Sunday, February 19, 2012

Prayer and Busyness as Moral Laziness

Linda, in Ann Arbor

When I began to have extended prayer times back in 1982, some as long as 6-10 hours, I sometimes found myself thinking that people are going to get upset with me because I am "doing nothing." A thought like this would come to me: "I should be xeroxing right now." I should at least be "doing something!" At its worst, I was concerned that my board of directors of our campus ministry might interpret my many hours of prayer as laziness and a refusal to do hard work. (They did not, BTW.)

Thirty years have passed, and I don't have those thoughts any more. In fact, I think the opposite. I now know that "doing" that does not come out of an abiding prayer life is irrelevant. Since prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together, I need to regularly meet with God and find out what he is doing, and what he wants me to do. My "doing," as some like Thomas Merton have written, must emerge out of my "being" (with God).

In true Jesus-like upside-down fashion, James Houston calls busyness "moral laziness." He writes:

"Busyness can be an addictive drug, which is why its victims are increasingly referred to as "workaholics." Busyness acts to repress our inner fears and personal anxieties, as we scramble to achieve an enviable image to display to others. We become "outward" people, obsessed with how we appear, rather than "inward" people, reflecting on the meaning of our lives." (Houston, The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, 17)

It's common for me to ask someone I don't know the question "Who are you?" This is a different question than "What do you do?" Prayer is a "Who are you?" activity rather than a "What do you do?" thing. And, these questions have a proper spiritual and psychological order, which is:

Question 1 - Who are you?

Question 2 - What do you do?

Answer Question 1 before you answer Question 2. Q2 always flows from Q1, rather than vice versa.

Don't "do" until you "are."