Part 1 in a series of posts on the nature of prayer. Check out the post What Is Prayer? for a little background.
On a whiteboard in my cube at work, I’ve written a short quote credited to a psychologist and philosopher named Paul Watzlawick:
You cannot not communicate.
I ran across the quote in grad school while studying theories of human communication. It means, to me at least, that everything we do communicates something. Our words, sure, but also our gestures, body language, the clothes we wear, and our behavior. Even silence – sometimes especially silence – communicates something to those around us.
The implication here is that what we communicate to others involves a lot more than what we directly and intentionally say. When our actions contradict our words, for instance, others infer meanings from them, and regardless of what we meant, our listeners wind up being the ones who determine what was actually communicated.
The same rules apply to our relationship with God. We often think of prayer – and by prayer here I mean knees-on-the-ground, hands-together, dedicated prayer-time – as our primary means of communicating with God. We treat prayer like a phone call, thinking that when we stand up from the altar the line goes dead and we stop communicating until the next time we bow and say “Dear Heavenly Father…” We’re wrong.
The truth is that we communicate to God all the time. And just like our communication with other humans, what we’re conveying to him involves everything we do. Yes, our words matter, but so do our thoughts and actions, which often contradict what we deliberately say. So does our silence, especially.
I don’t think we give other humans enough credit when it comes to seeing through our words. I think most people are far more sensitive to inconsistencies between our words and actions than we think or admit. And certainly, to an infinitely greater degree, God sees through our lies.
My hope, then, is that my every word, fleeting thought, and action be a deliberate prayer to God. Because I’m always communicating to him, whether I intend to or not.
What do you think prayer is? Let us know in the comments below, and watch for the next post in this series – which will explore another aspect of prayer – in a few days.
Thanks for reading! Cheers,