The path to hearing the voice of God’s love for us often starts with our own voice. We must begin with what we have in our heart and learn to express it to God. We must learn to express our true voice, even when what is true within us falls short of what we think it should be. It’s called “simple prayer,” the kind of praying that reveals all of who we are, without the need to be someone else. Simple prayer grants us the freedom from having to get prayer “right.” It allows us to actually be the beloved to the point of being honest with ourselves and with God and foregoing any need to pray according to some kind of plan or formula.
For some expressing their true voice is not a big challenge. I have encountered a few who freely expressed themselves to God no matter their circumstances. Whether out of a sense of desperation or because that have a great confidence that God has loved them, they seem to be free to be themselves before and with God.
However, I have found a lot more people—both inside and outside the church—who assume that they have to change themselves before they can connect to God, that they have to deal with this sin, change their attitude, or deal with past rebellion before they can express themselves to God.
At one point, I found myself enraged. I had bottled up anger within me because I assumed that anger was sinful and expressing anger at God was even more sinful. I was a ticking time bomb and a large part of my anger was with God. In a conversation with a pastor, she said five words that changed how I relate to God: “God can handle your honesty.”
Now that I think about it, my response is “duh,” but I had assumed that I was supposed to pray piously and that I could not really express my honest emotions to God. I was not honest with God or myself and therefore I made no room for God to speak honestly to me. I could not be true and I could not hear his true voice of love for me.
How do we express this true simple voice to God? Sometimes, plans for being real before God are a little like having a conversation agenda when you have coffee with a friend. When you meet with a friend you don’t base your conversations around four steps to being honest with one another or five ways to share your hearts. You just learn to be present with one another and as you grow in trust, the more you share. Connecting in simple prayer is partially about the art of being ok with wasting time with God. Being present with God and creating the space to acknowledge God’s presence with you will not feel like productive time. It might even feel useless.
Henri Nouwen reflects on his experience of connecting to God. He wrote, “But ‘doing nothing, being useless,’ is not as passive as it sounds. In fact it requires effort and great attentiveness. It calls us to an active listening in which we make ourselves available to God’s healing presence and can be made new.” We are not used to doing nothing. Our lives are filled with noise, commitments, people, and entertainment. When do we get to experience stillness? A time of quiet rest? A period of slowing down and breathing deeply? A space to go for a walk?
In this wasting time with God space, we find an opportunity to meet with God, not with a formula for good prayers, not with a long list of prayer requests and needs. We meet with God and a slow down so we can hear his voice, grow in our trust of his character and share our heart. We can just offer our simple selves up in simple prayer with all of the fears and worries, guilt and shame, needs and wants, hopes and dreams, friends close and far, daydreams and intentional thoughts. In such a space we learn to offer our entire selves to God.
So how do you enter into this kind of prayer? First we make some time in our lives, even ten minutes a day can be enough. Second, find a place where you can spend this time without any distractions. Turn off your phone. Tell your family that you need a few minutes alone. For some, going for a walk is helpful. Others need to arise before everyone else in the house. Figure out what will work for you.
When in that space, I find it helpful to take three deep breaths. Some might use some music to help them get in a space to connect with God. Others start off by reading a short Bible passage like “Be still and know that I am God.” If this is new to you, experiment with taking three deep breaths and allow yourself to slow down. Then just start with where you are: share what you feel, what you think, what you desire, etc. Remember, God can handle your honesty.