Sometimes it seems so simple: we surrender our lives to Christ and then….everything is good. But the reality is different, with that first surrender we are just making the first steps on a journey that takes us from extreme attachment to the world’s ways to connecting deeply to God’s ways. And it is not an easy journey, because the gap between the two ways is like an abyss in some ways, but still so worth the journey and the courage it takes to go all the way.
It’s been more than 30 years since I first read The Autobiography of Teresa of Avila. Here is a metaphor for the levels of prayer that she offered in her book which carried my prayer life for 20 years:
She talks about the prayer life being likened to watering a garden. The main task is to keep the garden watered so the plants can grow(so we can grow in Christ). At the first level of prayer one has to draw the water up from the well and hand carry it in buckets to the plants. It’s a tremendous amount of work.
In the second level of prayer one has fashioned some sluices that will carry the water from the well to the whole garden, but he or she will still have to draw up water from the bottom of the well. So things are somewhat easier, but still a lot of work.
The third level of prayer means that a river runs through the garden. It takes no work to deliver water to the plants. And in the fourth level of prayer, the rains come when needed. These last two levels of prayer are effortless for us, where God has taken over the difficult task of delivering sustenance for our spiritual life and of focusing our attention on God.
The hard work of the first and second levels is about remembering to focus on God and letting go of whatever binds us to the world or to our own self-image. I had such an experience of joy when I surrendered my life to Christ. For three days my feet hardly touched the ground. Then this thought, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” brought me crashing down to earth. I spent three weeks writing pages and pages listing all the things that I put before God in my life.
The pages were filled with ego-needs: approval from others, clothes, candy(a sugar addiction), control over my life, fears and many more. With assumptions about how my life should go, expectations of all that I wanted to happen. With all that I had been taught to desire by my family, school, friends and culture. I would definitely say that the last 30 years have been about cutting the ties between me and those worldly desires. All the effort in the first two levels of prayer are the work of disengaging from being world-centered.
It takes quite a while before we begin to experience some freedom from all the “gods,” [I called my list “gobs of gods”] before we can even begin to form a larger, God-based picture of who I am, who I am to become, how life must be and how others are. It can take years to finally be at peace with our lives as they are, to experience joy in the midst of chaos, to take in the love, God’s love, that surrounds us into every cell in our bodies.
I am talking about a total conversion from the world’s ways to God’s ways, from the way we humans normally think to thinking with God’s much broader perspective on the life he has given us here. The other conversion that is taking place is from the small self, the ego’s, preoccupation with protecting ourselves and gaining as much for ourselves as possible, to the deeper, truer self, the soul’s, preoccupation with fulfilling our created purpose.
And it is not until the last two levels that the garden—our relationship with God—is taken care of by God himself, our part is effortless and not dependent on us at all, once we have off-loaded all that doesn’t actually belong to our real selves, who we were created to be. Up until then it is our perseverance and dogged pursuit of God that keeps us on track, turning over to him in prayer what does not actually belong to us. Then we have to shift gears into totally allowing God free rein and to give up our own self-determination. A whole new way of being is now required.
If we add in Jesus’ Two Great Commandments in the mix here, we are finally joined in heart, mind, soul and body with the Lord, and it is he who generates all that happens in us. And we are totally attentive to him day and night, in good times and bad. It no longer matters what is happening out there; it only matters that we are totally connected to God and still functional in the world.
Questions to ponder over the week: Can I see where my prayer life is with God? Am I still in the hard work of the first two stages or has God taken over directing my prayer life? What have I learned from turning my life over to God? Are there issues, guilt or shame that I am still holding onto? What would be the first step in letting God deal with them, transform them?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who put him first for us in all things. May our devotion to him shine throughout our lives. May we be blessed greatly in all that we do.
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!” is up on Amazon. Check it out under my full name, Patricia Said Adams or Patricia Adams, if you’re interested. If you’ve already read it, I would love for you to post a rating or comment on Amazon or Good Reads–the ratings bring in readers.
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