I'm a bit of a control freak. Perhaps not as much as I once was. But still...
I've grown up in North America and as a good Westerner, Mennonite, and farm girl, it's almost intrinsic to my nature to work hard. To believe that everything will be okay if I just put in the effort. That if something, anything, isn't "working" it just needs a little more sweat. This, combined with an almost entirely Cataphatic (action or doing oriented) prayer style, has often created a whole lot of frustration in my relationship with God. Western prayer tends to be more Cataphatic. We emphasize all the ways that God is knowable and intimately near, and we bring to God all of our thoughts and desires through our words, whether in the form of a prayer book or spontaneous outpourings. It takes effort on our part. All offering (or at least mostly) and very little receiving.
I remember years and years ago I was in a particularly difficult place emotionally and one of my pastors encouraged me to read the Psalms. And I did. Every single one of them, back to back and all before I saw her again a few days later. And I was distraught. I had done what I had been told and nothing...no change...no results...I had failed. Now I look back and shake my head. It's hard to imagine how I could have thought that speed reading the profound words of the Psalmist in 2 or 3 days would have wrought change in my heart. I had put in the effort, I had done the work and in terms of my worldview at the time, that should have sufficed.
Years later I am at a significantly different place. I have learned the value of the Apophatic way. The more Eastern style of prayer that emphasizes listening and mystery and that, when taken alongside the Cataphatic, creates balance. Yet, far more often than I would like to admit, I carry with me the belief that if I just try harder, pray harder or in a different way, that I can force growth. I push and push and push myself right into frustration. I was reminded of this today as I as reading from Joyce Rupp's book Prayer. Yes, I'm still reading it. Actually I'm reading it again! There is just so much in it to absorb. Rupp says,
We cannot compel our love to germinate and mature any more than the farmer can force the seed to green and grow. A seed has its own time. After it is planted the farmer trusts the seed lying in the darkness to eventually give way to a new shoot of life. How true this is of prayer when we plant the seed of love and hope that it will grow. The seed in the dark soil looks much the same from day to day until the husk breaks open and a tiny green bit of life starts to show itself. To look at the seed in the seemingly empty days before it breaks open, one would think absolutely nothing is happening. When we open our heart in love to God we are like the seed, waiting for our spiritual germination (49).I find this to be an incredible reminder for me that much of the spiritual life is about waiting, about waiting with openness for the germination to occur. This is not to say that we don't "do" things to encourage growth, to nourish the seed, certainly we do. But in my life, it is most often the case that I need to remember to release the need to compel growth and to allow my own germination to happen in spite of my work ethic!