“God,” I said, “I just—“
Ten sharp little claws sank into the back of my neck. I opened my eyes and pried my seven-month old kitten from my shoulders and settled him back in my lap. He yawned and relaxed. I tried again. “God, today I—”
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I set the kitten aside, got dinner out of the oven and turned off the timer, returned to the couch, replaced the kitten, and started again. “Lord—”
The door opened a full fifteen minute before my husband was supposed to be home. “Hey,” he announced, hauling his laptop bag inside with him, “I came home early!”
There are days that we distract ourselves from prayer with our phones, with TV, with whatever fun hobby we have to hand, with Instagram and movies. There are also times where we are distracted from prayer by a multitude of circumstances we cannot control: a friend calling to announce a divorce, a spouse coming home early, pets and kids in need of attention or help, oven timers, the boss needing a report, someone swerving in front of you on the interstate, a sudden leak in the basement.
It is at these times that I feel I understand monks deeply, because who wouldn’t want a small span of time to gently step back from one’s life, to fold in all the needs and demands on our time quietly away into a drawer that we close, to enter a space and an environment where prayer and time with God was prioritized not just by us but by everyone around us?
It doesn’t work that way. And some days, I have come to accept, are going to be full of interrupted, half-spoken, broken-off prayers.
This is particularly frustrating to me because I long to become a person who prays continually, all day, and not just at a particular set time. I want to be in conversation with God perpetually. And yet it seems my attempts at ongoing conversation with God are a series of failures for all the reasons mentioned above: circumstances that intervene, people who need me right that second, a task that can’t be avoided.
You just have to prioritize the Lord, some people might say, sagely.
But if I truly prioritize my conversation on the Lord above all else on those days and refuse to let it be interrupted, this is what happens: I keep on praying through the claws on my neck until, eventually, I start bleeding or the kitten falls off and rips up the couch in the process. I sit in a room clouded by smoke and the screeeeeeeee of my smoke alarm as dinner burns in the oven. I ignore my husband. I shrug off my supervisor’s request to turn in a set of data ASAP. Life slows to a grind, to a crawl, and everything breaks.
And that isn’t the answer.
Rather, I suspect the solution is twofold, and it’s this:
1) Sometimes interrupting the prayer is being with the Lord. Yes, I am “with God” in prayer. But when I go to welcome my husband home and talk to him, to show care, I am also fulfilling God’s desire. When I reach out to a hurting person after their desperate text, even if it stops my praying, I am doing what God desires. When I fulfill what my supervisor asks of me, I am doing my work well, in the Lord’s name. Being with God is an elastic thing, an act that is, yes, praying, but also doing.
2) The “God, I just—” is sometimes enough. The other day, after a series of prayer attempts in which I literally only managed the first line and not even fully that in spite of demanding circumstances and my best efforts, I wondered to myself: what’s the point in even trying?
Well, the point is in the trying itself. Yes, I only managed eight half-started prayers, but I also believe God knows that those eight half-started prayers came from a desire to be close. To say hello. To check in. And for that reason, even if I didn’t get to say much, I believe God honors the spirit and the motivation behind the act. “God, I just—” translates at its simplest to “I am thinking of you” and “I desire to be close” and “I want to talk to you now.” Even if I’m not quite finishing the prayers I intend to start, I am sitting down with God in the cracks and crevices of the day and refusing to let Him be forgotten. I am bringing him, however briefly, into my life.
So don’t immediately dismiss the half-spoken prayer. Certainly, if you’re distracting yourself from your own prayer life through carelessness or selfishness, you should tend to that, but if you find sometimes that life simply gets in the way, recognize that your call to move away from prayer and into action doesn’t mean that you’re not present with the Lord. Sometimes there mere act of beginning has worth—certainly more than setting God aside until it becomes easy or simple. So if all you can manage is a “God, I just–” then take a deep breath and smile. Start over again when you get the chance. And enjoy the fact that He’s on your mind.