“It’s just that all the answers of my evangelical past—read more Scripture, pray longer, try harder, serve more people—have become heavy burdens in my life. I can’t do enough to prove myself spiritually fit.” ~ Micha Boyett
Our youngest son’s health was failing, and we were trapped inside a Children’s Hospital, watching him waste away. I prayed every prayer I could muster, prayed for healing, for life, for the doctors to discover the underlying condition. I prayed prayers of faith, and lack of faith. I gave God the grand out--if it be your will. I prayed early morning prayers, and prayers while doing late-night loads of laundry in the hospital commons.
And then one night, I stopped praying altogether.
There are times when doubt is not a creeping, sneaky thing. There are times when you cannot work your way out of doubt. There are times when doubt is a hound of Hell with iron teeth clamped around your throat.
Identity issues are very real things.
In my mid-thirties, I uncovered a deep distrust for the evangelical platitudes of my youth. I’d done most of the right things—read scripture with continuity, prayed continually, joined the ministry machine for a stint. I was a bootstraps kind of believer, hoping that by enough tugging I might pull myself up to heaven. I wouldn’t have told you this, of course. I would have told you that I believed in grace.
When Micha was in eleventh grade, an itinerate preacher—a well-meaning one, I’m sure—visited her church in the Texas flat lands. A young fellow, he told the church-goers that if they “trusted Jesus enough,” they could “go an entire day without sin.” By implication, I suppose he might have opined that by trust and pure-D old boot-strapping effort, one could string a lifetime of sinless days together.
And there, among the flat-land throng was Micha, she with a budding intuition. Go without sin? Is such a thing possible?
In one’s early days, life is filled with notions of grandeur, of world-changing, of exploration. By our late-twenties and early thirties, so many of us are filled with notions of survival, instead—make it through another day at the office; change one more poopy diaper; arrive at church at some point after the opening hymn but before the benediction.
Micha dreamed of taking on Africa, of becoming a missionary to unreached peoples. This, she thought, was the pinnacle of Christian sainthood. Perhaps she thought that this sort of devotion would prove her fidelity toward God. Perhaps she believed that by good, holy work, she could reach heavenly status. No matter, by her thirtieth birthday, she’d walked far from those youthful dreams, was raising a child in the congested heart of San Francisco, groping for connection with God.
Prayer does not have to be a complicated act, an exercise in the effluence of words. Prayer can be simple, an act of understanding that the everyday, mundane tasks can be done as unto God. This, is Boyett’s grand claim, and she derives it from the Rule of St. Benedict.
It is a grand and freeing claim, indeed.
By contemplation, by study, by visiting the monks who have devoted their lives to prayer and service, Micha learned the solace in the simplest prayers, prayers like, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
She breathed this prayer in rhythm over the waters of the South Platte, fly-line unfurling on the waters. She found that even fly-fishing can be done as unto God. She has learned the way of simple prayer—perhaps the way back to prayer.
“Prayer is not as hard as I make it out to be. Again and again, lift and unfold. Lay that line out, let it meander a little. Do it again. I am not profound. I am not brave in spirit. My faith is threadbare and self-consumed, but I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.”
Is prayer about moving mountains in faith? Is prayer about finding healing in an Arkansas hospital room? Is prayer a form of magic, a spell to be cast over the problem du jour?
No. This sort of prayer, I think, is born from the same bootstrap mentality that says you don’t have to sin. This sort of prayer is more about the pray-er, more about the need and the faith, or the standing required to conquer a thing.
Jesus taught us to pray more simple prayers, prayers that connect us to the very fabric of God and his universe. Boyett the Benedictine, the Mama Monk, teaches us the way of this sort of prayer, too. There is freedom here.
Sometimes epiphanies are sudden things, they come up like a west Texas thunderstorm, change the landscape of everything all of the sudden. Sometimes, though, they are slower working. Sometimes they start at the surface and work their way down to the fabric.
Was I praying all wrong back in those Arkansas Children’s Hospital days? Was there a reason my prayers ricocheted from the ceilings? I don’t know. I know some simpler prayers might have done me well, though.
As for you: do you believe that God likes you despite your own broken prayers, your inability to measure up, to go a day without sinning? Do you believe that you identity is found in your endless doing, your striving. Do you wonder whether you’ll ever pile up enough works to reach the heavens?
There are gems in this book of Boyett’s. She sneaks its Benedictine shots in with the grace of a God-bearer and the chops of one with a Master of Fine Arts in poetry. She writes beautiful sentences, allows the reader his own slow epiphany.
God's love is not only for the deserving doers, the perfect prayers, Micha might say. Instead, it is for the everyday common man, for those too tired to try measuring up to some silly standard. And yes, most of our standards of measuring are silly.