Tom Hanks once said about his craft, “Everybody here who creates comes across moments where it is just so naturally easy. You don’t even think about it. It just rolls out of your fingers or rolls out of your mouth…and it’s so clean and so pure and so free of artifice that you can almost recreate it any time you want to. But then come those moments where a clunk is on the page or a moment is, a motivation is…you can’t conceive it in your own head, and it confounds you ‘til the day you die.”
This vacillation between effortlessness and struggle is common to everyone from athletes to construction workers. There are days when it ticks and days when it doesn’t.
Anyone engaged in a life of prayer surely can relate to both of these experiences. Over the last year or so, I have tried to meditate more, finding silent prayer, mindfulness and contemplation to be the best ways for me to achieve peace and communion with God. There are moments of real transcendence, in which I wonder why I am not spending my entire day quietly focusing on my breath with my eyes closed. God’s presence seems so undeniable and palpable that faith feels like the only reasonable response.
There are other times, however, where my designated prayer or meditation time is filled with frustrating distraction or, worse, boredom. While I don’t necessarily question God’s presence, I certainly don’t readily feel it. Instead of resting in the tranquility of the present moment, I find myself wishing it would all be over.
The irony, of course, is that we have little control over which of these two types of prayer we will experience. Yes, we can arrange circumstances in a way that allows for us to get the most out of prayer. Some of us prefer to be in nature, while others like a quiet room. Some worship with music, while others imaginatively engage with scripture.
Ultimately, however, prayer is a two-way encounter. We can agree to show up, but we cannot determine what God will give us.
There are many theories as to the reason behind the tougher, more spiritually dry moments that everyone from Mother Teresa to Jesus experienced: a certain baptism by fire; the quiet, whispering, more unexpected nature of God’s presence; etc.
We may not be able to determine when it is easy versus when it is tough. But we can decide to come to the table, prepared for whatever God might have in store.