Monday, February 16, 2009

Prayer 5: Yancey on prayer and honest vulnerability

The Japanese, famous for their inscrutability, have two words that hint at the divided self. There is the tatemae (pronounced tah-teh-mah-eh), the part of myself I let people see on the outside, and the hon ne (pronounced hon[g] neh) what takes place on the inside where no one can see. Perhaps we need three words: one for the image of ourselves that we project to colleagues at work, clerks at the supermarket, and other casual acquaintances; one for the more vulnerable parts we make visible to select family members and best friends; and a third for the secret places we never make known. That third place is what God invites us to lay open in prayer. Prayer makes room for the unspeakable, those secret compartments of shame and regret that we seal away from the outside world. In vain I sometimes build barriers to keep God out, stubbornly disregarding the fact that God looks on the heart, penetrating beyond the tatemae and hon ne to where no person can see. As God informed the prophet Samuel, "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." In truth, what I think and feel as I pray, rather than the words I speak, may be the real prayer, for God "hears" that too. My every thought occurs in God's presence. (Psalm 139:4, 7-8: "Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord... Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.") And as I learn to give voice to those secrets, mysteriously the power they hold over me melts away.

Philip Yancey,
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), p. 41

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