Why do we fear coming to God? Why does turning to God come only once we have no where else to turn in our trials? Rather than God being first, we turn instead to friends, family, spouses, culture, society, and only when other sources are exhausted do we turn to Christ in prayer. Obviously, these all could very well be God-given avenues of advice and comfort, but He wants us to bring all things to Him, especially in the moments we are most afraid to come to Him.
Remembering the difference between fearing the Lord in respect and awe and fearing the Lord in the same way we fear a spider or towering heights is important. We even go so far as to allow our fear to prevent us from being intimate with Christ, the very Person who can satisfy our hearts deepest longing. Recently, I attended my first silent retreat. I feared the silence right up until I arrived at the retreat house. What if God didn’t ‘show up’? What if He did? What if I don’t like what Christ has to say? What if I am not ‘present’ enough to benefit from the experience? What if all I hear is silence and an empty wind? I don’t even know if I know how to listen properly!
When I discussed the retreat with friends the first thing they asked was how long the silence lasted. After explaining the silence was with Scripture but throughout the weekend, most were apprehensive to say the least. Our world constantly bombards us with white, mostly unhealthy, noise. Even if we acknowledge our dependence on technology or the unending drags on our time, we are still unwilling to part with these time drainers. Entering into silence with God can seem like traveling to a foreign country with unusual sights and sounds. This is only so because the world has conditioned us to avoid silence. Nearly to the point of categorizing all silence as awkward.
Practicing His Presence
Since I sometimes don’t know what to say to God, I thrive in structured prayer. Often, I lack discipline in my spiritual life, and prayers like the Divine Office help me to focus on God through the prayers and Scripture I am given for the Hours. During Adoration, I prefer to be reading something or praying a chaplet or Rosary. Words read or spoken. None of this is bad or wrong, but you’ll notice that most of those practices are me speaking or thinking about something related to God, His love, grace, etc. Which is good, but should not be the only aspect of my prayer life. While Christ gave us the Lord’s Prayer and through the Church He has given us an ever growing treasure trove, He desires our hearts more than our words. If a heart is united to Christ the words will follow.
Praying isn’t simply listing your needs and concerns, though they are a part, to God and expecting their fulfillment. Prayer is a relationship with the Living God. Christ wants to hear those things, but He also has something to say to your heart. His love for you fully manifests itself when you enter into a relationship with Him. If prayer is a relationship, then we should be listening as much or more than we speak. How can you love someone whom you neither spend time with or listen to?
In his spiritual classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence gave counsel to be continually in conversation with God. Yes, set aside specific times for Scripture and meditation, but remember to speak to God throughout your day. God doesn’t need us to pencil in an appointment to speak with Him. He is ever ready to hear our prayers.
That with [Brother Lawrence] the set times of prayer were not different from the other times; that he retired to pray according to the directions of his superior, but that he did not want such retirement, nor ask for it, because his greatest business did not divert him from God.
If we can grow in our relationship with Christ, sitting in silence is no longer a source of anxiety. Allowing yourself to sit before God is allowing yourself to be loved for you are interiorly, not necessarily for what you are saying or doing. It is important to distinguish between your spirituality, Marian, charismatic, intellectual, etc, which leads you to certain types of prayer and using these forms of prayer as a way to avoid being silent with God. A prayer filler of sorts. Adoration may be filled with chant, Liturgy of the Hours, praise and worship music, etc but at its heart is time spent alone with Christ, to love Him and be loved by Him.
If fear has infected us, we may be afraid to speak and listen to God in the silence without reservation. Confusion, doubt, anger, and the like are emotions and thoughts we may believe God not only has no interest in but may actually dislike. In other words, God only wishes to hear me when I am thanking Him, praising Him, or asking for virtue, and He doesn’t want to hear about my doubts, personal desires, or the sins I struggle with. We lie to ourselves the way our first parents did. That God, in His omniscience, some how doesn’t know something as long as we do not give voice to it. Or, that the moment we deviate from the Divine Will God will wash His hands of us.
This is not reality. God is always lovingly seeking us and desires us to speak with Him openly. To some extent, this means examining ourselves and our relationship with Him. This can be unsettling. Speaking honestly to God means being honest first with ourselves about our failings, successes, sins, virtues, doubts, and struggles. But, if we can accept our need for God’s healing love the silence is a place of refuge, a home.
An Attentive Ear
Brother Lawrence advises us to speak frankly with God but to always be ready to listen. This requires us to be still at times in the silence. Reading, singing, devotions, music, and the like all something to say in the spiritual life. But, at some point, we have to set it all aside and listen. And, as for the prophet Eli’jah (1 Kings 19: 11-13), God will come in that still, small voice. This is not to say God may not speak to us in other forms of prayer. We all have ‘ah ha’ moments when reading or hearing a song, but we are souls who need a nourishing of a kind that can only be truly satisfied by spending intimate time with our Creator.
Musicians will tell you that over time and with practice the ear may discern the fine differences in music and thus have a greater appreciation for the beauty they hear. So it is with Christ. Over time our relationship with Christ may deepen and grow if we are attentive and speak with Him. There is always something more for Him to give you, to show you, to teach you. With time and prayer, our souls become tuned to the Divine Will and thus more easily hear Him through the world’s spiritual pollution. Greater intimacy with Christ increases our ability to grow in virtue and leave behind our sinful ways. Painful and difficult as this may be, we are all called to practice virtue in our lives and God’s grace is the means to ever grow.
That all things are possible to him who believes; that they are less difficult to him who hopes; that they are more easy to him who loves and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues. – Brother Lawrence
Photography: Kelli Ann Cresswell