Recently I’ve had a hard time praying with words. It’s been one of those seasons when words just aren’t enough—they seem trite and uninspired, and they just don’t get at the heart of what I’m trying to say to the Lord.
So I’ve been experimenting a little bit and trying out different spiritual practices, hoping to find new ways to feel connected to Jesus. In all my experimenting, the practices that have nourished my soul are the practices of the Christian Contemplative Tradition, especially silence, stillness and solitude, and Centering Prayer.
Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that focuses on God instead of our own desires. We sit in stillness and solitude before the Lord, simply being in communion with him. In Centering Prayer we’re fasting from our expectations of God—we’re not asking for anything, not waiting for an answer, not thinking about the next item on our to-do list. We’re just surrendering to God, and consenting to God’s presence. And we do it to show our love for God—love that’s not dependent on hearing God’s voice or getting an answer to our prayers, but is content to just be with the Creator. (Read more here for instructions on how to do Centering Prayer.)
Sounds beautiful, right? Almost idyllic. But I have to confess, it doesn’t normally feel all that peaceful. As I’ve fasted from distractions, busyness, and the company of others through Centering Prayer, I’ve been discouraged by how many times random thoughts pop into my head, by the number of people I hear outside my window, by the impatience I feel as I try to sit still for 20 minutes at a time.
But that’s kind of the point. Centering Prayer and other Christian contemplative practices aren’t easy. They’re disciplines, like working out or learning an instrument. So they require practice; we have to build up a muscle memory of consent and surrender to our loving and all-powerful God.
Centering Prayer makes me realize that in silence, stillness, and solitude I am completely powerless. I’m declaring to God and to myself that I have nothing, that I can do nothing, and that I can say nothing. I let everything go, in the hope that it will draw me that much closer to the Lord.
And the Lord is gracious. I may not feel like anything has changed or been worked out in the middle of my fast, but I see changes, small differences in my everyday life. I see myself starting to live a life more filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I’ve also gotten to know myself more fully. In the fast of silence, stillness, and solitude, my hidden motivations and fake constructions of perfection are revealed. Things I held onto that gave me a false sense of stability have been stripped away, and I’ve been forced to admit that I can’t do it all on my own. It’s painful to have the veneer of self-sufficiency broken, to die to myself and to all my false perceptions, but it’s a part of surrender to the loving God who wants to make us whole.
In my fasting, I have found truth and freedom. It’s not an easy journey, and it’s certainly not an expected one. Sometimes it seems simpler to ignore silence and instead fill the space around me with television shows, music on my iPod, and conversations with friends. But it’s a journey that’s brought me closer to the One whose Son chose the lonely road to the cross in order to give us freedom and life.
Live Life is a campaign, run in partnership with World Vision and International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, to bring college students and young adults around the world together to explore the meaning of “life in all its fullness” during the Easter/Lenten season. The campaign features six weekly challenges, stories of students making a difference from countries around the world, and a global sharing platform where each person can share how they are uniquely participating. The InterVarsity blog is participating by featuring corresponding posts each Sunday written by InterVarsity's Urban Projects directors.
Katye Crawford works as the National Administrator for Urban Projects. She loves finding new coffee shops in Oakland, California, and blogs about finding hope in the midst of mourning at My Long Goodbye.
You might also be interested in the first post in our Live Life series: