I've recently been reading a book on health. It's got lots of good information on nutrition, exercise, and overall health. No one around me would be able to guess that I'm reading it, though, because I have changed absolutely nothing about my health habits while reading it. I'm still eating the way I always have been and continue trying to convince myself that activities like typing on a keyboard or riding around in a pickup truck have a small amount of exercise built into them. The bottom line is that I've been reading this good health information, thinking that the things I read are good ideas and that it would be nice if I ever get around to living that way, but I've been reading them without any intention of doing what they say.
A conversation with Robert last week got me thinking about this in connection with this year's experiment. We were talking about one of our heroes, Dallas Willard, and how he teaches the reliable pattern for change in any area of our lives as VIM: First we need to have the vision of how good such a change would be, then an intention to make the necessary arrangements in our lives to make them conducive to the change, and then we find the most helpful means for allowing the change to happen. The example Dallas often uses is of learning a foreign language. If we can clearly see the benefit of learning a language, we will likely become determined to do so, and then do the things necessary to learn it.
So, for most of my life, I've wanted to be prayerful. Some parts of my life have certainly been more prayerful than others–particularly in the seasons when I discovered the good guidance from others which Live Prayerfully is written to pass along. But also for much of my life, I wanted to be more prayerful than I was. In a vague, subconscious way, I continually looked forward to sometime off in the future when I might become the kind of prayerful person that I'd thought all along it would be nice to be.
I've studied enough of the lives of God's friends through history (including knowing a good number of people who fit that category) that I had a pretty good vision of what the prayerful life might be like. And since I've been able to learn from some very good folks along the way, I've also had great guidance in how to go about different practices of prayer. I had the vision. I had the means. But one piece of Dallas' pattern was missing and kept me from living the kind of prayerful life I had wanted for a long time: I never intended to do so. There was always something else I intended to do with the days right in front of me than to become prayerful.
Honestly, in taking on this experiment for this year, my thinking about it went only so deep as that it would give me things to write about on this blog. But the occasion of making that commitment seems to have been a stumbling, bumbling step over the line of finally letting my intentions genuinely match the vision and means of the prayerful life that had already been given to me by others. I'm extraordinarily blessed to have had others in my life to help put those in place, but the solid, gut-level, established intention was the piece only I could take care of.
(PS: By opening with the example of diet and exercise, I certainly don't want to imply that I'm okay with ignoring my physical life and happy with doing so because I think my spiritual life is in good shape. There are multiple levels on which that would be foolish, including thinking that I have a "physical life" and a "spiritual life." I, like you, just have a life, and it's my responsibility to cooperate with God's grace in each area of it. But something I've observed over the years is that, regardless of how dramatic someone's conversion to God may or may not be, we all learn one lesson at a time and cooperate with his work in one part of our lives before doing so in another. In other words, hopefully the intention is coming about nutrition and exercise one of these days. But–dear God–I hope I don't make a commitment to blog about that for a whole year.)
Something I've prayed this week:
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany from The Book of Common Prayer)
[This is the 19th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]