What do you think of my prayer?

what do you think of my prayer pharisee

Part five in our Lenten series on technology and spirituality.

“Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world.  The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ,” wrote Pope Francis in his first message for World Communications Day. There’s certainly no one right way to become effective citizens of the digital world. But can proclaiming our faith on the internet, whether by updating our facebook statuses with Bible verses or documenting our spiritual journeys on our blog, hinder our own spiritual growth? In the Sermon on the Mount (a good sermon to meditate on during Lent), Jesus warns his listeners:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees you in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:5-6)

Somehow years ago I realized that the internet (and my blog in particular) was my street corner on which I showcased my spiritual life.  We all know that social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter tempt us to showcase our life through trendy photos or clever statuses or “checking in” at cool locations, and in general we all agree that this kind of self-promotion and self-absorption is not such a good thing.  But why is it particularly dangerous when it comes to showcasing our spiritual journey, whether through blogging or status updates or spiritualized “About Me” sections?

Because, quite simply, this kind of externalization of our spiritual life can lead to forsaking our reward.  Now, I don’t think that God has some sort of prize that we get for praying that He takes away when we put our prayers out in the open for everyone to hear (or in this case, read).  Nor do I think that keeping an online spiritual blog necessarily means that one is showing off or displaying their piety before people.  I understand that some people process verbally and that it can be helpful to bounce ideas off of other people.

However, when we pray we are having a conversation with God.  But when we blog or update our status or post a tweet we externalize that conversation. In a sense, we grab hold of whatever may be going on in our hearts or whatever God may be doing in us and we separate it from ourselves. We publish it to a forum where it now is subject to the pressures of the blogosphere—web traffic, likes, comments, and the opinions of other sinful people.  We effectively interrupt the conversation that we were having with God and turn it into a conversation with our followers.

And the topic of this conversation is generally not about who I am (the conversation God wanted to have), but rather about what I think.  My prayers or transformation become an object to be analyzed, dissected, rephrased, argued over, and either “liked” or “disliked” – usually from afar, and usually by others.  And in the process my focus shifts from God and the all-consuming fire of his love (or perhaps his winnowing fork), and is put back on myself and ultimately, others’ opinion of me.

If we believe that God himself is our reward, then it is easy to see how by reframing our prayer life as a community discussion we are forsaking this reward.  God does not enter into our Facebook debates or join us on the street corner.  God waits to be sought – in secret, away from the gaze of others, as the still quiet voice that can be heard only when the volume of our anxious hearts is turned down low and we wait in silence before him.

Usually, God speaks slowly – it’s likely that his first four words spoken in our universe stretched over billions of years. Obviously we don’t have billions of years, but we can follow Jesus’ example and give him at least 40 days. Before we publish that blog post about what we think God is showing us, let’s ask him, “Am I interrupting? Or worse…changing the subject?”

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About the Contributor

Ruth Robertson

Ruth Robertson
Ruth Robertson lives in Greenville, SC where she works at the Frazee Dream Center, a non-profit serving low-income children and their families. Ruth teaches the Creighton Model FertilityCare System to women and couples who are looking for natural methods of family planning. More information about her work can be found on www.realfertility.com. She is happily married to Ben Robertson. 

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