Latin word that refers to the tongue or weight indicator, on a balance scale, hence conveying the idea of an accurate assessment of the true situation. So this type of prayer is an honest, transparent self-examination. We pray, along with the Psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends me, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." Psalms 139:23-24 NLT

This examination is something we can't do by ourselves. We fall off the path in one of two ways. One is to justify our attitudes, evade responsibility and rationalize our behavior. We are able to put up a strong defense against the truth about ourselves. But we are just as prone to wander astray in the other direction by engaging in self-flagellation. As Foster puts it, "If left to our own devices, it is so easy to take one look at who we truly are and declare ourselves unredeemable. Our damaged self-image votes against us, and we begin beating ourselves mercilessly." Foster, p. 29

There are times in my life of prayer when I veer off in one of those directions, and others when I stumble off in the other. But under God's searching, under the "scrutiny of love," we are able to both face the darkest truth about ourselves and at that very point experience sheer grace.

But we can't offer God who we hope or aspire to be, but who we actually are, including all our warts, flaws, and even deep stains. But that allows God to take who we are and transform us into who we wants us to be. May God join with me in this journey to keep me on that path.