How do we bring our thoughts, feelings, and desires to God in prayer?
You've got em'
We like to put God in a box, especially when it comes to prayer. If you’re anything like me, you may find it easy to slip into this pattern: Go to pray. Start talking to God. Try to quiet my mind and void it of any thoughts. “Oh remember how in that one movie that guy...sorry God, got distracted!” Quiet down again. “Oh gosh, when that one person does that one thing, I hate that. And I just wish...sorry God, got distracted again!” Repeat.
We put God into the box we have made for Him that says He can only work with certain thoughts, feelings, or desires that we have, and if they don’t conform to the criteria we have laid out for Him then God is uninterested in us or is unable to work with us. But does that really sound like the way God wants to relate to His creation, to His sons and daughters?
He wants em'
We believe that God created all of us, and that He created us good. So, if we believe that, then why do we think that He is only interested in us if we act like pious robots devoid of any emotion or personality when we pray? Most of us grew up learning, whether implicitly or explicitly that God is our Great Vending Machine in the sky who gives us what we want if we give Him what He wants in the way He wants it. And if we don’t, then like a vending machine that spits out the dollar bill that has the smallest, almost imperceptible crease, God rejects us. Nothing could be further from the truth! God wants all of us. God made us human, body and soul, which means we have human hearts with feelings, human minds with thoughts, and human souls with desires. Now, that does not make every thought, feeling or desire a flawless gem to be looked at and examined. We are still capable of getting distracted and being selfish. Nevertheless, God is God and He is infinitely creative. He wants us to bring Him our little lumps of coal so that He can purify them and turn them into diamonds.
So give em'
All of this begs the question for us: When and how do we bring our thoughts, feelings, and desires to God in prayer? A great place to start is with Scripture! The Gospels are chock-full of vivid scenes that we can try to place ourselves in when we read them. The great St. Ignatius of Loyola was known for this imaginative style of prayer that engages our affects, which are made up of our thoughts, feelings, and desires. We can try to imagine what it would feel like to be Peter trying to walk on water. Or what was going through Martha’s head as she watched her sister sitting at Christ’s feet while she slaved away serving. When we put ourselves in these scenes, we then start to notice how we feel, what we are thinking and what we want in that moment. We don’t need to judge what comes up as good or bad, it is simply noting each movement that comes to us and continuing on in our reflection. God is at work, we are there to receive His gifts. There is no need to grasp for anything. And it is here that prayer takes on its relational form.
We offer these thoughts, feelings, and desires back to Jesus, and then listen for His response. There is an invitation to trust here because the Spirit may move our hearts with a feeling of joy, He may inspire or challenge us with a new thought or insight, or He may strengthen a desire in us. Remember, God is creative and we cannot put Him in a box. He wants to surprise us with His generous love and mercy, and in doing so purify our hearts and minds so that eventually as we grow in our relationship through prayer and the sacraments, our thoughts, feelings and desires will be in union with His. We need to trust that our desire to relate to Him in prayer delights Him beyond what we can possibly imagine and trust that He is responding to each of us in a uniquely personal way. God loves us and He wants all of us, so let’s let Him have it all.