“Prayer must precede everything you do from now on.”
A friend recently gave me this wise advice, and I’ve been trying to follow it ever since. I turn to God briefly before starting anything, try to remain with Him throughout the task or activity, then pray again when I’ve finished. This means that I can do even the most mundane tasks for God and with love for Him. It makes me remember He is always present and cares about the tiniest details of everyday life (Luke 12:7). It helps me be aware of and remain in God’s presence by maintaining attention on Him. As I wrote in the previous post, we are always present to God, but our awareness of His presence depends on our attending to Him*.
I don’t always remember to pray before starting something. I haven’t been doing it very long and I think it will take time and effort to become habitual, but I can’t think of anything more worth the effort. I try not to be discouraged when I notice I’ve forgotten, but instead thank God for reminding me, and simply return to Him. I’ve noticed that some activities make it harder to maintain attention on God. Not surprisingly, social media is one of them. Yesterday I spent a few minutes scrolling through Instagram and realised I had not prayed and was no longer aware of God’s presence. At first I was disappointed in myself, but then I just said sorry to God and thanked Him for letting me see the distraction and for welcoming me back. Even though Instagram pictures of knitting projects and pet rabbits are innocent, I allowed looking at them to distract me totally from God. This practice of attending to God is changing how I evaluate what I want to do. I’m not only asking what’s good or bad in an objective sense, but also is it helpful or unhelpful, is it healthy or not to developing relationship with God? Sticking with the Instagram example; I am going to continue using it because I enjoy it and find a lot of project inspiration, but I’ll try to do it with choice and conscious awareness. Most importantly I want to do it, and everything else potentially distracting, with God. This means doing them less overall, choosing when to, praying before beginning, doing the activity with God, and then praying again on completion. If any activity doesn’t seem compatible with prayer or doing in God’s presence, I probably shouldn’t be doing it!
Being in the presence of God is a wonderful gift, so I am thankful whenever I’m aware of it. When I remember to pray and remain with Him, I am grateful because I can only do so because of His help. When I forget or do something that takes me away from His presence, I am sorry for it but recognise that’s how I’d always be without His help. Without it, I’d never be aware of His presence, and never give Him attention, and always do and think things contrary to Him. So each remembering and returning is evidence of His love for me and the grace He is giving me all day every day. Thinking about it that way round makes every return a joyful moment rather than a miserable time of self-recrimination. I want to do better of course, I want to be more consistent, but that is motivated by love for God rather than fear of failure.
Autistic in the presence of God
Doing all things for and with God transforms them. I find a lot of mundane tasks very difficult and tiring because of autism and attention deficit; basic things like showering, dressing, getting ready to go out, organising my days/weeks, having conversations, and being around people. Often I see these as challenges that are either worth the effort for the good aspects of them, like conversations because they are enjoyable as well as challenging, or necessary things to be endured, like getting ready to go out. There are many tasks every day that are discouraging and exhausting, and often I only manage those and don’t get as far as the “good stuff” like being productive or creative in some way. But now I can do all things with God, in His presence, and for Him. It doesn’t make them easier or more fun, but they have value now, and so aren’t a waste of energy. For example, before going to brush my teeth I will briefly turn to God and say (but not necessarily with words) that I will do the task with Him and try to do it well because I love Him, and if it feels daunting ask for help too. I then go and do it trying to remember that God is with me throughout. Afterwards I’ll briefly thank God for any successes, e.g. having remembered Him, doing it efficiently, or just getting finished in the end no matter how difficult. Or I’ll say sorry for any failures, e.g. forgetting Him for a while, getting frustrated with myself when it was difficult, or getting frustrated with other people if they accidentally interrupt or somehow made it harder. Either way, I’ll thank God that I was able to do it, and for being able to come to Him in that moment regardless of what happened before.
Living in this way makes everything a prayer, everything worthwhile, and everything meaningful. It makes being in the presence of God, and doing everything with and for Him, the goal. It makes the “why” of activity more important than the “what”. Success or value stops relying on whether I’ve managed to do some work or go out etc., and starts to rely on whether I’ve done what I have done with God and for God. It’s too easy to believe that our worth comes from outside; from productivity, or from having an important project to do. But living in the presence of God shows that we don’t need to wait for externals, don’t need to have that job or project to be living with purpose and serving God. In fact, gaining the job or project can’t change our worth or relationship with God. The “big thing” will only have value if it is done in the presence of God, done moment by moment with Him and for Him. I could work for some dramatic achievement without a thought of God and it would be meaningless. I could struggle through a “bad attention day” at home achieving nothing more than getting dressed, but trying to do it in the presence of God and with prayerful intention to spend it with Him and do everything out of love for Him, and it would be meaningful, worthwhile, and precious time spent with God. Living in this way makes it easier to see that each moment is a gift from God, and something I can give to God. It makes it possible for every activity to be a prayer that is building up relationship with God (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). It makes it possible to spend every moment with the one I love.
* What is presence? I’ll try to define it through examining presence in human relationships. It isn’t proximity. It is possible to be in a packed bus and not be aware of the presence of any of the other passengers, even those pressed against you, each person is isolated together in a small space. On the other hand, it is possible to speak on the phone to a relative on the other side of the world and through giving full attention, and shared care and enjoyment of each other, to be very aware of their presence. It isn’t activity. It is possible to work all day with someone without any real sense of their presence despite interacting or even relying on each other to succeed. Or you can be in a room with a good friend each working silently on a separate task but both very aware of each other and finding companionship in it. So if it doesn’t rely on proximity or activity, it must be a relational aspect of attention given to one another. I attend to you as a person who means something to me, and you are present to me. If I don’t, you are not present to me whatever the circumstances. A mutual sense of presence requires attentive awareness from both parties.
This is part six of an eight part series on prayer. Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five
Part seven Part eight