On a fall day in 1981 I began a new journey of extended times of prayer. I will never forget that day! We were living in East Lansing, Michigan. I drove to a county park carrying my Bible, spiritual journal, and a copy of A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. I walked to a field in the park. An abandoned rusty tractor was in the field. I climbed up and sat on the tractor seat. I stayed there for several hours.
I remember thinking "What am I doing here, 'doing nothing'? I could be xeroxing right now!"
It was a struggle for me to pray that day. I believe that to pray is to be in relationship with God. But how should I respond? I felt like someone who loved God, but not enough to spend time with him. I did not know how to do this. On that day I struggled to pray.
Henri Nouwen writes about what it's like to come from prayer-barrenness into the life of praying.
"Once we have committed ourselves to spending time in solitude, we develop an attentiveness to God's voice in us. In the beginning, during the first days, weeks, or even months, we may have the feeling that we are simply wasting our time. Times of solitude may at first seem little more than a time in which we are bombarded by thousands of thoughts and feelings that emerge from hidden areas of our mind. One of the early Christian writers describes the first stage of solitary prayer as the experience of someone who, after years of living with open doors, suddenly decides to shut them. Visitors who used to come and enter the home start pounding on the doors, wondering why they are not allowed to enter. Only when they realize that they are not welcome do they gradually stop coming. This is the experience of anyone who decides to enter into solitude after a life without much spiritual discipline. At first, the many distractions keep presenting themselves. Later, as they receive less and less attention, they slowly withdraw." (Nouwen, Making All Things New; cited in Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader, 64-65)
That long prayer-afternoon on the tractor was the dawning of a deeper prayer life for me. It was a watershed moment where the deep waters of my heart began to flow in a different direction. (I used A Guide to Prayer for the next two years.)