A young man, struggling with his prayer life had the opportunity to commune with Mother Teresa towards the end of her life. He thought this the ideal opportunity to get some tips on how to pray so he asked:
“What do you say when you pray?”
“My brother,” she replied, “I do not say anything, I listen.”
“Wow” thought the young man, she must have some amazing stories to tell about what God has said to her if she’s been listening this whole time. So he asked, “What does God say to you?”
“Nothing,” she replied, “he listens.”
I don’t know if this story is accurate but its moral remains the same.
How many of us are quick to reel off a list to God, whether it be a list of confessions, blessings or requests? We think our words are what God listens to but the truth is God knows what is on our hearts before we speak to him, as Matthew 6:8b says:
“…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Perhaps we could steal ourselves to listen to God but the 2nd half of the story is pretty scary isn’t it? What if we don’t hear anything back?! If God doesn’t talk to Mother Teresa he’s not going to speak to me, is he?! But he does – God speaks to us in ways other than audible words: through the words of other people, through the actions of other people or through the things we see happening around us. We just need to listen and we will hear.
There is no right way to pray. Praying in silence won’t suit everyone but praying is about your relationship with God. If you don’t give the relationship time and space, it simply can’t develop. Praying needs to be a 2 way process between you and God, whether you’re praying the Psalms, singing Matt Redman, dancing to ABBA, painting, reading the Bible, walking or in silence, I challenge you to listen to God listening to you and you’ll experience a new transcendent relationship.
Recently, work stress got too much for someone I know and they broke down in tears but instead of blurting out everything they were upset about, through their tears they were saying things like “don’t tell anyone”, “don’t let anyone see me” and “I was in the army, this isn’t like me”.
I found it very sad that instead of letting herself express her emotion naturally, as she needed to, she was desperate to cover it up and pretend it wasn’t happening. As it turned out – someone did see and to cut a long story short, the biggest stressor was removed and issue was resolved. I’m not saying that crying was the only way to solve the problem, it would have been better if her rational requests for more support and time had been heard but since they hadn’t, if she’d hidden her tears at home or in the toilet (as so many are), she would still be in the same ridiculously stressful situation with unrealistic expectations being placed upon her.
When working as a doctor I would frequently feel overwhelmed and would have to dash to the toilet to compose myself. I would take a few deep breaths and prepare myself to face the patients again – this was a holding pattern – nothing was being resolved. I hid it for as long as I could but one time when I broke down in front of a colleague, it was such a relief when she insisted I talk to her about how stressed I felt. She couldn’t solve my problems, I was ill and needed professional support, but it was really helpful knowing she was knew what I was going through and she was there for me when I needed her.
No one should have to resort to crying at work to resolve a stressful situation but just as laughter is a way to express joy, happiness, confusion or embarrassment, tears are a way of expressing sadness and pain.
When I feel especially passionate about something, often, I will get chocked up. I get frustrated, feeling concerned that my tears my detract from my words. But in truth, it’ll be the fact that I’m stopping myself from tearing that will detract from my words. If I let myself express my passion using my words and my tears, perhaps the power of my passion would be communicated.
As well as emotions, we also tear up in response to compassion, morality, sympathy and physical pain – these are automatic responses. Our eyes also tear in response to irritants such as smoke, pollen or onions, this is to protect the eye.
I’d not do this subject justice if I didn’t comment on the male:female divide – females cry 3-4 times more often than males. In the story I relayed above, why was it relavent that she’d been in the army? My question is rhetorical, I know exactly what she meant. My point is, why is it considered “strong and manly” to be able to not cry? As I explained in this post about men expressing their emotions, it’s human to express emotions. It’s unhelpful and unhealthy to keep emotions locked away.
I think we’ve got a long way to go but I’m just trying to say we should not be afraid of tears. As a side note, physically, tears are healthy for our eyes, they keep them lubricated, protected from irritants and have antimicrobial properties. Tears contain stress hormones and some studies have shown that this can be a helpful way for them to leave the body.
I’m not saying “go on everyone, have a good cry”. The support we receive when we cry is important. A good cry can feel cathartic but if we cry and don’t receive support, we can be left feeling shame. Perhaps we all just need to have a little more understanding and acceptance of crying, it is just a natural way to express an emotion.
I hope you can excuse a little self indulgence while I digest what just happened… Some of you will have seen me on The Big Questions (TBQ) on BBC1 today debating the subject “Is religion good for your mental health”. If you missed it, you can catch it on iPlayer here. It was my 2nd experience of live TV, it’s kinda fun being treated like an important person for a couple of hours. I was asked if I enjoyed it… I think I can certainly say it was an experience but, enjoy? I’m not sure!
In case you don’t know me, in a nutshell, I woulnd’t be alive right now if it were not for my faith. I don’t always tak about my faith, for more details see here. But there’s no escaping it now – live on BBC1 I stated that I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
To be honest, right now I feel overwhelmed with sadness that people claim to be working in the name of God, express hatred towards other human beings. I have been brought up to love everyone, I don’t think this was part of my “religious upbringing” or it’s just a descent thing to do. I do not judge people, it is not my place – I treat others as I would like to be treated.
First things first, I’m not out to convert anyone – I share my religious views, if you don’t share them, please do not dismiss me, please do not label me as “judgmental” or assume I hold views that you haven’t asked me about. I share my experiences in case they will help other people.
If someone doesn’t want to experience a personal relationship for God, I’m not going to force it on them. If, however, you’re looking for one and all you hear is “you’re a bad person”, “you’re sinful”, “you’re going to hell”, “you need change before you’re accepted” – this is fundamentally wrong. These words are human in origin, this is not what God says. If you’ve had a bad experience of religion, long story short, it’s likely to have been the human element (i.e. other human’s telling you what you should think or how you should behave) that messed it up, not God.
My experience of God is simple – he loves me for who I am, just the way I am, if I make a mistake he has forgiven me before I do it. He invites me into a personal, loving, relationship with him. As a Anglican Christian, I am fortunate that with my faith comes a loving community – this is not everyone’s experience of Christianity and I feel pretty angry about that.
Predictably, there were people on TBQ who had bad experiences with religion and, rightfully so, wanted to get their voice heard. There were also people who weren’t bothered by religion who didn’t think it was something they needed in order to be healthy. As I have previously found, people who feel they have been wronged have a very loud voice. I find myself wondering what people want when they shout about a bad experience, often an answer to this question is not forthcoming. The need to be heard is powerful but often people don’t think they have been heard unless you agree with them.
I do not dismiss other people’s experiences, I find it hurtful and disrespectful when my experience is disregarded or laughed at. Although I felt respected by all staff working on the production, I was surprised at the “guests” and members of public before and after the debate. A debate is a forum where opposing arguments can be put forward – perhaps I was expecting people to actually listen respectfully to each other but this wasn’t what people wanted to do. People spoke over each other and took the topic off tangent to make unconnected points.
In summary, am I glad I agreed to go on TBQ? On balance, yes but there’s no way this subject could be fully explored in such a short time or with people who just want to get their point across without fully listening to other people.