Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Overthinking Prayer

Yes, my post is late. Sorry, faithful readers o’ the blog. Sunday I spent mostly in prayer, and when it’s that kind of concentration, you’re not really good for much but falling into bed and hoping for interesting dreams. (Which they did, featuring Hugh Laurie from House in a type of carnival that was put on by my Act One classmates. Needless to say, hilarity definitely ensued.) Yesterday was spent out and about and I didn’t get home until late late. I know most of you don’t care if I stick to my blogging schedule or not, but I hold myself to impossible standards to everything in life and therefore must offer apologies for missing my own deadlines as a matter of accountability. Blah blah blah.

Sunday was a strange day. Between my morning devotionals, 9:00 church, 11:00am church, and a prayer meeting I attended with a new group in the evening, I spent more time trying to communicate with God than I did anything else that day. I wonder if maybe this is the kind of effort you’re supposed to put in towards living your life all the time, and then I think that no, maybe God wants you to spend your time engaging in life, not sequestering yourself to connect to Him, so you can be a shining example of his love and stuff. I think the only thing I am a shining example of lately is how much of a dumbass I am, which is why I prefer to hide out in my house and watch Battlestar Galactica episodes. But you can’t live like that forever. There’s only so many episodes, and I’m rapidly going through them like Pringles. (It’s an awesome show, by the way. I highly recommend it. The bad guys believe in one God, and the good guys are praying to idols. Really whacked out stuff.)

Prayer is such a funky thing for me. I subscribe to the theory that prayer isn’t so much about changing things as it is about changing YOU, so YOU change things. It’s about altering your perception, and seeing with the eyes of God, so that when you go about your day and see the people you prayed for, you react differently to them, rather than God smacking them with the God Wand because you prayed for them to stop annoying you.

I don’t have a lot of enemies, (at least, that I know of.) I guess I don’t know enough people, or I don’t talk as much to piss people off to make them my enemies. All those Psalms where they’re crying out to God to rescue them from their oppressors, nope, nope, nobody’s oppressing me. Sure, my life is hell right now, but that’s not PEOPLE doing it. The last real enemy I had was a boss who fired me because I wasn’t a competent enough mind reader for her. It was the only time in my professional career that I’ve been fired, and it wasn’t fun. Mainly because I knew it wasn’t my fault, I was doing everything in my power to do what my boss wanted, but she was a spazzed out freak who was beyond help (she left the industry a year and a half later.)

I dig praying for people like that, for people I don’t like, just so I can see the change. I can feel the softening of my heart when I put myself in the mindset of God, and look at Annoying Person/Spazzed Out Former Boss the way God would see them. And if I’m lucky, that softening sticks with me when I see them. During the final days of working for the Spazzed Out Former Boss, I felt myself moving away from the mindset of She Is Ruining My Life Because She’s Crazy, towards a mindset of God Please Help Her Because She Is A Genuinely Unhappy Person, And Nothing I Do Helps. I still got let go, but at least I recognized the Broken Woman behind the Spazzed Out Crazy Person.
Sometimes, the softening of my heart doesn’t stick with me, and I’m just as cranky and wanting to get away from Annoying People as fast as possible. It takes concentrated intention. It’s something that you have to work at. But I think everyone should do it. At least try.

But other people subscribe to the theory that Praying CAN change events. Sure, you’re changed in prayer. But, according to these people, you can also change events. And I wonder about that. At the prayer meeting on Sunday, the concept of Retroactive Grace was thrown around. That God is above time, so if you pray to change the outcome of things that have already happened, if it’s something God wants to do, He’ll do it.

So if, say, a certain writing fellowship has already decided to boot me out of the running, and I don’t know it yet, because I’m not gonna get word until December, I can pray to God to please fix that, and, according to the concept of Retroactive Grace, if He wants to, He will, and my previously bounced script is back in the running. Of course, since I don’t know until December, it’s completely possible that it was never bounced in the first place. I’ll never know.

I’m not sure I believe in Retroactive Grace. It’s a nice idea, and makes for interesting movie ideas ( Superman zooming around the earth to turn back time to stop Lois’s car from crashing.) But it butts up against the idea of pre-destination, that everything that happens is unfolding according to God’s plan anyway, so there’s no need to go back with the God Eraser and fix what was previously messed up. Unless God’s plan INCLUDES you becoming acclimated to the idea of Retroactive Grace, and making the choice to believe in it so He CAN go back with the God Eraser.

Now my head hurts.

It seems silly to limit God’s abilities. But it also seems silly to believe in the concept of a God Eraser. It seems silly to pray for certain EVENTS to occur (even if you’re quantifying them with “Only if it’s in Your will, God. Only if You want it to happen.”) Because then it seems like you’re viewing God as the genie in the lamp, rubbing the lamp and making wishes. Or you’re Peter Pan, asking the kiddies at home to clap your hands and if you believe enough, and smack your tiny hands together fast enough, Tinker Bell comes back from the dead. (What did Tinker Bell learn in her brief sojourn to Fairy Death Land? That’s an idea for something someday.)

But you can’t stop that annoying small voice in your head that says it’s not happening because you didn’t go to God to ask Him for help. But, but, but, He’s GOD! He KNOWS already! He wants you to ask Him because He wants you to depend on Him. Unless you ask, you’ll never get it. So fine, I pray for it to happen, it doesn’t happen, and then it falls into the catch all net of It Wasn’t In His Will For You. Sorry. Thanks For Playing.

This is why I prefer to think that prayer is about changing you, rather than events.

The prayer meeting on Sunday was all about changing events. We gave requests out about things we were anxious about, we gave requests about specific people we were concerned for, and then we prayed for the whole kit and caboodle. Maybe it was about connecting to God. Maybe it was about believing that If He Wants To, He Will. Maybe it was about believing in Retroactive Grace. Maybe it’s that these people believed more than me, so it’s my lucky day that I was in the same room praying with them, because God’ll listen to THEM, as opposed to listening to me praying singularly.

I don’t think it’s supposed to be this overthought. Maybe I should’ve prayed to stop me overthinking things.


J said...

1. I care if you stick to your blogging schedule. I read every Monday.

2. I don't know about Hugh Laurie, but his character on House is brilliantly written.

3. Retroactive Grace? God changing things in the past if He wants to? Pardon me, but it seems to me that this jumps into the realm of meta-physics, alternate realities, and general Science Fiction. And I agree with you about praying for events to happen (past, present, or future). All of that seems to fall into the category of "Christians comforting themselves). Let alone the lack of accountability.

"No, they would have offered you that job if it was God's will. You having picked your nose and farted during the interviews had nothing to do with it!"

Or maybe God gave you big boogers and gas because it was His will that you not get the job.

Allison (or should I say Jessica) said...

Hey, now my head hurts, too! j/k I'm just glad I'm not the only one who struggles with these issues. And maybe we'll never be able to fully figure it out (in the spirit of the last few chapters of Job).

Was I making balloon animals? Or was I a trapeze artist? I suppose it doesn't matter as long as House was there.

RTatum said...

This was actually one of the most interesting things I have ever read on the nature of prayer, Amy!

Anonymous said...

I personally love my dear friend's take on the matter: God knows the secret desires of our heart; therefore, pray for even the most mundane desires of your heart - it's not like they'll surprise God and who are you trying to "be" in prayer, anyway? For my friend,praying for the secret desires of her heart meant she began praying that she would win the publisher's clearing house sweepstakes. No, it hasn't happened yet, but in the meantime, that prayer has been answered in the sense that she became convicted of other things she needed to address in her life. So, that kind of prayer can change you, too.

Sept. 6th (?) HOUSE premiere! Can't wait!