Are You praying correctly?

by Lisa Hershey

"How do I know if I'm doing it right?"

I have begun to accompany Mark on his workshops on Centering Prayer and Contemplative Spiritual Practice and this question (and ones like it) often arises. I am all too familiar with this sentiment in my own prayer life. It is easy to start wondering, "Are we doing it right?"

We tend to approach God as we approach most everything else: washing dishes, writing a paper, preparing taxes, parenting a child, facilitating a meeting, or a number of other jobs that fill our days. These daily, weekly, and yearly tasks have at least three things in common:

1. The primary actor is ME.

2. I am asked to DO a specific thing.

3. A primary goal of my doing this thing is to ACHIEVE RESULTS.

We easily grow accustomed to this way of acting in the world. In its place, it's a perfectly good way to function. It works quite well in getting things done! So, naturally, we are tempted to approach prayer in a similar way. Indeed, many of us spend years or even a lifetime praying this way.

But as we enter prayer - which, let us remember, is an encounter with the Divine! - we are called to shift this pattern of thinking. Consider the following shifts. In prayer...

1. The primary actor moves from ME to GOD.

2. I am asked to BE PRESENT, not to DO anything.

3. The purpose of prayer is to REORIENT/RETURN to GOD, not to ACHIEVE RESULTS.

Do you see how these shifts reorient the original question? The question moves from "How do I know if I am doing to right?" to "Am I being present so that God is free to reorient my heart?"

As we walk our final steps of this Lenten season, how do you judge your Lenten practice? Are you worried that you didn't do it right? That your failure to keep your Lenten disciplines means your Lent was a waste? Or are you confident that you did Lent perfectly this year? That you are ready for this Easter Sunday because you kept your fast without giving in to a single temptation? 

Either way, you are missing the point. Whether despondent or proud, we are all asked simply to turn and see, to reorient our hearts, and be open and present to the One who gave fully of himself so that we may fully live.

God's love is so strong that remaining in that love is really all that is asked of us. We don't DO anything to obtain God's love. We just remain open so that God might transform us. It is often difficult for us, not because it requires great effort to achieve God's love. It is difficult precisely because we are not used to how easy and available God's love is!

God's abundant love is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. May God give us eyes to see this love during this most holy of weeks.