Today at church, there were a lot of people who told me that they’re just plain tired. We had a lot of people who were either sick themselves, or who had sick family members at home. There seemed to be a spirit of exhaustion among many, and a glazed-over look on the faces of many more.
Sometimes when you’re tired, it’s hard to pray. We’ve already discussed praying when you’re sleepy—but I’m talking about praying when you’re exhausted. You might have gotten sufficient sleep last night, but you’re just emotionally and spiritually drained.
Basil Pennington offers a method of prayer, called Centering Prayer, that I believe is perfect for those who feel drained. You might not know what to pray, and you may not even have “groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26).” You just need to feel God’s love enfold you. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30)."
In his book, Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form, Pennington says that this prayer form is not new at all, but goes back many generations to the desert fathers, the monks and contemplatives of the early church. Centering Prayer has had many names and adaptations over the years, but generally looks the same, no matter who teaches it. Here are the rules (pp 59-50):
RULE ONE: At the beginning of the Prayer we take a minute or two to quiet down and then move in faith to God dwelling in our depths; at the end of the Prayer we take several minutes to come out, mentally praying the “Our Father” or some other prayer.
RULE TWO: After resting for a bit in the center in faith-full love, we take up a single, simple word that expresses this response and begin to let it repeat itself within.
RULE THREE: Whenever in the course of the Prayer we become aware of anything else, we simply gently return to the Presence by the use of the prayer word.
So, to reiterate, Centering Prayer is simply resting in God’s presence. It’s a prayer of non-striving where, instead of telling God all your problems, or instead of telling God anything at all, you simply sit in God’s love. Choose a prayer word (“peace,” “grace,” “maranatha,” and “Jesus” are good examples) that you will use to bring your mind back to God whenever it wanders. When you need to re-focus, just use your prayer word, and sit quietly again.
Pennington says, “It is most important to realize that prayer is always God-given; otherwise we may confuse the gift of grace with some achievement of our own (pg. 44).” I agree with that. While we think we are praying our own thoughts and feelings, we must never forget that prayer itself is initiated by God, in us. So let the Holy Spirit pray for and through you. Prayer is God in you (Holy Spirit) talking to God outside of you (Father). You may be too exhausted to pray all by yourself, but you’re never too drained to let the Spirit pray in you.
Pennington, Basil. Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form. Doubleday Books: New York. 2001.