Nearly seven years ago, my family spent two weeks in a Minnesota cabin for our summer vacation. We had tied our new fishing boat down at the dock, where it bobbed gently, waiting for our nightly fishing outing. When the sun started to slip beneath the horizon, Dad would toss my brother and me our life jackets as we gathered our poles and descended the drive.
My dad was always the first on the boat, with my brother running a close second. But the gap between the dock and the boat frightened me. “Come on, Jessica!” they would groan together when I hesitated. But I would just stand there, staring at the gap and blinking back tears of frustration.
After we passed a few minutes in agitated silence, I would sometimes resort to a hop-fall into my cushioned seat on the right side of the boat. But usually I stuck one toe just far enough into the boat for my dad to roll his eyes, grab my hand, and pull me in. I’ve always had trouble finding the faith to deal with the place between where I am and where I’m going. Especially when the gap is cold and full of weeds.
But sometimes the gaps in my life are spiritual. God is on one side and I’m stuck on the other.
Prayer ought to be the simplest way to bridge the gap between me and the Divine—especially for someone raised in a devout Evangelical home. If I believe Jesus is in my heart, I’ve got limitless ways to talk with him. I could cross myself and close my eyes for a few seconds, weeping or laughing at life’s absurdity. I could kneel by my bed at night or fold my hands before meals. I could start off with a “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father” and finish with “Amen.” I could pray in poem form, essay form, novel form. I could curse at God, say “I hate you” as I did a few months ago when I left home. I could open up The Book of Common Prayer and flip to the appropriate section to fit my needs. My Catholic friends might suggest asking Mary or a specific Saint to intercede on my behalf. My Protestant friends would just pray for me on the spot if I asked them. The Bible says the Holy Spirit groans for me when I don’t have words. On and on the list goes. I know all of this. I’m not confused about the words I should say or the posture I should take. Prayer isn’t difficult. Not really. There shouldn’t be a gap.
When I was scared, my dad would pull the boat as close to the dock as possible until only a centimeter of emptiness was between them. But even then, I couldn’t even lift my foot off the dock. And even though the Bible says Jesus bridged the gap between me and God, I haven’t said a word to him in quite some time.
Whether we’re talking about the physical or the spiritual, my paralysis is irrational, absurd. Give me a to-do list: 1) Just start talking to God. 2) Say amen. I’ll forget how to speak. I’ll ask you what “Amen” means. I’ll make a cricket noise.
Model it for me, draw me pictures with instructions. Tag me in all those inspirational Facebook pictures about prayer. Tell me to just have a little faith. But I promise you—I’ll still just stand there on the dock, blinking and saying, “Just step in the boat?”
Or, just grab my hand and pull me in. I’ll catch on eventually.