When Prayer is a Blow to the Ego


Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will.
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me. 
To you, Lord, I return it. 

Everything is yours; do with it what you will. 
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me. 
~Saint Ignatius of Loyola

I can speak only for myself, but this prayer scares the hell out of me. In my experience, this is a prayer of radical trust and tremendous risk. It is, ultimately, the prayer that led me to profess vows within the Society of Jesus...it is the prayer I fear I will never fully live into because of my own lack of courage. 

The first time I really prayed this prayer was when I was as a novice making the 30-Day Spiritual Exercises in 2005. Throughout the retreat, my heart had been moved by God's unimaginable grace and I wanted...and continue to want...to offer my whole self to the service of God's Kingdom as a Companion of Jesus. 

Now, this prayer (fortunately or unfortunately) does not mean that you can return your unruly children or send back your spouse whose snoring keeps you up at night. Would only that God have provided us with such a return policy. 

What it means, at least in my experience, is that one needs to surrender his agenda in order to make room for God's agenda. In a sense, it's a totally uneven trade: we give over to the Lord all of those things that we think make us who we and what we think we need and we are given, in exchange, all that we truly need: God's own self, God's own life. In this prayer, I ask nothing less than that God's life become my life. 

Let me be transparent: I am seldom possessed of a pure motivation. I try hard to be of an undivided heart, but I am a great sinner. I am ambitious. I am proud. I can be arrogant. I am self-conscious and tempted to be relevant, to be powerful, and to be looked upon as spectacular. I despise hypocrisy probably because it makes me aware of my own hypocritical tendencies. I like to be the go-to guy for information, for advice, and I like to be given the 'special project' because in being chosen above others, it pads my ego and gives me a greater sense of self. For good or for ill, I have a sense of how things ought to be and I seem to have enough of a knack for organizing that I can conceive of how these things might look were I in charge. 

I type the above paragraph and I want to delete it because my instinctual desire to have people think well of me is stirred. Let it be counted as a moment of grace that these demons be named. 

So when I pray, when I really pray, I feel myself totally displaced from the center of the cosmos that I should like to dwell within. My idea of heaven - where I stand at the center of creation - is shattered and I place, often reluctantly, my whole self in God's hands. When I pray, when I throw myself open to God's creativity and ask that God's life be made my life, I risk being re-created into the man God is trying to form. 

Oh, there is resistance to this painful grace. My dark side demands more than God's love. The sinister part of my heart taunts, "How will others know that you are loved if you have nothing to show for it?" This side prods me to jealousy, to comparison with others, and encourages me to rest on laurels or to put myself above others and to cast a haughty and condescending eye toward them. I want riches, I want honors. I want to be measured and compared and valued over-and-against others. I want to be seen as on top and to know that, in being on top, I stand over others. 

It is this sinful self that I offer to the Lord when I have the courage to pray the Suscipe (the name of the above prayer). I confront my own limitations and my own agenda and hand myself over to the One who wants to break open my limitations and give me a new agenda. This prayer is nothing less than taking the rough draft I have tried to write with my own life and giving it to the master editor who is going to critique it and help to give it a new direction. If my fragile ego can stand to be told that it is not as good, as wonderful, as powerful, as spectacular as it thinks it is...then it stands to be edited into a work that proclaims the glory of its true Author. 

I admit that I don't quite get it right. As I said a moment ago, I have a lot of sinful traits. Nevertheless, I'm joyful that I am learning more about these and I am finding greater courage to make my life into this prayer, to allow it to move from my lips to my heart to my whole self. It is really scary to surrender my way and to accept God's way, because I am not in charge. It is hard to accept God's values because they threaten the values that keep me safe and secure at the center of my self-created universe. 

I doubt that I'll ever make myself into an embodiment of this prayer, but maybe that can be a prayer on its own: let me, O Lord, become a living prayer, this living prayer. Let me become a tool of Your holy will, an instrument of Your boundless love, a vessel of Your amazing grace.
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