Being Empty as Prayer

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Matthew 5:3

We tend to come to God full of ourselves. Full of pride, full of a need to “get it right”, full of a need to prove ourselves, full of self-reliance.

But prayer is not about all we have done, or all we believe, or all the ways we work to prove ourselves. Prayer is coming to God empty of all of this. Prayer is coming to God with empty hands, ready to receive, ready to be helped, ready to be changed, ready to be filled.

Kathleen Norris in her book Meditations on Mary wrote about her reflections on the message of the Magnificat. The Magnificat is the hymn that was sung by Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. In this hymn Mary sings praise to God because he “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1: 52-53). This is how Kathleen reflects on these words:

How rich had I been that day, how full of myself? Too full to recognize need and hunger, my own and anyone else’s? So powerfully providing for myself that I couldn’t admit my need for help of others? Too busy to know a blessing when it came to me? (Kathleen Norris, Meditations on Mary. Viking Studio,New York, 1999. pg14).

According to Jesus, the kingdom of God does not belong to those who have achieved spiritual success of some kind. Rather, the kingdom belongs to those who know their need, who know their poverty, who do not hide their emptiness. When we realize our spiritual poverty, our need, our emptiness, we come to God in a spirit of honesty and humility. We are teachable. We are open. We are receptive.

Jesus taught his disciples to “abide in him” like the branch abides with the vine. In other words, Jesus taught his disciples to draw their life from him. When we believe that God expects us to be the vine, or out of our own pride we try to be the vine rather than the branch, we end up becoming defensive and exhausted. But when we allow ourselves to be the branch and know our need for the life that comes only from the vine, we can live humbly.

The kingdom of God is available to us when we are emptied of our attempts to prove ourselves, when we are done with our spiritual pride, when we let ourselves be poor in spirit. Prayer is being empty, ready to receive.

I come to you
empty and poor.
I release to you all my spiritual pride.
Allow me to be what I truly am,
a branch
in need of the life that flows
from the vine.
May my poverty of spirit
be the opportunity for your blessing.
May I receive your life,
your kingdom.

Prayer suggestion:

Take a few deep breaths. Open your hands. Ask God to help you release all that you hold on to. Ask God to help you entrust all you are and have and care about to God’s loving care. See yourself letting go of your pride, self-reliance, self-serving and fear. Surrender all that holds your heart into God’s care. Listen as Jesus says to you, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”