Come As You Are
by Fr. Jack McArdle
Coming before God in prayer is so much easier, once I recognise the reality of the situation. In other words, I am fully aware of how things actually are, and I have no desire to be anything or anybody other than who I am. God knows me through and through, and there's not much point in trying to impress, deceive, deny, excuse, or blame. I am an open book before Him, just as I certainly will be at the moment of death. Instead of waiting till I die, I can stand before God any moment of any day, open the canvas of my life out to the very edges, and fully accept that He sees what's really there.
This openness and honesty before God is at the heart of my relationship with him. All I'm doing is trying to respond to God. The initiative is his, and I am not speaking about turning that into human endeavour. The fact is that God presents himself to me totally, completely, and unconditionally, no matter how little of that reality can be understood by my very limited human intelligence. God presents himself to me, irrespective of whether I bother with him or not. Nothing can change his attitude of total love towards me. Like a bird with a broken wing, he wants me to come to him, and let him love me.
Jesus is the Son of God is the central theme of a recent book of Pope Benedict XVI. In other words, when you watch Jesus among the sick, the sinners, and the outcasts in the gospel, you are watching God in action. Jesus is not just some sort of messenger from God; some sort of Holy Man who will tell us what he knows about God. When Jesus knelt before his apostles, with a basin of water and a towel, that was God in action. It was God who wept over Jerusalem because the people did not respond to his message. When I come before God, I must bring my leprosy, my sins, my demons, and all my human weaknesses with me. Otherwise I do not meet him. I only meet a god of my own creation, who doesn't really love, who doesn't really care, who is not really interested.
If I want to meet the real God, then I have to become real before him. The person or persons who invented this laptop I'm now using, knows it in great detail. However, not one of them could claim to know it thoroughly, as it evolves, develops, and modernises with each day. The advantage God has is that he continues to be in control of our creation, which is an on-going process. Nothing happens in us, or to us, without his knowledge. I cannot tell him anything about myself that he doesn't know, but he wants to be told, because he cares, and one way of showing that is the way he is prepared to listen.
If I think of God in terms of the Trinity, I can pray the following three short prayers. "Father, for anything in me that you see is in need of your forgiveness, Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus, for anything in me that you see, in mind, heart, soul, memory, or body, that is in need of your healing touch, Christ have mercy. Spirit, Breath, and Power of God, for any brokenness, powerlessness, or helplessness that you see in me in need of your anointing and empowering, Lord have mercy". I personally begin each Mass with these prayers, but you can use them whenever you feel like it. Prayer becomes so much simpler when I come before God without any agenda. I offer him the key of willingness, giving him full access to my mind, heart, and soul. I want him to see what he sees. I can be tired, angry, discouraged, worried, and that is exactly how I come before him. Making all of myself present to him helps open me to receive all of what he offers me.
We are speaking of pure free gift here. God does not check on our collection of Brownie points, Green Shield stamps, merits, or indulgences, before he decides whether to be present to us or not. There would be many a parent in jail for murder if they reacted wrongly to a child who comes in from playing, with mud and dirt all over their hands and clothes! Thank God my parents loved me enough, or I wouldn't be writing these words right now! When I come before God, I am not going on an inspection parade, with my shoes and buttons shining. The Prodigal Son didn't come over the horizon that way! The joy in the father's heart was not effected by his human condition, or the rags he was wearing.
As a matter of fact, according to the story, the father immediately ordered a banquet and a whole new outfit of clothes. That was his way of responding to a very beloved son who was hungry, and poorly dressed. "Come as you are" is the name of a hymn. To get this right, we have to focus on God when we come to him, and not on ourselves. It would be quite a risky business if my encounter with God was depending on my worthiness, or on my collection of virtues. Jesus had serious problems with the Pharisees in this whole area. However, as we say, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see.
What does God see when he looks at us? Let me attempt to answer that question this way. I presided at a funeral recently. The deceased was an elderly lady, held in great respect, and much loved by her family and friends. There was one phrase that I must have heard dozens and dozens of times at her funeral. "She always saw the best in everyone." What a wonderful tribute to the deceased! Speaking about her in this way was to say that she was a good person, and this was how her goodness expressed itself. Let's go back to that question: What does God see when he looks at us? If we accept that God is good, then we simply have to accept that he always sees the best in everybody. At each stage of creation, God "saw what he had done, and he said 'It is good'" "God don't make no junk"(Herb Barks).
Standing before God just as I am, without fear or doubt, is to accept his love, and that is why Van Breeman defines faith as "Having the courage to accept the acceptance of God"(As Bread That Is Broken). Do I have the courage to accept that God accepts what he sees when he looks at me? This is not to say I am perfect, or that I am all that God created me to be. Most likely, it is far from that. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid. They thought they could hide from God. If they had presented themselves before God exactly as they were, at that moment, God would have accepted them, and would have given them the grace of salvation, which is the grace to start again. It is one of his greatest gifts.
However, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the devil, and, to some extent, we're doing that since, and there is nothing God can do for us while we continue to behave in this way. Salvation is a very important gift of God. It is like an on-going expression of forgiveness. It is 'seventy times seven', multiplied by infinity. It may seem strange to say it, but it can be quite difficult for us to allow God be God. When I allow him the freedom of setting no limits to his love and acceptance, then I can be really bothered by the limitations I put on my response to him. The only limitations to what God can do for us are the ones we set. "There is nothing impossible to God".
I said earlier that, at the moment of death, I will come before God exactly as I am at that time. No more hiding, no more running, no more excusing, blaming, or trying to justify. The greatest preparation I could make for that moment is to begin now, and practise standing before God, opening out the canvas of my life, and inviting him to see every single thing that's there. "This is me, Lord, warts and all". When the lepers came to Jesus they had no way of denying, or of hiding the reality of their situation. The blind did not pretend they could see, nor did the lame pretend they could walk. Jesus could do something with them.
On the other hand, the Pharisees presented themselves as beautiful marble sepulchres, not realising that Jesus could see the rotten and decaying bodies and bones within. They considered themselves as having a monopoly on truth and righteousness, and there is no way that Jesus could get them to see reality, because there was no way they were prepared to even consider it. "The truth will set you free". Never was truth spoken with such clarity and simplicity. The day came when each and every one of them had to come before God, and 'all that was hidden was brought out into the light of day'. That day will come for each and all of us. The great advantage we have is that it can begin right here, right now. What a wonderful way to come before the Lord in prayer!
And what a wonderful way to prepare for that Great Day when 'I will see the Face of God and live'. It may sound simplistic, but it really helps to be as relaxed, as real, and as authentic as I can when I come to pray. I don't need a pious face or screwed up eyes. I can consciously relax every bone in my body, every emotion in my heart, and every thought and distraction in my mind. I don't have to be anything or anybody other than who I am right there. I'm sure each of us has one or two friends with whom we can be completely at ease, and feel completely at home. Surely such company is always enjoyable. God wants to be your number ONE Friend.
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