Ever had a houseguest who overstayed her welcome?
At first, the visit might have seemed like fun – perhaps even a needed break from the routine. Before long, though, you’re noticing that the ‘break’ has begun to feel a lot more like a ‘disruption.’
…Maybe you’re finding that you can’t get to many of the chores on your list because you don’t want to seem rude…
…Or it could be that otherwise routine conversations with family members are truncated because you’re acutely aware of the extra set of ears in the next room…
Whatever the particulars, this much you know: Things just don’t seem right in your world when there’s an unwelcome guest hanging around. And soon enough, you start to wish that you’d done a better job at setting limits before having allowed your personal space to be invaded.
Lately it occurs to me that this sort of dynamic can help to explain why we’re advised to make prayer a core part of our Lenten practice each year (along with fasting and almsgiving). It’s not about babbling on…in an effort to wear the Lord down with our incessant petitions.
Rather, it’s about recognizing that we have to make room in our hearts—in order to allow the Lord to enter in.
We have to make room…because we’re always—all of us—dealing with Satan, the rude houseguest who’s already there – propping his feet up on the coffee table, and working insidiously to sap us of our spiritual reserves.
We might like to think we’re immune to his ceaseless drivel, but consider this: The devil disregarded even Jesus’ best intentions.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.
No doubt, Jesus had good things – Godly things, Spirit-led things – in mind for the time he was going to spend in the desert. And it mattered not a whit to Satan. The Evil One still showed up in the wasteland…and proceeded to wear out his welcome.
Prayer is the perfect foil for this sort of diabolical imposition, it seems to me. And here’s why: Christ is the exact opposite of Satan when it comes to the practice of everyday social skills.
Christ is polite to a fault.
Christ respects our freedom.
Christ awaits our invitation.
‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me.’
Prayer is important precisely because it disposes our hearts to hear Christ’s voice…to open the door…and to welcome Christ in.
It’s also a bit like spring cleaning: the work we need to do in order to clear out all the pizza bones and empty beer cans that our Unwelcome Guest has left lying around the kitchen or den.
‘Do not leave room for the devil,’ says St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.
Through our Lenten prayer practices, we can begin to tidy up…and develop the backbone we’ll need to show Lucifer to the curb.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.