As I heard myself say it, I wished I could explain it better.
I was giving a talk on prayer this past Sunday. “There is an inherent mystery in prayer,” I said to the group gathered. “God knows the secrets of our hearts, so why do we need to tell him what we want?”
I paused, taking in the quandary. “I think it’s because the act of prayer is helpful itself. We articulate our needs. We open up ourselves to help. We can discover different answers to prayer than what we expected. The prayer itself can be the answer to prayer.”
Still, I wished I had an example to illustrate the point.
The next day, Memorial Day, I spent working around the house, doing some of those chores that get buried at the bottom of the list. Wash windows. Get wood glue to repair the two broken chairs in the dining room. Buy a storage bin for those files that are piling up on my desk. Clean up the top of my bureau. Plant the geraniums I’ve been meaning to plant.
For a couple of hours I was a flurry of activity. Dashing to Staples, to the nursery, the hardware store. Gluing, vacuuming, potting, digging, throwing things away, filing things away, wiping windows, washing screens, using up half a roll of paper towel. All the while listening to a fascinating radio discussion I’d downloaded between Krista Tippett and poet Christian Wiman. I’ve been underlining passages from Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss for weeks, lines like this: “Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us.” Wow.
By the time the setting sun was shining through some very clean windows, I had that sense of satisfaction of getting a job done—several jobs done. We now had two dining room chairs that guests could sit in, a clean top to my bureau, red geraniums blooming in pots, a less cluttered desk, a new storage box at the top of the closet. But the best thing was my feeling of accomplishment. I felt clean, too—even with dirt under my fingernails.
The act of doing was as good, if not better, than the things that got done. Like prayer. The process of praying can be even more valuable than the answers we’re praying for. The journey is as important as the destination. The house looks pretty nice too.