Praying to a Quiet God
As far as I can tell, I have never been directly spoken to by any form of divinity. God is very, very quiet with me.
God does not flip open my Bible and highlight the Scripture I should read in times of crisis. God does not respond to my questions of suffering with the same immediacy that I might employ in responding to a loved one’s questions. God does not tell me where to go or what choices to make– at least not in any discernible way. I can certainly see where God’s will (which I have always experienced as more of God’s intentions for how I respond to the world, rather than as God’s play-by-play for what my life should be) has guided me through challenges and joys. But that revelation comes in hindsight, and is far more nebulous while I am in the midst of those challenges. In my prayers of struggle, God’s quiet is far more likely to haunt me than bring me any sort of peace.
I often approach prayer in the same way that I write a paper or make an argument– here is my central question, here’s the evidence, what conclusions can I draw? I am pretty consistently evaluating the quality of my prayer, often anxiously adding caveats, clarifications, and addendums so as to not ask God for something that could be detrimental to me or others and to be sure that I am thoroughly covering every category under gratitude, petition, and (in my case, far less frequently) praise of God. But just as when I write a paper without expecting a response from my reader, I often don’t expect or leave room for a response from God. My absence of expectations for God may relate to wanting to be the one to come up with the answers, but it also largely relates to what is probably my greatest fear.
My main fear with a quiet God is this: when I am praying to God, and I get no response, I feel the terror of the potential of there being no God there at all. I fear that I am praying into nothingness, that I am alone, and that I have been deluding myself for the past couple of decades with the idea that there is a Creator who listens to and guides me.
Always, always, though, I continue to pray.
In my prayer I may think “well, God, I’m not even sure you’re hearing this, but if you are…” That “but” has always been crucial to me– there is always a push to pursue a relationship with God, even when it seems like a pretty vague process.
The doubt that I consistently wrestle with in my spiritual life, however, has often been where I recognize my faith most clearly. Recently, my pastor said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Without doubt you cannot fall more deeply into your faith.” This was super important for me to hear– I have always felt guilty about my doubt, seeing it as a problem with me and the strength of my faith. But through every period of doubt I have experienced (and I have experienced and will continue to experience many), I have always come to new insights about God, have relied more on my faith in God, and have increasingly said “but” to my prayers of doubt.
A period of doubt is just as viable a way for me to choose faith in God as periods of strong faith. And for me, the active choice of faith, especially when it is hard, is how I hear God most clearly. Because the “but” in my prayer is, in my mind, God saying to me: “Choose.” And, albeit sometimes rather begrudgingly, I choose to continue with my prayer. I choose to believe in God, and God leaves that choice open to me through quiet.
I hope that, in the future, my prayers are quieter– that I reduce my own words and thoughts and increase the time for quiet. Being quiet with God is very, very scary for me, but it allows me to choose to have faith in a God who will probably not ever explicitly argue his existence to me. I can know God’s grace both in the quiet and the choice offered through it. I hope that I choose to be quiet with God, praying simply:
“Here I am, and so are You.”
And then, I wait.
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Laura Machado lives in Chicago. She teaches high school English and Spanish and is a catechist for middle schoolers at her parish. Laura grew up in Southern California. She likes to read, go for walks, and do yoga.