Praying as a Rough Draft
It has been oft repeated in my presence that, "The hardest thing about writing is getting started." Having been through graduate school twice, and maintaining this blog for nearly seven years, I do believe this is true.
What is hard about writing a term paper, in particular, is that it takes time to get onto paper what we have in our minds. That is, it takes us several drafts to distill our thoughts ever more clearly until we have something that, hopefully, conveys as best as we are able what it is that we want to say. Undoubtedly, and after several weeks or months, we may revisit our 'final' draft only to realize that what we though had been said so clearly could have, in fact, been expressed better. Perhaps this is what is humbling about reading our past work: we realize our writing is always working toward greater clarity.
The same adage used about writers, I suspect, is true of those of us who wish to pray. It's hard to get started. Many times, I feel like I'm just pouring out words without rhyme or reason, that everything is jumbled. My pride gets in the way, leading me to feel discouraged that what I am praying, or how I am feeling, is inadequate or stupid. Just as it is easy to succumb to the temptation to quite while writing a rough draft because the text is not taking shape as easily as one might like, so too is it easy to quit prayer when the prayer doesn't live up to our standards of "excellence."
I mention this because I think that the Ignatian Examen is sort of a writer's prayer. It asks us to look, again and again, at the rough draft of our lives. Each day, we get a chance to edit, to critique, and to rethink the way the story of our lives is taking shape. Although one seldom sees rapid change or sudden shifts, it is not uncommon for me to look back after several months and say, "Geez, there is growth here after all!" Several months later, I can look again and think, "Boy, I'm coming along. I thought I had it back then, but I am getting it better today." If I were aiming at perfection, at absolute clarity and certainty, then I guess I'd be frustrated with this cycle. Since I'm acutely aware of not being perfect and that I have scant chance of ever being absolutely clear, I take heart that I'm always growing.
So what's the point? It's okay for prayer to be a rough-draft. So long as you are putting forth the effort, trying to bring out what is deepest within you, be confident that you are doing exactly what prayer is meant to do. Just as we often struggle and fumble for the right word to express how we feel, just as we struggle to turn out the perfect paragraph, so also is it the case that we have to go through prayer drafts as we claw our way toward expressing what it is that our heart most deeply and truly desires. I