I had halfheartedly consented to go to a women’s retreat at the church I reluctantly attended because the speaker had written a rather gritty book that described what I was going through. The speaker, positioned in front of a two-story-high window in the chapel of the retreat center, opened with this verse: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV ®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™ ).
Yeah, right! I thought. My cynicism came flowing out, only to be absorbed by my view through the window. I didn’t hear anything else the entire weekend. I spent every session staring out that window at the tree-filled mountainside and occasionally at a tiny structure that looked like a tree house near the top. I had a sense God was inviting me up there, inviting me to stop being mad at him. I couldn’t talk about it to anyone. After the sessions, I stayed in the chapel to gaze. I shut my eyes, knowing the window and the trees were there. No words. No tears.
When I got home, I found that for the first time in a few years, I was ready to move forward with God. Those hours God and I had spent together, relating but not speaking, helped me become almost comfortable with God once again. I wasn’t so cynical, but I also wasn’t hopeful. I was just ready to hang out with God. But this time I wouldn’t bombard God with so many prayer requests. This time I would just be still and know that God is God. And learn to love it.
A few years later, in spiritual direction training, I read the following words of Gerald May and scribbled in the margin next to them “making peace with God at Alpine Conference Center”: “The term contemplation implies a totally uncluttered appreciation of existence, a state of mind or a condition of the soul that is simultaneously wide-awake and free from all preoccupation, preconception, and interpretation. It’s a wonder-filled yet utterly simple experience.” Gerald May, Will and Spirit (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1982) 25, emphasis added.
01. Where in Scripture . . . ?
I had no one with whom to discuss this and wondered if anybody else ever practiced this wordless prayer. Did anyone else just sit with God and be? I found some of these moments in Scripture, especially in these three patterns: waiting, resting, and delighting.
While our culture considers waiting to be a negative, tiresome void that happens because what we want has been delayed, the Scripture describes waiting as full and rich. It’s active, expectant and open-ended: “Truly my soul silently waits for God; . . . My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him” (Psalm 62:1, 5, NKJVScripture quotations marked (NKJV) are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ).
People talk about “being in God’s waiting room” as if it’s worse than any medical waiting room in existence. However, waiting as a long-practiced way of praying doesn’t have to be boring, but can be full of alert peacefulness: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:5). The expectancy is electric, as described by Wisdom’s declaring, “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway” (Proverbs 8:34). Imagine yourself waiting and gazing from God’s doorway; that “counts” as prayer too.
The antidote to my cynicism (as in, “The church will never get it!”) was hope, which is learned through this practice of waiting. Each minute of resting in contemplative prayer is training to be a person of hope and trust rather than pessimism, scorn, and suspicion. Notice how the word wait is often linked with hope:
- We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:20, emphasis added).
- I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope (Psalm 130:5, emphasis added).
- My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm (Isaiah 51:5, emphasis added).
- But as for me, I keep watch for the Lord, I wait in hope for God my Savior; my God will hear me (Micah 7:7, emphasis added).
- But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Romans 8:25, emphasis added).