In the church circles in which I have moved, and lived, and had my being, people sometimes speak of “a life of prayer.” They have in mind a person who prays more frequently than others. But beyond a life of prayer there is a life that is prayer. As was said of Francis of Assisi, “He seemed not so much a man praying as prayer itself made a man.”
The prayer that is our life can contradict the prayer that is our words. For example, a person may say, “Hallowed be thy name,” while their life cries, “Honored be my name.” They can recite with their mouth, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” even as their life pleads, “My authority be established, my desires be done.” Though they pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” their life declares, “Get me as close to temptation as possible.”
A person’s life is a prayer, a request, and possibly even a curse. It is the prayer that we repeat over and over, parrot-like, to the heavens. It is our real voice. If God were to translate what that life is saying – for one’s life is saying something, and God hears it clearly – what might it be?
What God hears some people pray in their true voice is, “Leave me alone. Just leave me alone.” Others say, “Let everyone adore me. I would be god.” Some people’s lives repeat idiotically, over and over, “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.” Others say, like a broken record, “My will be done, my will be done, my will be done, my will be done…” to all eternity.
On the day of judgment, the real message of our lives will be dug out of us, and we will hear, beyond any shadow of a doubt, our true voice. We will know what prayer our lives have been repeating all along. What a farce it will seem to us then to remember how we punctuated our life’s unceasing mantra, “My will be done,” with the pious refrain, “If it be your will.”
A person’s life is a prayer which God hears and understands. Sometimes he hears a person’s life requesting twenty different things simultaneously, and all of them contradictory. They say thatthey want wisdom yet, when God gives it to them, they refuse to take it. God is prepared to do remarkable things in them and for them, but they are not ready or willing for him to do it. Their divided soul is demanding contradictory things.
What can be learned from this? We can learn that the divided soul, set on one thing even as it “prays” for another, is a problem for all of us – for the pastor and the parishioner, the sinner and the saint. In one sense, the job before us is to bring the life we live and the prayers we speak into agreement. As the two converge, we will see many more prayers answered, and we’ll remain hopeful about those that aren’t. Throughout the history of the church, the people who have been known for their answered prayers were men and women whose lives and prayers most consistently said the same thing.
What can be done about this? We can ask people who know us well to describe to us what they hear our life saying. We can ask, “If my life were a book, what would be its theme?” These friends will see and hear things we miss, things we need – but might not really want – to know. And yet we need to know them.
We can also set about bringing our life and our prayers into alignment. Or say rather, we can tune our prayers and life to the same pitch. This is not accomplished by tuning them to each other, which merely makes a person consistent, but by tuning both our lives and prayers to God and his ways, which makes a person beautiful. Then our prayers will be more consistently answered, and that has been God’s intention all along.