The Paradox of Prayer

There's something of a paradox built into the discipline of prayer. On the one hand, prayer involves an intrinsic awareness of the dynamism of real life. In other words, it takes seriously that life is uncertain, that it moves ever-stubbornly into the future as tomorrow ceaselessly rolls into today, and without choice we must face all the ambiguities that come along with it. To pray, with any degree of honesty, is to pray from a position of uncertainty and finitude. We pray because we are stepping into a foreign world which we do not know and we need some light to illuminate our path.

On the other hand, we pray because our feet are planted and in order to keep our footing secure. We pray in order to ground ourselves in the God whose agency conditions all human experience, whose certainty precedes human insecurity, and who rightly stakes claim on the very soil in which we are planted. We pray so that we may never be uprooted.

The paradox is that when we pray, we step forward with our feet firmly planted.

To reconcile the paradox is impossible to do without sacrificing the truth of the matter. If we forget the ambiguities of real life, our prayer will be an act of rooting ourselves in the wrong soil. Since God is present in and concerned with the concrete reality of the situation on the ground, if prayer is in any way disconnected from unfiltered human experience, then it is also disconnected from the object of God's concern. We cannot be honest with God if we are not honest about our confusion, our uncertainty, our personal struggle, and our untamed doubts.

And yet if we are merely content to recognize the struggle, to face it alone, and to disregard God's agency over the situation; if we lose our footing on the assurance of God's future, then we will likely stumble into despair and complacency.

Prayer is an odd mixture of hope and uncertainty, of confession and assurance, of autonomy and dependence. Let your prayers be liberated—free to confess honestly the anguish of the situation—and let them also be filled with the assurance that the future for which we wait is the future of God in the crucified Christ, a future of resurrection.