Impatience in Prayer

“Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.” [Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)].

God meets us unexpectedly, or so it seems to me. We were at Evensong, and I was looking forward to the homily, which was to be a reflection on a psalm of David. The order of service, however, interposed prayers of God’s people before that, and I found myself wishing God’s people had less to pray about.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I found myself wishing the prayer requests of God’s people didn’t include so much detail and so many tangents. Perhaps I’m the only one, but do we really need to hear your aunt’s entire life story in order to pray for her hip surgery that’s planned for next Wednesday? And though I’m happy to pray for your trip next weekend and agree that the story of the confiscated Swiss army knife was amusing to those members of the congregation who don’t travel as much as I do, was all that detail about your flights and layovers entirely necessary?

So anyway, as the tangents and details droned on, I zoned out. I’m not proud of that, but there it is. Then we prayed—in great detail, I might add—and finally it’s time for the homily.

Here’s where unexpected meetings with God comes in. After impatiently waiting for it, I didn’t hear the homily. Nothing. Just as it begins, God meets me—interrupts me, actually—by letting me see how my rabid impatience has shriveled my soul until it’s like the dry cast-off skin of a molting cicada.

I know: I cannot prove this was a moment when God met me, and I know a secularist could plausibly claim to have had similar moments of self-awareness without making an appeal to divinity. All true—but not very compelling to me. Not compelling because first, I do believe God the Holy Spirit loves us enough to bother us about our lack of virtue, and because second, the moment had a distinctly personal resonance in my soul. My sense was of a Lover lifting a veil so I would face my self-righteousness, yet without walking away from me.

Then a couple weeks later, the homily was on another of David’s psalms, in which these lines, spoken to God, appear:

You have kept count of my wanderings,
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
[Psalm 56:8].

How patient is that? God not only listens and watches, he keeps track of our tangents, stores our tears, and journals our spiritual pilgrimage! The verse took my breath away. This homily I heard, and though I don’t mean this in some weirdly mystical way, I swear I sensed that Lover chuckling at my wonder.

My morning prayer had read, “Give me today some clear vision of my life in time as it appears to Thy eternity. Show me my own smallness and Thy infinite greatness.”

I think I might wait a bit before praying that again.