I wouldn’t consider myself to be a controlling person. I don’t manipulate people to get my way, or hover over people to make sure that they are doing things right. But I have an insane desire to be in control of things, to work things out on my own, to know what to expect, and to be the sole beneficiary of any positive results (and the one solely to blame when things don’t turn out very well). Perhaps this is normal; but today I came face to face with something that has been bubbling below the surface for a couple of weeks (I wish I could say years, but its weeks).
A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I am staying put unless something compels me to change my circumstances. I’m not going to use this Master’s degree for a feeling of upward mobility – because the best I could hope for would be parallel mobility anyway. Things are pretty good right now. As I was talking with my friend Elise last week, I self-diagnosed that until my desire to be important and to make a name for myself dies away, I have no business starting a church or pastoring an existing one (this should be self-evident, but for me it had to dawn on me). I have learned that the most important people to be important to are the one’s that I already have in my life. And I have every possible means right now for being as important to them as they continue to be important to me.
So far, so good.
This morning, however, something much more profound happened than I expected. I went to a class on prayer at our church taught by my friend Mandy. There is no good reason for me to have chosen to participate in this class, since I have plenty of other ways to get distracted on Sundays from actually talking about the one area of life that is (mostly) no longer a part of mine. I don’t know what drew me to sit in that room.
We talked about corporate prayer, and how everyone basically feels awkward about praying out loud with others because we feel disingenuous. I shared about Larry Crabb’s damaging book The Papa Prayer (do yourself a favor and keep this book off of your to-read list) and how it wrecked my ability to pray at all. I no longer feel that I am honest enough when I open my mouth to pray because of this book. In fact, I attribute this book to completely wiping away my prayer life.
After talking about our basic inadequacies (or at least what we feel) for quite awhile, we decided to practice praying together. To see what happens. We were a bunch of awkward people doing the one thing we all hate to do. It was actually the safest environment I’ve felt in a long time.
This is the moment in which I realized that Larry Crabb wasn’t the problem. Feeling awkward wasn’t the problem either. As I sat there, knowing exactly what I needed to say to God, I kept pushing the urge to pray it out loud further down. The words crept close to the tip of my tongue, and then I forced them back.
I was controlling God.
That’s my problem.
So, it turns out, control is my issue. The reason I don’t pray is that I don’t want to give up control of outcomes, circumstances, or choices. I don’t want to bring God in on things. I want to keep control.
After an eternity (of about 90 seconds), I opened my mouth and admitted, with my friends/brothers/sisters, that I want to be in control. I confessed openly and honestly, and asked God to be a part of my world. To take back control. Or, probably more accurately, to become my partner in life again. As I released the pressure valve, I began to cry, because it was so painful to admit the utter darkness that has resided in my soul for at least 7 years. And, a wash of forgiveness followed, and I knew that God heard and would respond in kind.
When we were finished praying, my friend Neil asked me, “So, when are we getting together to practice?” I haven’t really talked to Neil since 1997, but I knew what he was offering. He was offering to practice the art of praying with me, the one who has no idea where to start. The seminarian. The leader. The teacher. The clueless one.
Neil was God’s voice of reconciliation to me. And, quite surprisingly, we are getting together to ‘practice’ on Tuesday – and I’m terrified. I don’t know what will happen, what Neil’s idea of ‘practicing’ is. But, if there’s one thing I do need, its practice, and someone to show me the way. I don’t care what happens – I know that God is responding to my prayer for his partnership/leadership in my life, and that good things are ahead.
Because God is good, and is a good listener.