Squatting at eye level to see my tiny niece allowed me to hear her more clearly. The whispered voice, warm and moist with a child’s eagerness, played in my ear – “Aunt Mo, how do I talk to Jesus?”
The desire to communicate with God springs forth from the heart of every person, even a child…yet, this often feels as though it is not enough. The words of others, whether ancient or published, can seem preferable to those that rise to the surface of our own souls. We fray the edges of our petitions; ‘Are my words enough to get God’s attention? Someone else must know better.’
Might a resistance to prayer come from this worry?
Any practice of prayer that I establish and which opens me to the presence of God, is actually a direct response to – a mirror reflection of – the invitation first extended to me by God’s own longing. There is not one original thought in my brain. I don’t just imagine, “Hey, I think I am going to light a candle and sit with God in the quiet today.” The inspiration for this action comes first from God’s own longing.
Still, that is what we can get stuck on – a practice of prayer in response to God’s invitation. Yes, a personal routine and ritual is helpful, yet it remains something that I construct for my own use. I am the creator of my practice…thus; will I also be tempted to control the outcome?
Does my preoccupation with stabilizing a prayer practice take precedence over a surrender to the deeper stirring within me?
Here lies the mysterious tension described by St Ignatius. The ‘push-me/pull-me’ of a divine spirit tucked within a human body; a resistance we often experience when making choices related to the Divine. Interestingly enough, when studying to be a spiritual director, we learn that resistance is actually a sign of the presence of God – of God at work. God’s persistence is revealed in the tension we feel. It’s not like arm wrestling – God isn’t out to win. The original invitation of God is there, deep within us, our own spirit struggling to respond to this yearning, in spite of every outward excuse we make.
Ignatius calls this tension ‘Agere Contra,’ which means ‘to act against’ or ‘to act otherwise’ regarding choices we are drawn to make that aren’t life-giving or that keep us from God. In the case of prayer, we might deliberately choose to go against whatever tendencies we have in resisting God’s invitation.
Nagging awareness of this call to the quiet is also a sign of God’s presence. Beside the typical ‘I’m too busy’ excuses we give to even get to the point of entering prayer, we may also distract ourselves during the practice of prayer, with the mechanics of prayer, so that we stave off what we most long for – what God most longs for.
As I reflect on my own challenges to maintain a morning ritual, an old realization cuts through me. I know I’m actually resisting the intimacy that results from the practice. If I surrender completely to God, what will be left of me? How can I go on living that way?
This is no idle reflection. Have you felt this resistance to Divine intimacy, too?
God’s longing isn’t satiated with the rattling off of prayers. However, the consideration that God wants more, sometimes causes my heart to seize with a kind of fear. Do I have the ability to respond to God’s kind of love?
This surrender of my whole liberty, memory, understanding, and will – using Ignatius’ own words – isn’t a one-time deal. This surrender takes a lifetime, piggybacked on eternity. Yet, it starts with setting aside time to respond to God’s original invitation and choosing to work through all that I resist of this deep, resonating call.
When noticing resistance, this can be helpful: 1) name your resistance, 2) hold and honor it, 3) and then release it into the hands of God. Giving yourself grace, being kind, and acknowledging the struggle, is also important. ‘I see you, Resistance, and unmask your hold over me with love.’
The other day I prayed, ‘What do you want, O loving God?’ I heard God say, “Monique – stop thinking so much and just let me love you.”
During these days of Lent, which frame for us the most loving act that God could ever express, it might be tempting to take up a new practice…but perhaps, this year, the invitation is to lay aside anything we can create for ourselves – Agere Contra. To lay aside the practice for the sake of the fruit, and just come to the quiet so that God can love us.
- Agere Contra as explained by Fr Tim Kesicki, SJ for the series 25 Days of Ignatian Spiritual Gifts – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK-TE5j5-G0
- Another strong article from Sr Janelle Sevier, SNDdeN on praying through resistance – Praying When It’s Hard: https://beckyeldredge.com/praying-when-its-hard-praying-through-resistance/
- Hillsong United sings from the heart – I Surrender – a song that echoes our desire for total union with God in prayer and worship – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4N2ausO6Sw
- St Ignatius’ own prayer of surrender beyond resistance – Suscipe – https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/prayer/traditional-catholic-prayers/saints-prayers/suscipe-prayer-saint-ignatius-of-loyola/
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