My mother once asked me about a problem she was having with her devotional time. She said that she would be in the middle of praying when, out of nowhere, the most awful images and thoughts would suddenly intrude. She had no idea where they were coming from, and she was shocked that such things could come to her. She couldn’t continue praying because all she could think about were the demonic, grotesque words and images. Was there anything she could do keep that from happening?
I suggested that she keep her picture of Warner Sallmon’s “Head of Christ” in front of her. If those images started appearing while her eyes were shut, she could open her eyes for a moment to take in Jesus’ image, which would most certainly chase the demonic ones away. I also explained that she wouldn’t be guilty of “idolatry,” just because she was focusing on the picture for a moment. She knew that she wasn’t praying to the picture – just using it to re-focus her mind and heart so she could continue her prayers. If memory serves, I believe she said it helped.
Perhaps I should take my own advice. Well, to an extent, I do. Let me explain.
I have the wonderful gift of an extensive amount of quiet time every morning. Most mornings, I can complete my start-to-the-day routine: record my weight; take care of the pets’ food, water, and litter box; take my blood pressure; and record my steps from the day before. Depending on how close it is to 6:30 AM, I take Kianna out for her walk, and then sit in my recliner for my meditation and devotional time. At the time of this writing, I’m using the devotional guide, The Upper Room Disciplines and am reading The Jerusalem Bible this year. I then end with my prayer time, and that’s where things get challenging.
For one thing, I’m sitting in a comfortable chair early in the morning after having risen from bed less than an hour before. Once I close my eyes, I try to envision myself as sitting across a table from Jesus as we share coffee and conversation together, since “conversation” encompasses the best understanding of what prayer is. However, my conversation quickly ricochets in other directions that don’t necessarily have anything to do with what I want to talk to Jesus about. For example: I’ll start mentally composing emails; I’ll rehearse conversations I want to have with other people; I’ll think of someone I want to call or write to and jot his/her name in my Day-Timer. And as soon as I realize what’s happening, I’ll apologize to the Lord. After all, when my brain takes me in all those other directions, I’m basically ignoring him, which is about as rude as you can get. More often than I care to admit, I’ll realize that, in my comfortable recliner, I’ve actually fallen asleep. Sometimes I “snort” myself awake with a start. Then I apologize again.
One thing I try to do from time to time when I realize I’m not really praying any more is to open my eyes and focus on the little wooden cross that hangs over the TV and in the middle of the photos of our kids and grandkids. That usually brings me back to where I need to be, and I can pick up where I left off. I try to think of a praise hymn and recite the first verse to begin praying (“Immortal, invisible, God only wise … thy great name I praise”). While I’m not fond of “formula prayers,” I do try to remember to include confession, thanksgiving, and supplication in addition to adoration (the “ACTS” prayer, as it’s known). But somewhere in the process of remembering all those elements, my mind wanders, and I realize that I’m no longer praying, but composing and rehearsing.
My one assurance is reminding myself that God already knows what I would have said even before I say it. God knows what’s most on my mind and stands ready to receive my praise and confession, accept my thanksgiving, and address those issues that concern me that day.
My prayer life is nowhere near where it should be. It really is a shambles. But, there’s always hope that things will improve with time.