The path to meekness which involves hearing God’s words of 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. (See previous post on meekness for more about hearing God's words "My Beloved.") We must learn to express our true voice, even when what what lies within us falls short of what we think it should be. Let's call it "dialogical praying" the kind that reveals all of who we are, without the need to pretend to be different than we are. It 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 God expects them to change before they can pray, that they have to deal with this sin, change their attitude, or deal with past rebellion before the voice of God will ever ring in their ears. They might think “God’s words ‘My beloved’ are meant for others but not me at this point in my life.” When we do this, we miss the opportunity to embrace meekness because we are pretending to be more than what's honest and real. And thereby we do violence to ourselves and others.
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 named Brenda, she said five words that changed how I related to God: “God can handle your honesty.” Those words changed my entire relationship with God. Before that, I'd viewed talking with God like talking to a solitary monarch who demanded respect. 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 tru and I could not hear his tru voice of love for me.
How do we express our honest voice to God? I’ve found that plans for being honest with 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.
When I lived in Canada a good friend named Gavin and I would meet for coffee and talk about everything and about nothing. In some ways, I am not sure exactly what we talked about. But I do know this one thing: our conversations impacted me. They changed me. That’s the nature of honest, loving relationships.
Such time is not necessarily productive. In fact, friendship time is best when it is wasting time together. In many ways, we are made to waste time with each other. Kids teach us this. They love to wrestle, to play, to laugh, to sit together. They long to connect with others. This is wired into what it means to be human. If we grow out of this, we lose part of who we are.
Somehow we often turn our prayers into something that less that honesr. We seek God to give us direction and when we get it, we get on with life. We go to God with a long list of needs and requests, and when we have laid them out before God, we get on with our days. In other words, we can mistakenly assume that the point of prayer is to make the rest of our “real” life work better. But when we do this, we miss out on the opportunity to be who we really are. Connecting with God is partially about the art of being ok with wasting time to be 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.”(The Only Necessary Thing, 83) 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 other words, our lives are full of things that fight against meekness.
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 out 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.
In this freedom to be honest with God, we create space to participate in meekness. We develop the capacity to release that which lies within. When we let what lies within out, it can no longer control us. We grow in freedom to be ourselves. We don't need to fight to get our way. We can live out our identity with integrity in a way that is meek and humble.