What is your prayer life like? I mean at the worst of times? Is it leisurely talking with God or gasping for air?
Over the years I had read about other peoples’ prayer lives. I marveled because they are startling in their depth, power, life, scaling the heights of heaven itself or so it seemed. While I admired them for their prayer life and prayers, inwardly I cringed. My prayers and prayer life did not match up well with others.
Long retreats, quiet and serene sights, away from the tired routines, away from distractions, gentle nudging by the Holy Spirit…
Never happened for me! Not. one. time.
Gasping for air
During the past 34 years, my prayer life has been more like gasping for air as I am pulled under water, much like when I nearly drowned twice in my youth. So why did I think I could make it in the Navy Flight program (1973)??? But I applied and was accepted.
For me, prayer is closer to the imagery of survival, grasping, gasping, struggling. Like my attempt at passing all the swim/water/survival tests in Navy Flight School in Pensacola (which I did accomplish, BTW!). You know, when they had you jump off the tower in a flight suit and swim the full length of the pool underwater. Tread water without hands for 5 minutes, and then 30 additional minutes while in a flight suit. Swim a mile in a flight suit, which I didn’t complete the first time because I had severe leg cramps, but a few days later I passed with 2 minutes to spare!
The parachute drag where your harness is clipped to a drag line, and you release and swim to the edge of the pool—easy. Except my release was broken, and instead of being released, I was dragged the full length of the pool, then dragged back the other way—well, except the line is now wrapped around my neck and I can’t breathe! I am drowning again! They had to pull me from the pool. I should have known that the next day would not go well!
The Dilbert Dunker, a cage mockup of the cockpit of a plane situated on the (very) deep end of the pool. Getting strapped into the Dilbert Dunker, the person is plunged to the bottom of the pool, rotated upside down. Then the person has to reorient himself, unbuckle, and swim to the top. Most guys went through it easily. Except, when I unbuckled, and swam to the top, my harness got hooked on the dunker! And there I stayed, my mouth two inches below the water line. I was drowning —again!
Now what?? I knew what I needed—that air! I was panicked enough without this little additional problem. So I swam harder! And harder! But there were two divers in the pool coming directly to me to help. But they had to pull me back down further into the water. You have got to be kidding me!!?? I fought against them with all my strength. I knew where the air was. What were they doing??
Actually they were saving my life. It didn’t feel like it. My mind rebelled, my body rebelled. And yet, they eventually pulled me down so that that hook was released and they brought me to the surface. Saved! And gasping for air!!
Gasping in Prayer
Prayer is much like that for me. I pray, thinking I have things figured out. But then I get thrown into the deep end of the pool of life without warning, without any familiar guideposts, without a sense of the “quiet prayer life” that I kept hearing about and reading about. I don’t want to be here! This is too dangerous, too unsettling, too HARD! As I struggle to spit out one word, the Holy Spirit is there, pulling me in directions I can’t see, feel, understand, or utter on my own! What is happening? I feel like I am drowning!
In my agony, I cannot even get my hands folded…
Somehow, my prayer life at that point may be similar to the apostle Paul. He wrote:
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NAS95)
Like those two divers, they had the better perspective. My feeble attempts at gasping for air gave way to those who could bring me to the air. So the Holy Spirit has the perfect perspective. When my heart is overwhelmed to the point of not even being able to form words to express the depths of my heart ache, my hurt, my inabilities, there the Spirit is.
The Spirit intercedes for me, when words fail me. My hurt is given perfect expression by the Holy Spirit. My short-sightedness in prayer gives way to the will of God, perfectly. Not because of me, but the Holy Spirit intercedes according to the will of God.
My gasping gives way to breathing and to life. At the end of my ability to breath or pray, I give up. And there the promise of God at work is made evident. It is hard, every time I am thrown into the deep end of the pool of life. But God is faithfully with me, no matter what happens. No matter how frightening, no matter how lonely, no matter how discouraging it might be.
And I gasp for one more breathe of air. And I pray!