“A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else.” – Richard Rohr
Just as most things in life start with awareness, our lives with God start with our awareness of God and His kingdom. Some of us move in faith from the basic level of knowing about God into a relationship of loving trust, and start getting to know God Himself. And so our life of prayer is born. A life of prayer is a journey of learning to trust in God's love in all things and for all things.
God awakens our awareness of Him, initiates relationship, and calls us to follow Him. He invites, we respond. He speaks, we listen. God always takes the first step. We don't talk to God without God first speaking to us. He always makes the first move.
When talking about prayer, it only makes sense to start by pausing and starting by becoming aware of where, how, and who we are in our lives with God. "The Wheres" are the undeniable facts of our lives, such as, our culture, state of body/health, education, family situation etc. "The Hows" are the ways how we are responding to the realities of our lives (“the wheres"). Here we have choices to make and navigate. "The Who" is the naked, true center of us where God invites us to be fully seen, known and loved the way we are. This is where God dwells in us and is transforming us into wholeness.
The following prayer practice will help you to become aware of the different layers of your life and yourself. When you examine yourself, try to your best ability find what is true about yourself right now, not what you think should be true, you wish to be true, or even what you fear to be true. When we dare to put aside our false reference points about ourselves, and be present to what is really true about us, we can much more easily listen to the voice of God, who is truth, and receive His gifts of healing, forgiveness, strengthening, and comfort.
The six things that we will look at are: 1. Givens / Facts of our Life (the undeniable realities) 2. Preoccupations of the Mind 3. Movements of the Heart 4. Condition of the Body 5. Questions Held & Unanswered 6. Desires & Longings.
As you go through this exercise, I encourage you to:
Go slowly, avoid self-editing and self-judgment, ask yourself before writing, "Is what I'm about to write true?", word your noticings in short sentences, using the first person, avoid explanation and analysis, distinguish between thoughts and feelings, distinguish between desire and duty (being drawn rather than being driven).
There might be dozens of things that you could write down for each question, however, I encourage you to be reflective and trust that the things that come to mind first are important for you to notice right now and only write down a few things that feel most significant.
In short try to observe yourself with curiosity without judgement. Keep the responses brief, true, unedited, and unexplained.
Start by centering yourself by becoming aware of God’s loving presence with you. Ask Him to give you the freedom to notice yourself and your life without criticism or judgement, knowing yourself loved and accepted by God.
Notice your life through the lens of the six questions below and write them in your journal or on the attached sheet.
Write down the undeniable realities of your life. E.g., "My job requires me to work 50 hours a week" or "I am caring for aging parents."
In a few words or short sentences, jot down what you have been thinking a lot about lately. E.g., "I've been thinking about the relationships in my workplace." or "I've been trying to figure out how to spend the holidays."
Notice your strong or frequently surfacing emotions from the past while and what triggered them in you. This could look like, "I've felt anxious about how far behind I am at work." or "I been enjoying my two young children." or "I've felt so grateful for our new home."
Take some deep, slow breaths. As you become aware of your breath, notice what happens in your body, and what your body wants to tell you. Notice how things are with your body these days and even right now. E.g., "I'm feeling energized and rested", or "I have a headache and I feel tightness in my chest." If you feel drawn to, place a dot on where you think you fall on the "tiredness continuum" in the attached sheet (it is adapted from Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton).
Picture Jesus coming to sit next to you, what question would you like to ask Him? (and have answered!) Write that question down and express it to God now. Notice what happens in you.
Name to God what you have been wanting. What are some of your currents longings and desires. It could sound like, "I wish I had... “ or "What I really want is..."
Pause and slowly read the statements from start to end. What stands out to you as you read your own words back to you? What might God be bringing to your attention? Resist the temptation to try to “fix” anything, instead, take time to notice what is true about you. Talk with God about your noticings and feelings about what you have seen. Ask God, “What are we going to do about this?”
How did this way of being with God differ from your normal way of praying? How did it help you to gain insights into your spiritual life, including body, mind, and heart?
This prayer exercise can be used periodically when you want to become aware of the landscape of your spiritual life. This is also a wonderful practice as part of your soul accompaniment group, or a preparation for spiritual direction session.
Resources: Inner Compass, An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf
Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence by Ruth Haley Barton
I was introduced to this exercise through the School of Spiritual Direction by Sustainable Faith.
Download an empty Awareness Exercise sheet here for your journaling.
The topic of the blog is part of a series of teachings on "A Praying Life: Creating Space", which I am currently teaching at my church home at Denver Presbyterian Church. You are more than welcome to join us for the following weeks!