Living Unhurried: An Invitation Into Contemplative Prayer
You know the feeling well.
The one that rises from your chest, up your throat, and manifests itself as weariness. Perhaps you would call it feeling short-circuited, overstimulated, anxious, or just plain tired. It’s the feeling that comes for us all at the end of a long day or right in the middle of a non-stop season. And then when we sit down to try and regather ourselves and find our centers again – to be present to our loved ones and find gratitude for the moment in front of us – it seems nearly impossible when all we want to do is give into our exhaustion.
I know this feeling well.
Running on empty, striving to keep up, is something I am achingly familiar with. It’s also a way of life that I’ve found to be unattainable and undesirable. Rushing to the next thing, hurrying to keep up, and packing our schedules to the max, are not what we were created for. We were created to take each moment as it comes, be present in the now, and notice how God is moving right here.
I’ve learned that living a hurried life is equivalent to living an empty life. It’s living a life where you’re often disconnected from yourself, God, and those around you rather than being grounded in the present, connected to the Spirit, and in communion with those in front of you.
We all long for an unhurried life, don’t we? To walk at the pace of Jesus rather than the rushed pace of the world. So, what’s stopping us? Why do we tend to view this slower way of living as a rare unicorn that sounds like a faraway dream, and isn’t real?
Because I believe it to be very real. In fact, I believe it to be the invitation that Jesus extends to each and every one of us, every single day.
Living Unhurried as Jesus Did
Slow living, grounding ourselves in the present, starts with believing that it is actually possible. If we look at the life of Jesus in the Bible, we’ll notice that He was never in a hurry. Often, the disciples and those around Him grew frustrated with His lack of hurry!
My mind immediately goes to the story of Jesus raising a dead little girl and healing a sick woman in Mark 5:21-43. The story starts with Jesus stepping out of a boat on the other side of Lake Galilee as a large crowd presses in on Him. Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, runs to Him right away in a panic. The Bible says that Jairus earnestly pleaded with Jesus to come and heal his dying little girl. In response to Jairus’ pleading, verse 24 tells us that Jesus goes with him.
You would think that the dying little girl would be the main focus of this story, the only thing on Jesus’ mind. You might imagine His pace quickening as He hears the urgency in Jairus’ voice and sees the look of horror in his eyes.
But, that’s not how the story unfolds. Jesus doesn’t do what we, and what most likely everyone there with Him at that time, expect Him to do. Instead of rushing to save the dying girl, He stops in the middle of the large, pressing crowd, exclaiming that someone had touched Him and that power had gone out from Him (Mark 5:30). He stopped to turn toward a woman who had been subject to terrible bleeding, unable to be fixed or healed by human hands and doctored minds, for 12 long years.
Can you imagine her pain? Can you see the hopeless look slowly creep into her soul, leaking out of her eyes, as doctor after doctor, year after year, her condition just grew worse? 12 years of being viewed as unclean and unworthy because of a medical condition that she had no control over. Imagine how alone she must’ve felt, treated like an outcast, accepting the lie that she doesn’t belong at any of the tables in front of her.
But, what about the dying little girl? What about the life she has yet to live and how no parent should ever have to bury their child? What about that pain, that heartache, that tragedy?
Both are very real.
But because Jesus walked at the pace of His heavenly Father – because He allowed Himself to walk slowly, opening Himself up to divine interruptions – both the bleeding woman and the dying little girl were given new life that day. Because Jesus knew the power that He held within Himself, and the healing Love that He had been placed on earth to give, He didn’t worry. He didn’t rush. He didn’t fret.
He turned toward the bleeding woman and called her Daughter; giving her a new identity and a new life. And then He turned toward the road that led to the dying little girl and brought her back from the realm of the dead.
Don’t Be Afraid; Just Believe
This is the God we serve; a God who is all-powerful, Almighty, yet tender and gentle. He has the fierce heart of a lion yet snuggles up close to us like a lamb. He is both protector and healer, fighter, and lover of our souls. And He is never in a hurry, so why should we be?
When the little girl died while Jesus was healing the bleeding woman, the townspeople came to Jairus and told him not to bother the Teacher anymore, there was nothing that could be done. It’s too late, they uttered in sorrowful defeat, you missed your chance. You should’ve quickened your steps.
Have these same thoughts ever entered your worried mind? It’s too late. You missed your chance. Try harder.
I believe Jesus’ response to the townspeople is crucial for living an unhurried life. It’s how we cut down the lies and enter into a slower way of being with Him. Jesus says to them in verse 36,
“Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
Believe that I Am Who I say I Am.
Believe that what you have to do today – the list of things that feels as though it will never end – can be done at My pace, because it is I Who has granted you the gift of this day.
Believe that you are more than equipped to carry out what I’ve called you to, that it doesn’t have to be rushed or worried over, because I Am in it and within you.
And I call you to walk with Me, not run ahead of Me.
Maybe part of our problem and why we’re so easily sucked into the cycle of weariness and exhaustion and rushing is that we don’t believe in Who God really is. We don’t believe that He walks with us every moment of the day, inviting us to slow down and discern His presence moving in the right here and now. Maybe we don’t allow time for silence and prayer and quiet because we believe that our schedules and our own desire for control hold more power than the blood of Jesus.
The same blood that set us free from the rush of the world and the striving for our worth when Love wrapped in torn-up flesh cried out from the cross on which He was so disgracefully and wrongfully hung and said,
“It is finished!” (John 19:30)
The striving is finished!
The working for your worth is finished!
The need to prove yourself and keep up is finished!
The hurrying and the rushing, it is finished!
Don’t be afraid, just believe. Believe in the blood of Christ that set you free.
Jesus sits with you now asking you, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?”
His resolution is an invitation, my friend, into the unhurried life – the slow way of living and being with Him. It’s one of communion and rest and refreshment, not striving and working, and clawing your way up and through. And it’s an invitation you are able to respond and step into no matter where you are or what’s going on around you.
“Come to me”, He says, “Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)
Do you hear His invitation? Be with me.
The unhurried life, the slow way of walking with Jesus, begins by believing that Jesus calls you to this life; every moment, every day, and in every season. To believe that even when life gets crazy and you feel the overwhelm start to creep in, you can choose to turn toward Jesus just as He chose to turn toward the bleeding woman and the dying little girl. He chose to be interrupted, and we can choose to interrupt our own chaos to pause, take a moment, and become aware of God with us.
We can turn toward the God Who is always and forever turning toward us.
An Invitation Into Contemplative Prayer
Maybe this way of life still seems daunting or even impossible. I understand! And so does the Lord. We’re conditioned in our culture to be producers, strivers, and what the world deems as hard workers. Even when it costs us everything, like our own sane minds. That’s why I want to introduce you to a practice that has greatly helped me in slowing down, receiving Jesus, and living from a place of being the Beloved.
That practice is called contemplative prayer.
I’ve been practicing silence and centering prayer now for about 7 months, which are both types of contemplative prayer. And I wrote separate blog posts on both the practice of silence and centering prayer, which I’ll link for you if you’d like to check them out.
- Silence Waters the Soul: The Benefits of a Regular Rhythm of Silence
- Reflections from The Hermitage: A Guided Silent Retreat
- An Introduction to Centering Prayer
But I’ve only just recently been introduced to contemplative prayer. While at The Hermitage on my guided silent retreat in October, they offered what they called morning prayer from 8-8:30 every morning except on Sundays. We would all come, remove our shoes before entering the chapel, and be led into contemplative prayer. At The Hermitage, it looked like reading a Psalm together, praying to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus, and then all entering into a comfortable silence as we closed our eyes and simply rested in the presence of God.
It was truly a rich experience, as we all were alone with the Holy Spirit in our own ways, but together in community with one another.
In my everyday life, I’ve adopted my own rhythm of contemplative prayer. In the late afternoons, around 3 or 4, when my work is pretty much wrapped up for the day, I light my candle and my oil lamp, make a cup of tea and just sit in comfortable silence with Jesus. I don’t pray in the way that most view prayer, as words and talking to God. But in those moments of quiet and silence, I am settled and my soul opens up to receive the Spirit of God.
In her book, Soul Feast (which I would highly recommend you read if the contemplative life is what you feel called to), Marjorie J. Thompson describes contemplative prayer as a simple gaze toward One who loves us unshakably… It is absorption in loving God with our whole being – not strenuously, but as a spontaneous response of the heart.
She goes on to say that contemplative prayer “is resting in God, allowing the Spirit to fill and move us as God wills. It is pure receptivity and adoration. It is quiet, tender, and sober or playful, gentle, and joyous… In contemplative prayer, we move from communing with God through speech to communing with God through the gaze of love.“
Author and well-known contemplative, Henri Nouwen, says this on the subject of contemplative prayer,
In our utilitarian culture, where we suffer from a collective compulsion to do something practical, helpful, or useful, and where we feel compelled to make a contribution that can give us a sense of worth, contemplative prayer is a form of radical criticism. It is not useful or practical. It is simply to waste time for and with God. It cuts a hole in our busyness and reminds us and others that it is God and not we who creates and sustains the world.
Beginning Your Own Contemplative Prayer Practice
This is the practice I enter into when I light my candles and drink my tea with Jesus, and you can enter into it, too, friend. It’s a practice, a rhythm, of receiving the Love of God and enjoying just being with Him as you surrender your desire to do or work. As you trust in His plan for rest and refreshment for you.
Marjorie J. Thompson describes contemplative prayer as having the quality of an inner sabbath. It’s an invitation to unravel the hurried way within us all and learn how to rest in God. By resting in God, we find the rest of God and the whole of our souls that we miss when we get caught up in the noise of everyday living.
To begin your own contemplative prayer practice, I would suggest choosing a setting where it’s possible for you to be silent for at least 10-20 minutes or longer if you wish. Maybe for you, this looks like taking a walk around your neighborhood in silence with the Lord, beholding the beauty of His creation all around you. Or perhaps it’s finding a bench in a park or on a trail where you can sit and just be with Jesus.
Or, maybe it’s a cup of coffee or tea in the morning as you sit on the couch for a few minutes, becoming attentive to God’s presence with you.
You could also get into a comfy position in a secluded area of your home, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, set a timer if you need to, and focus on the Lord’s presence with you.
There is no right or wrong way to practice this! And it’s going to look different for everyone. I would challenge you to go and do as the Spirit leads, and not hold too tightly to a regimented routine. Open yourself up to being divinely interrupted and allow the Spirit to lead you to a quiet place, a secret place, where He can form you and love you in the sacred silence of contemplative prayer.
In this sacred space of learning how to be rather than do, to receive rather than produce, to rest rather than work, we are, as Marjorie J. Thompson says, allowing ourselves to be loved by God into wholeness.
To believe the words of Jesus, “It is finished!”, as we find rest for our souls in God alone.
In this time of contemplative prayer, it can be helpful to hold close a breath prayer, or a Scripture passage that you can return to when you feel your mind wandering away from the beauty and presence of God. I often use Psalm 62:1, “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.” Or Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Other times, I’ll hold close a phrase, like “love listens” that gently turns my soul back toward God. This practice is all about receiving and learning to be loved and learning how to love God for Who He is and not necessarily what He can do for you.
To grow in true, loving communion with Him is the invitation of contemplative prayer.
It can also be helpful to note what rises within in these moments of silent prayer. I often become aware of an emotion or a burden that I didn’t know I was carrying with me throughout the day. And contemplative prayer can be a time of naming and letting go.
The Formative Work of Contemplative Prayer
I’ve found that the more I enter into contemplative prayer, this restful, slow way of being with God, the less I attach my worth to my work or my productivity level as I go throughout my mundane day. I find myself awed by small things, like a finch resting on the tree in our backyard or the lovely shades of pink that exude from an early morning sunrise. Joy, peace, wonder, and love are formed within and bubble up naturally from this rhythm of contemplative prayer.
Because as we sit with Jesus, we can’t help but be formed by His Spirit living within us.
When engaging with this practice, I return again and again to Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians in Ephesians 3:14-19. Paul’s words give language to what contemplative prayer does within the hearts of those who enter into it with Jesus.
For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Contemplative prayer gives the gift of the Holy Presence and in turn, we are able to be more present to God, ourselves, and those around us.
Slow living, living an unhurried life with the Holy Spirit, is possible, friend. It’s more than possible, it’s what you were intentionally created for. It might feel a bit awkward at first, and you may find yourself distracted in the beginning. Be patient, wait for the Lord, and allow yourself to unfurl into the grace of this new practice.
An Ending Prayer from Psalm 105
I want to end our time here together by praying the words of Psalm 105:1-5 in the Amplified version over you,
“O give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the people.
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonderful acts and devoutly praise them.
Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those who seek and require the Lord [as their most essential need] rejoice.
Seek and deeply long for the Lord and His strength [His power, His might];
Seek and deeply long for His face and His presence continually.
Remember [with awe and gratitude] the wonderful things which He has done,”
Peace be with you,