When I was little, I pictured “prayer” as the following two analogies:
1. I pictured my prayer being sent up into the heavens to an operator. The operator would sort through all of the other prayers being sent up, organize them by priority, and pass them along one at a time to God.
2. I pictured God as Santa Claus. God would come by your house and listen to your prayer, then move on to the next house. If you thought of something later, well, better luck next time.
I thought prayer was taking up time for God. With those millions of worldwide prayers being lifted up at the same time, I thought “How could God have time to hear my little voice in Davison, Michigan?” “Why should He listen to my prayer when there are people dying all around the world at this very moment who need God more than I do?”
The problem lies in the concept of time.
If you re-read what I’ve written in this blog so far, you’ll note that I’ve used the word “time” five times. The problem with my understanding of prayer had to do with my misunderstanding of time.
As humans, we’re used to timelines. For instance, we all know we’re in the year 2013 on a timeline. Today is farther along the timeline than yesterday was. Tomorrow will be farther down the timeline than today. We move linearly through time knowing that we cannot go back in time or far into the future. We live 24 hour days, 7 day weeks, 365 day years.
Because we’re used to timelines, we sometimes assume that God is in the year 2013 with us, moving down the timeline linearly like we are. This is not necessarily an accurate representation of the Judeo-Christian God.
Though God is certainly present to us in this very moment in the year 2013, He is not limited to this one single moment in time. Because God exists outside of time, He always has been (in existence), always is, and always will be.
To us, it takes ten years to get from 2001 to 2011. For God, 2001 and 2011 are in the same moment. That’s why He is always present to us without limiting Himself to our human, linear timeline.
So what does that have to do with prayer?
Remember, my earlier issue with prayer was that God would not have “time” for my prayer. With so many people to listen to in a given moment of time, I thought He’d be too busy to listen to my little prayer. The problem, as we now see, is that I’m assuming God is limited to this one moment in time.
In all reality, He has all of eternity to listen to my one little prayer. September of 2013 means nothing to God. That’s why I can feel confident in sending up a prayer tonight before I go to bed and know God is listening. He doesn’t need an operator to sort through all of the prayers and listen to them one at a time. He doesn’t stop by like Santa Claus then wait until the next night to come back. He is always there and desires a dialogue with you through prayer.
Your prayer matters. Don’t worry about “bothering” Him, as though you’re taking Him away from listening to someone else’s prayer. Your prayer, no matter how big or small, matters.
(More information on “Prayer” will be available in Kevin’s upcoming book, Back to the Basics: Rediscovering the Catholic Faith”.)