Step 7: Humbly asked [God] to remove our shortcomings
My prayers sound super holy. My out loud, in-front-of-others prayer, that is. And by holy, I mostly mean sincere and humble with all sorts of Christian-y words. My by-myself prayers? Much less impressive, and depending on the day, far more swearing than I’d like to admit.
I remember sitting in community group one time (that’s our church’s word for Bible Study) and we were individually out-loud praying for the person to our right in front of the whole group. There were probably eight people in the room that evening. I was praying for a friend in medical school who was struggling with the rotation he was on at the time (read: the specific field he was learning about in action in a hospital), and I started with my customary deep breath and casual “Hey Jesus,” because we’re old pals, me and that guy.
I started in with a series of effusive thank you’s before laying my request before the Lord, as I was taught. I then proceeded to wax rhapsodic about the wonders and beauty of the human body and prayed for my friend to be filled with awe at the… and I completely lost my train of thought. Not only that, I started thinking back to the words I had been saying and thinking, “Wow I sound mad pretentious,” so any hope I had of continuing had been drowned by self-conscious incredulity. I stumbled through the rest of the prayer, tacking on a “in Jesus’ name” to cover my bases, and the next person in the circle mercifully took over.
I would like to think that out-loud prayers are a good practice and that mine might even be earnest. But how much of it is me trying to game the system, thinking that the exact right phrasing is all that is keeping me from getting God to bend to my will? Do I really believe that the quality of my prayer, the amount of Scripture I reference in said prayer, or the amount of affirmative sounds I get from the people listening is what will wrestle the begrudging “yes” from God’s lips? And I wonder, am I praying to sound impressive and clever, or out of a humble desire to draw near to God?
I touched on ideas of control, honesty, and surrender over the last couple of weeks: getting to the point where we can admit the exact nature of our wrongs, then becoming entirely ready to have these defects of character removed. Now we have made it to the action step, and it is maddening for the task-oriented among us.
Step seven states that we humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.
It’s hard for me to think about humbly asking for anything. If I do any humble asking, it is a last resort. I will do absolutely everything I can to figure out and fix on my own before even considering an ask, and even then it is rarely humble. I have always wanted to appear impressive and put together, as if my life depended on it. But I suppose I wouldn’t be so interested in these steps if my manhandling, steam-roller method actually worked out well for anybody.
A humble ask means surrendering the timing and the means and the method of the answer. Anne Lamott writes that grace is being all out of good ideas. The humble ask isn’t predicated on good behavior or strength of will or having a solid strategy. The humble ask says, “I’m out of good ideas.” It requires a great deal of honesty. Luckily, the prior steps serve to increase our honest self-awareness. But it also requires that we be gentle with ourselves. Brennan Manning writes, “…the more fully we accept ourselves, the more successfully we begin to grow. Love is a far better stimulus than threat or pressure.”
We can only humbly ask something of someone we trust, someone we know will not hold the favor over our heads or use our vulnerability against us. When it comes to the intimate act of removing shortcomings, I find it difficult to trust anybody that much, even God. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that building trust is like dropping out bread-crumbs of vulnerability and honesty. If it goes well, then we can continue to drop crumbs until we are certain that the person is trustworthy.
I tend to do the same with God, measuring God’s trustworthiness by my standard of whether or not God plays by my rules. Fortunately for me, love is patient, and if God is love, then God is also patient. There is a phrase that is repeated several times throughout the Old Testament that describes God as, “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Or, as Richard Rohr describes, “God is humble and never comes if not first invited, but God will find some clever way to get invited.”
Just as I drop breadcrumbs of trust for God, God also drops breadcrumbs of faithfulness for me. I think that the humble ask is more about honesty than agenda. Sure, something happens, but it isn’t a fear and shame-based obedience. It is a transformative grace and presence, a steadfast love that proclaims over and over that God is faithful and trustworthy. But it’s not like the clouds part and God magically makes us perfect with the snap of a metaphysical finger. The humble ask is about saying the out-loud prayer knowing that the answer isn’t up to your phrasing or your good ideas. It is finally agreeing to the honest invitation that God has set before us and saying, “Alright, then. Let’s do this your way.”
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