There were eight of us in a dingy church basement, meeting weekly for prayer. Eight of us with labels: daughter, engineer, mother, wife, lawyer, teacher, pastor, sister, friend, writer, and baker. While I shirk to think that these labels define us- because they do not- they do help to define our sphere of influence, they do describe where we take our bodies, indeed where we take our prayer life.
If prayer is as Dallas Willard says, “an ongoing conversation with God about what we are doing together,” women are “doing” and women are having “conversations.” In the basement, these ordinary saints were having conversations with God about relationships, about justice and peace, about reconciliation, about parenting, about physics, about words, about life. They have followed faithfully in the footsteps of the women before them. Miriam, (Exodus 15) who brought her conversation with God into her freedom from oppression, Deborah, (Judges 5) who brought her conversation with God onto the battlefield, Hannah, (1 Samuel 1) who brought her conversation with God into her bitterness, and Mary (Luke 1) who brought her conversation with God even into her womb. The integration of various aspects of our lives is both our strength and our Achilles heel.
It is our strength in that wherever we are, whatever we are doing; we bring our conversational relationship with God. This has been the pattern since the early history of Christianity. The desert fathers headed into the desert and left their communities to find solitude and enrich their conversational life with God; several of the early desert mothers brought solitude and their conversational life with God into their communities. It has been said if you teach a woman to pray, a whole community is prayed for.
Conversely, it is also our Achilles heel; we often forget that while we are members of a community we are also individuals. Individuals individually loved by God. When we forget it can look like attending to others without attending to ourselves. Make no mistake there is a difference between self-centeredness and self-care. The former never results in the later. Self-care is the beginning of Jesus’ commandment to love others as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:39) It was his invitation to Martha. (Luke 10:41) Perhaps it was even the invitation offered to the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11) Jesus knew that we could become used up, dried up reservoirs when all of our energies are focused on others. In our prayer life our Achilles heel can take the form of one-sided conversations with God, neglecting the listening aspect of conversation. The burdens we bear for those within our sphere of influence will, over time, crush us if we do not designate time in solitude just listening, doing nothing, only being with God.
Living prayerfully looks like deepening conversations with God not only about what we are doing, but also about who we are, and are becoming. Perhaps you are finding yourself out of balance, in need of self-care, restorative time with the Lover of Your Soul. Try one of the following suggestions:
· Set aside 15-20 minutes a day to sit in silence with Jesus. This might be early in the morning before your household wakes or later in the night when they have gone to sleep. Find a quiet, alone space to be with Jesus. Bring your attention to Jesus in your midst. See him, seeing you and smiling. When concerns or cares come to mind gently lay them in his hands without comment.
· Pray the Gospel of Luke using your imagination. In other words, set your imagination to the service of the Scriptures. Work your way through the book of Luke passage by passage. Before beginning a passage invite the Spirit to speak to your soul specifically. Read your selected passage through one time- get the big picture and imagine yourself in the passage. Read your selected passage through a second time- notice any strong feelings or impressions you have. Begin a conversation (both talking and listening) with Jesus about those feelings and impressions.
· Play. What did you like to do when you were a little girl? Bicycle? Skip? Laugh? Play in the dirt? Throw a Frisbee? Do it again, this time invite Jesus into your play. Notice that Jesus is with you, enjoying the space, your light and sharing his love.