Genesis tells us that God spoke and everything was created. It is within God’s nature to be creative, in the perfect sense of the word. His thought, the Word—whom we affectionately call Jesus—is creative. We are made in his image and likeness. So it is within our nature to be creative, to use our intelligence to understand the world we live in and to be fruitful in our work within it. This applies to prayer. We are meant to be creative and fruitful in our prayer.
But let’s look back at our creativity in the world. We work with what has been given to us, which is the physical world. We use our ideas to mold and shape, to design and construct, with the building blocks that God provides. When God creates he creates ex nihilo, out of nothing. It takes a finite amount of power to “create” with materials that already exist, but it takes an infinite amount of power to create something out of nothing. God’s Word is that infinite power.
Back to prayer. When we pray we are using materials that have been given to us. The circumstances we face in life, our vocation, who we live with, our personality traits, temperament, habits, virtues, vices, and so on—all of these things are the materials we have been given to “create” within prayer. Through all of these things we “create” prayers of thanksgiving, repentance, and petition.
How Prayer Ought to Work
What happens when we make something ugly with our prayer? Or what happens when we don’t understand what we are to pray for in a given situation? Or what if we can’t understand why things are happening the way that they are? This is like writer’s block. We get stuck—we know something is there—but we’re stuck because we can’t figure it out.
For most people this is where prayer stops, at the writer’s block stage. We say things like, “God isn’t listening to my prayers”, “I don’t understand what he’s asking me to do in my life right now,” “God is silent and never speaks to me,” and when we get really frustrated, “I give up.” This is a sad spot to be in, and unfortunately a lot of people are stuck here precisely because they do not understand how prayer is supposed to work.
The Creative Spirit
Prayer is a relationship, but a relationship with an infinitely creative and loving, divine being. There is no way in heaven that he would sit there and watch us squirm through our prayer times as if he couldn’t care less if we figured it out or not. His love is too great for that. His love is also too great to just take over and do everything for us. He wants prayer to be a real, creative relationship. And so, what do we do?
When we hit the writer’s block stage in prayer God is saying to us “not yet”. This “not yet” does not mean that he’s just waiting for you to be better so he can give you the answer, or that you haven’t put all the pieces together yet. He is not punishing you, or saying to wait until you are old and wiser to understand. Remember, no squirming.
This “not yet” means that you have not yet given his Word the freedom to work and create with you in this relationship. You experience writer’s block because you are trying to write without the Word. Through our baptism we have become new creations in Christ. We receive Jesus’ spirit, the Holy Spirit, and become animated by him. Our prayer has the power to become his prayer if we invite his creative Spirit to make something out of the nothings in our prayer. The Word must become our word.
This requires docility, humility, and obedience on our part. We must seek to understand not for our own sake and for our own advancement, but for the glory of God. When you find yourself stuck in prayer, ask yourself, “Why am I seeking to understand this?” Is it so I may love God more, or is it so I may have more control over my life? The more we trust God the more we surrender to his tender, loving care for us, and to his creative Spirit working within us.
‘Let It Be’
Of course, Mary is our perfect example. Mary lived docility, humility, and obedience; she knew nothing but surrender to the loving will of God. While in prayer God presented his created Spirit to her through the archangel, Gabriel, and her response was perfect, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” God’s creative Spirit was given so much freedom in her that “the Word became flesh”.
We see the immediate fruit of this surrender in Mary’s great prayer, the Magnificat. She says:
“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my savior.”Luke 1:46-7
The entire hymn glorifies God and his astounding goodness, and only comments on Mary’s lowliness before him. Her entire life was lived simply to give glory to God.
When we do not strive to imitate Mary and her complete surrender to God’s creative love, we end up like the fig tree in Mark’s gospel (see Mark 11:11-26). The fig tree is cursed because it did not bear fruit out of season. It’s kind of odd to be blamed for not bearing fruit when it is impossible to do so! But this is the point. It is impossible for us to bear fruit without God. It is impossible for Mary to bear the fruit of her womb, Jesus, without God. It is impossible for us to pray without God’s loving and creative Spirit within us. We can do nothing without God. But with God, all things are possible.
So let God’s Word be your word in prayer. Surrender to him in order to overcome writer’s block in prayer, which develops from our pride and self-dependency. No longer say “not yet” to God and his creative love, and respond to him as Mary did, “let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
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Caroline Harvey is the associate communication director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Prior to working at the archdiocese, Caroline worked in various ministry positions throughout southeast Wisconsin, focusing on teaching and discipleship. She is currently pursuing a doctor of ministry degree in liturgical catechesis from the Catholic University of America. She has master of arts degree in biblical theology and bachelor of arts in communications media from John Paul the Great Catholic University.