Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prayer: Am I mature enough to ask for help?

Prayer is both instinctive and seemingly impossible.

In the late Spring of 1979 I was born six weeks early. As a result I spent the first month of my life in intensive care in a Sheffield hospital. I was small and weak and utterly dependent on others. I would then, and for many more months to come, cry out when I was in need.

Fast-forward twenty years and I've grown physically, intellectually, socially and in many other ways. I'm studying Maths at Bath University. I'd been a big fish in a small pond but I was now a very small fish in a big pond, struggling to keep up with high level mathematics. Would I ask for assistance and direction from my tutor? No, I made every effort to cover up, to pretend things were ok and to avoid the one person who might assist me.

It occurs to me that for all the growing I'd done I had perhaps become less mature too?

What could be so difficult about asking for help?

To pray is to ask.

Jesus' friends asked him: teach us to pray (Luke 11:1-13).
Teach us to ask. Teach us to cry out.
And he said: Pray, Father.

When we do that we're speaking to His generous Father as our Father.

He said, when we do that we'll receive the Holy Spirit. We'll be welcomed into the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as adopted sons in the family of God with the church. We pray together: Our Father.

Coming in clothed in the true Son and so having no need to be ashamed, no need to hide our weaknesses or pretend than we need nothing.

Only he makes this possible.

The Father prayers of the Son (four of them in Luke's gospel) lead him to the anguish of trusting his Father in Gethsemane, and to crucifixion itself. In union with Christ his prayers are ours too, his path ours. We come to know his Father as he does... we go through the anguish of learning to trust and facing the death of our selfish selves.... and come with him into a different kind of life.

In the last year I've deliberately sought to grow in skills and understanding, felt my capacity stretched. Excellence is good and to be pursued. It's good to be good at things - to cultivate strengths. Doing Strengthsfinder a few years ago was some liberating self-knowledge. There are things I can, by the grace of God, do.

And there are things I can't do. This year, I've found myself out of my depth, facing unexpected situations that were and are beyond me. It's been another year of learning to cry out again, of admiting weakness in my ability, situation and character, and turning again to one who is generously for me. I need help from Jesus and his people.

In community, in the church, there are always some who are rejoicing and thriving... and always some who are struggling and weeping.

To ask for help is good. 
To be asked to give help is good.
To receive help is good. 

I'm watching my four year old son learn the same lessons as his Dad. When my four year old is whacked by his two year old brother his instinct is to fix the situation himself with violence. He's learning to come and ask for his parents to intervene, and so learning what it means to pray. Trusting that we can and will act in goodness.

He'll spend the rest of his life learning and re-learning this. Me too.