Before having a shower (usually late at night), I always run a few inches of warm water in the tub, and for 15 minutes I lie there and soak. When I say soak, I don’t just mean my body but my spirit. Letting go of all worries and distracting thoughts, I sink into my heart and simply rest in the presence of God. To put it another way, I take this time for contemplative prayer.
This way, by the time I finish my shower I’ve cleansed both my body and my spirit. And that’s exactly how I feel: clean clear through. A shower, for me, is a very spiritual experience.
The other night I was doing my contemplative soaking in the tub, when into the bathroom comes my wife, armed with cleaning equipment. Time to clean the bathroom.
“Karen,” I say, “it’s almost midnight. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“I know,” she replies. “But this has to be done, and I’m geared up for it now.”
“But this is my prayer time!”
“Too bad. I won’t bother you. I won’t even say anything.”
“Thanks a lot,” I say sulkily. “I hope you’re not planning to clean the tub with me in it?”
“Just you wait.”
Okay, my soaking time is ruined.
Or is it?
All at once I realize I have a choice to make. I can choose sulking, or I can choose love.
When my daughter Heather was growing up, she had a diabolical knack for interrupting me when I was trying to pray. This happened so repeatedly that I began to feel she did it on purpose, deliberately waiting for the first sign that I was about to slip away for some quiet time. She’d let me get nicely started, and then—ATTACK!
It took me quite a while—years—to realize that being interrupted by a child is not an interruption but an invitation. It’s an invitation to love. What else, after all, is the goal of prayer but love?
So: By all means enter your prayer closet to be alone with God. But when the world wants to join you there, open your heart and let them in. That’s what Jesus did:
Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.” (Mk 1:35-38 ESV)
Now back to the bathtub. When the world—in the form of my marriage—intruded into my prayer closet, I made a choice to open my heart, and my mouth, and through the barrier of the shower curtain I merrily joked and chatted with Karen as she went about her cleaning task. And afterwards, as I showered, I realized I felt deeply peaceful and joyful—even more so than if I’d been left to myself.
Isn’t this how it always is when we accept an invitation to love? Yes, love requires setting aside the agenda and giving of ourselves, but it always gives back far more. That’s how we know it’s love. Genuine love is always surprising, rewarding the lover in unexpected ways.
Indeed love is its own reward. If you don’t feel rewarded, you might question if you’ve truly loved.
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