“Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” These were spoken to me by my spiritual director on a retreat several years ago. He gave me this advice after I had complained that my prayer was feeling a little stale and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. He suggested that perhaps, I needed to be more honest in prayer and not try to put on a “good face” for God. He was right. At that point in my life, things were not going as well as I had wanted or hoped. I was experiencing some stress in my ministry and a couple of relationships were a bit strained. The difficulty was that when I went to prayer, I didn’t bring these things with me. Instead my prayer consisted of reading the scriptures and using a lot of pious words.
My spiritual director suggested that I bring to God in prayer the pain and sadness I was feeling. At first I balked at this idea. After all, this wasn’t the way I was taught to pray. I did follow his advice, though, and as the retreat progressed, so too did my sense of peace and serenity. The situation certainly hadn’t changed, but I realized that God’s grace was being offered to me in the midst of that situation. I also learned that God can handle our questions, our doubts, and our anger.
I don’t think my experience is too unusual. Too often we think we need to “dress up” our prayer and put on a “good face” when we come to God in prayer. We aren’t really ourselves, but rather we put on a façade and pretend to be someone we aren’t. The thing is, though, that God knows us better than we know ourselves. God is not surprised at who we are or what we do. We can’t deceive God, so we might as well be honest with God in our prayer.
Given the above, we never need be fearful of coming to God in honesty and openness, trusting that the God who created us in love will not love us less or reject us for being who we are. When we come to God in prayer, we just need to be ourselves, without pretense and without guile. God knows us and loves us as we are, not for what we think we need to be.
In our prayer, we need to pray as we can and not as we can’t. And we need to trust and believe that in response to our honest prayer, God will give us the grace we need.