This is Post 2 in a series on the 55 Maxims for Christian Living, written by Fr. Thomas Hopko.
Maxim #2: Pray As You Can, Not As You Think You Must
Prayer is such a personal journey. It is, at its most basic, a conversation with God, and that is a not something that can be regulated. The Orthodox church has many resources that can help, give direction and guidance, but there is no black and white “This Is How You Pray” that can be one-size-fits-all.
St. Augustine said, “You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” We find our rest in God through prayer, through opening that door and communing with our Creator. It is beautiful, and St. Augustine was right–it is restful. We must rest in Christ, find our peace in Christ, and be at peace in Christ. I am a busy person–busy physically, but also busy mentally and spiritually. I crave that rest. I crave the peace of God.
There is a phrase that I love so much, and I learned it from my fellow Priest’sWife/Mom Blogger Matushka Anna: Praying With My Feet. Some people are gifted in cultivating mental and spiritual silence to pray. I am not one of them. I cannot always pray with my mind, so I pray with my feet. My daily prayer is in raising my children, in caring for the home in which we live, and in supporting my husband in his ministry. I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. I serve all of these people who bless my life in the best way that I can, and I offer my service as my daily worship to God. St. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” So I take the strength that Christ has given me, I use it to serve those around me, and in this I find the presence of God and my own peace in Christ.
I pray with my mind and my words as well, but I am not as faithful as I wish to be. When I read this Maxim, I felt a great well of gratitude to Fr. Thomas for giving me permission, as it were, to acknowledge that I am not perfect. I don’t pray as I should. I don’t think anyone does. My sister is a monastic, one of those champions of prayer, and she would be the first one to tell you that she also does not pray as she should. But we pray as we are able, and we offer these prayers as our service and sacrifice to God.
The day after Christmas, I took a flying leap down the stairs, assisted by the presence of several unattended matchbox cars that my son had forgotten to clean up. As I hit the ground several feet away (it really was a spectacular fall), I was sure that I had broken my foot. I hadn’t, but was told later by the doctor that the severe sprain was probably worse. I was in pain, quite possibly the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I was laying on the ground, my husband inspecting the injury, and my children panicking. My only thought was, “Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God.” This was not a blasphemy, or a taking of the Lord’s name in vain, but a cry for God’s assistance that could not be put into words. In that moment, I could not pray in any kind of logical form, so I prayed as I could.
I remember being in labor with my oldest child, and begging the Theotokos for strength and relief, but there were no words involved. There was just my desperate, soundless plea and she answered.
If the choice is between praying “untraditionally” (with your feet, for instance, or without even using words), or not praying at all, choose prayer. Pray as you can, but do pray. Open the door to God. Start the conversation. Find your peace in Christ.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:7