The Unspoken Part of the Lord’s Prayer
I have been thinking a lot about this prayer of late. I attempt to pray this prayer every morning as soon as I remember to do it. There is a reason that I attempt to pray the Prayer that Jesus taught us every morning. It happened when I was depleted, defeated and completely devoid of faith.
I was back in recovery after 5 years away for my abuse of alcohol and other types of medication. I was a few whiskers short of insanity and just wanted to abandon everything to live in an alley all alone. I was lost. My body was completely shot, and so where my nerves. I felt like nothing and could not imagine amounting to anything. I had not hope for my future and believed that I was completely worthless.
My family had lost any trust in me that I had worked hard to squander any type of good will left in my bank accounts. The pain overwhelmed me and regret seemed to engulf me. I was deeply ashamed and wanted to put any substance inside me that would make me discontinue existing.
I was fortunate to have a tough and loving wife, a gorgeous daughter and an amazing support network that helped me make it through these harrowing months of initial detox.
It took me at least 9 to 12 months to make it through the day without shaking at the mere sight of alcohol. I oozed gallons of sweat, shook so violently I had to sit on my hands, broke into fits of crying constantly, hallucinated, scratched at the unseen ants that felt like they were crawling up and down my legs, hid for hours under a quilt in the fetal position and became sure that I could not make it a day, an hour without relapsing.
I was told that surrender was not something I did from a position of strength. Surrender was what happened when you had your guns drawn, but you had already been overrun by the enemy long ago. I was so defeated, embarrassed and definitely overrun.
I did not know how to be humble without first experiencing humiliation. I was deeply depressed and pouring a depressant onto it didn’t seem to help. So, I was now open to suggestions.
I was told to talk with someone honestly, go to AA meetings, not to take illicit substances for a whole 24-hour period and to pray when I woke up (even if I no longer believed in God).
I could do the first two, but the second two seemed to be very hard. So, I decided to try. I didn’t give up my addictions forever, I gave them up this moment. I also tried to pray.
You would have thought that a seasoned minister would know how to pray. Yet, I had absolutely, positively no faith left. I did not believe in God, or at least a God that could accept someone like me.
I started with the serenity prayer, but there was too much time in my day in between for such a short prayer. So, I began thinking of mantras. For a while I did the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy on me a sinner.” Yet, it seemed to reinforce my negativity about myself and God’s condemnation of me. I realized I didn’t know how to pray.
So, somewhere after a worship service I found myself reflecting on the words of the Lord’s Prayer that I had recited a million times. The words seemed to mean something different to me now. Sometimes I could not get past the first word, “Our.” So, I determined to say this prayer until I understood it’s simple teaching.
I find myself saying it now in different situations. When I feel betrayed by those I thought were close, when I feel abandoned by the church I serve, when I am overwhelmed by the pain shared with me by those who are near, when I am angry by the injustice that pervades our city, when depression seems to wall me in, during the panic attacks that invade my senses, the overwhelming sense that I will never catch up, when I am sure I am the worst pastor to roam this planet, when I too often feel like a complete and utter failure I turn back to this prayer.
Is it the words? That is part of it. It centers me back to where I should be. Yet, the prayer is not the words alone. Too often that has been why it has become a stilted exercise in a zombie recitation. It is the teaching that follows the prayer in this passage that reminds us that this prayer transcends words said.
It is in the second half of Jesus’ teaching where I find hope. It is in the receiving of the promise of hope through the sending of the Holy Spirit. There has always been an overabundance of grace flowing from the recipients of the first words of that great prayer. Our… It is the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus at the end of this text that flows in and amongst you and me. It is amongst the victims of injustice, the recipients of planned poverty, the gentrified, the abused, the ones enduring racism, the hopeful immigrant, the righteously angry feminist, the fearful man in the trailer park, coworkers the single mother, the hungry teen ager, the innocent kitten, the nervous dog, the person dying from a lack of insurance, the forgotten vet, the jonesing addict who is desperate, the vision of the artist, the speech of the poet and the love of family.
I have a faith today because of this prayer that I could not have ever imagined in the midst of my darkest hours. I will keep praying it, even when I can’t believe in God, when I am humiliated, when I am depleted and feel like I cannot go on one more day. I have to, because it is where my faith resides.
As one of my favorite country singers says: Life is hard, love is easy. It is so much easier with you than it is all alone. I think I will continue to believe in the Spirit that is implicit in the first word of the Lord’s prayer. It is “ours” and I don’t intend to abandon this faith anytime soon. Today I am truly grateful.