I like small prayers. I know, I know…God knows no degree of difficulty. Big prayers are just as easy to answer as little prayers. But still, I like the little ones. They’re fun. And besides, it’s a great way to practice presence of Mind.
One of the best ways to practice praying is by shooting baskets from the free throw line. (In the interests of full disclosure, I really suck at basketball, but I do like to shoot baskets once in awhile.) The fact that I have very little skill at basketball just makes shooting baskets that much more exciting. Here’s how I do it:
There’s the basket, way over there, and the ball is in my hands. I know that in order for the ball to get to the basket, it has to travel a certain path. Given my strength, the weight of the ball, and the distance to the basket, that path falls within a narrow range of possible trajectories. If I were strong enough to throw the ball fifty feet in the air in a perfect parabolic curve, that curve would be one of the possible trajectories. But I’m not that strong, so the right path for me is always pretty simple.
Since my intention is to make the basket, the path my ball has to follow starts to light up like runway lights. I can see it illuminated in the air in front of me—a perfect arc from the ball in my hands to the center of the hoop. All I have to do is follow the arc. I don’t pray for God to make the shot for me, expecting that it will happen as if by magic, ignoring the laws of physics. That only happens in movies; there are no special effects in real life. But because I want to make the shot, and I will myself to make the shot, and I put myself on the line with my whole body and my complete attention, I make the shot. My prayer encompasses my entire being. I am my prayer. And my prayer gets answered.
I like praying at work, too. Sometimes, I have too much to do and too little time to do it. Judging by all past performance, there simply is not enough time. So, I look at the clock, select the time I want to finish, and then see myself finishing at that time. Then I let it happen. Sure, it has to be feasible—I can’t decide to do an hour’s worth of work in five minutes. (Although, isn’t that what Eli Whitney did when he invented the cotton gin?)
I love the feeling when it happens, the complete absence of resistance in my body, the utter simplicity of my movements, the economy and efficiency as each step blends seamlessly into the next. It’s wonderful. All of my limitations melt away. The universe factors me into the equation of the task at hand, and the work gets done!
I like praying for little things, because there’s an unlimited supply of little things to pray for. Big things, almost by definition, are harder to come by. And when you think about it, don’t they say that big tasks are easier to accomplish if you break them down into bite-sized chunks? Isn’t it easier to see a person in traffic back down from his road rage, if only a little, than it is to see the end of all wars? I tell you, I’m an instant gratification kind of guy, and I like seeing my prayers get answered right now! I mean, I can wait if I have to, but if I don’t have to, I’m not going to. When Jesus said to ask as though what we are asking for is already ours, well “already” seems pretty fast to me!
Pushing the boundaries of our limitations, whether in work or play, is the mother of our innovations. Like Eli Whitney, we find ways to make the impossible possible. Humanity’s longings to fly like a bird didn’t cause wings to sprout from our backs, but it was only sixty-six years from the plains of Kittyhawk to “The Eagle has landed.” To me, that’s prayer in action. Seeing the path in front of you, whether it’s to the moon or the other side of the room, and then stepping out on that path—that’s the way to pray.
To will, to dare, to do, to be silent—these are the four stages of prayer.