I’m excited to welcome Micha Boyett, author of Found: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer, to the blog today and tomorrow for a little interview.
First, my short review of Found:
Being a new mom can make anyone feel, well, a little lost.
Especially if you’ve always put found your value in tasks and accomplishments.
And when you’re suddenly answering the demands of a little person (or people), prayer seems nearly impossible. And if you’re not “doing” prayer, are you still loved? Can you find God in that season? Or be found by God?
Although I’m no longer a mom of littles, I was delighted to find Found.
I’d especially recommend this if you are:
- a young mom wrestling with self-worth
- drawn to contemplative prayer or practices
- someone who appreciates beautifully crafted writing
- someone who wants to expand and deepen your understanding of prayer
A beautifully written memoir of a young mom discovering the wonder of God’s unconditional love, Found is encouraging, honest, real. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Click to read what folks like Ann Voskamp, Shauna Niequist and Rachel Held Evans had to say about it.
The story follows Micha, her husband and son on a cross-country move, exploring the sacredness and spiritual influence of place. It explores what it means to pray, even when words seem impossible. Sometimes, finding God in your everyday life means letting God find you.
Micha’s visits to a monastery where she seeks spiritual direction and finds a new perspective made me want to seek out similar cloistered sanctuary. The chapters are tagged with the seasons of the church calendar, which moves the story along and ties in beautifully with the author’s contemplative and monastic explorations.
Found offers the honest reflections and struggles (especially struggles to pray) of the at-home mom of a two year old, but her questions and discoveries are ones that every woman will can relate to. I highly recommend it to young moms, or those who mentor or lead young moms.
Read on to learn more about Found and Micha’s discoveries about Benedictine spirituality, prayer, and parenting. This is part one, come back tomorrow to read part two, and possibly win a copy of Found.
Q. What is Benedictine prayer?
A. I think most Benedictines or people who study the Benedictines wouldn’t say there is a thing called “Benedictine prayer.” Really, the Benedictines are simply people who have taken monastic vows to live in the order St. Benedict established for his monks. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a tradition of prayer that the Benedictines emphasize.
Benedictine monks are committed to praying the Psalms together in community every day, several times a day. They are also committed to Lectio Divina, an ancient form of contemplative prayer, in which they pray alone (or sometimes in community) with scripture, moving through a passage slowly and deliberately, asking God to highlight a word or phrase. It’s a way of reading the Bible as prayer, believing that God wants to engage with you through the words.
Q. What first drew you to a different way of praying?
A. That’s a big question. My first thought is to say, “Desperation!” And that’s true. I came to a place in my life where I felt desperate to talk to God and completely at a loss for what I was supposed to say. All the formulas I knew (and had taught!) were not meeting my deeper need for connection with the Holy Spirit. I was talking talking talking but I continued in the same patterns of fear and doubt and feelings of failure.
But I was drawn to other forms of prayer long before I reached the point of desperation where this story begins. In the book, I share the story of how I ended up at an Episcopal church during graduate school. I was looking for two things: First, I wanted a way to make sense of my love for art and my belief that God was a lot more mysterious than my Christian tradition was letting on. I wanted permission to be unsure about some things, permission to say, “I don’t know” a lot more often.
Second, I was tired of my own voice in prayer. Too often, whether in communal or silent prayer, I heard myself repeating hallow phrases I’d grown accustomed to using. I prayed them because my tradition had taught me to use those words, but they had lost the meaning they used to hold.
No matter how many arguments against liturgy I’d heard in my life (for instance, Jesus’ rejection of “meaningless repetition” in Matthew 6), I became convinced that no matter what tradition of prayer we practice, prayer can easily dissolve into empty phrases. I had an ongoing mental list of trite phrases I was exhausted of hearing (and using!) and I wanted to rid myself of my Christian culture’s expectations. I needed a fresh way to come to God just as I was, with no pretension.
I’m not saying that liturgy or ancient prayer practices are the only way to pray “in a fresh way.” I’m just saying that it was a way for me to rediscover prayer. A person who grows up in a liturgical church may feel liberated by the free-flowing “talking prayers” in the evangelical tradition, in the same ways I felt liberated by liturgy and contemplative prayer.
Q. How would you say Benedictine prayer is different from the prayers we usually hear or speak in evangelical church circles?
A. In the Benedictine or Roman Catholic (or even Mainline Protestant) traditions, there is less reliance on our own words to get it right. As a community or as an individual, pray-ers are given the words to say.
Now, sometimes, we need our own words. We need to give God the words in us, just as they are. But sometimes, our words are the very thing keeping us from experiencing what God has to say to us. For me, praying someone else’s word, whether it’s in the Psalms or in the liturgy—or even, praying no words at all—is a way to rescue myself from being stuck in my own head.
I use a combination of both: the evangelical tradition’s way of free-flowing prayers and the more ancient, liturgical prayers because I find I need both. I need to get my own words out and, at the same time, I need to get out of the way and let God meet me outside my own head.
Q. Can you give us some practical examples of how this ancient form of prayer changed your relationship with God?
A. Well, in one practical sense, I feel a lot less guilt-ridden about what I have or haven’t done in prayer. I lived much of my life of faith clinging to a narrative that Jesus was waiting for me each morning, and if I didn’t show up to pray or read my Bible that morning, I was rejecting him, choosing to live my life outside of God’s best. And, even though I could have spouted a lot of good words about grace, I still felt a strong sense of failure when I wasn’t living up to the traditional evangelical notion of a “daily quiet time.”
I call the process I’ve been through—and am still in the midst of— “relearning prayer,” because I’m learning to live my life aware of God’s nearness in the midst of the chaos and exhaustion of what Madeline L’Engle called “the Tired Thirties.” There are many days when I don’t live up to the notion of daily morning prayer, but that no longer means that I’ve disappointed God or chosen something else. God’s not waiting for me to show up and frustrated when I don’t. Instead, God is here, right now. And I can choose at any point to follow Jesus, to believe, to live my life as God’s beloved.
I still haven’t given a practical example, have I?! Well, this morning, I woke up at 5:30 and worked to meet a writing deadline until 6:30, when I had to get dressed, make breakfast, make lunches, change a diaper, and supervise the tooth brushing of my two little boys. We’re supposed to leave the house for school at 7:30 but today it was 7:40, which meant we were eight minutes late and my Kindergartener missed the morning announcements.
Now, there was never a point this morning when I prayed with a Bible on my lap, as I still do on “good” days: “Oh Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.” But the difference, was that when I finally got all the kids to their proper locations and I sat down to finish the work I’d begun early this morning, I didn’t sink under the weight of guilt. Instead, I said, “Hello Jesus.” And I felt (and believed) the goodness of my life: gratitude that I’m in this season of lunch-packing and early morning send-offs. And I really, actually believe that God gets it. My life is full and I am choosing Jesus, even now, in this moment, on a morning when I didn’t even have a proper time of prayer!
Q. You write that you wanted to know how to love God when all you had to offer him was your “daily chaos.” What do you mean by that?
Throughout my childhood, my deepest longing was to be special to God. I had this notion that even if I couldn’t earn God’s love I could earn his pleasure. I could make myself Very Important to God. And even as I grew into adulthood, that notion remained. It’s deeply engrained in me to believe that there are some lives—the truly faithful lives—that are most important to God.
So when I found myself living an entirely “normal” life—not hut-dwelling in East Africa, not running a homeless shelter, or even volunteering at one—but making grilled cheese sandwiches and changing diapers in a comfortable middle-class home, I held an undercurrent of dread that I had failed God by being too ordinary, too comfortable.
Offering my “daily chaos” has been the process of learning to believe that my life matters, even though it’s ordinary, even though I’m not risking my life to rescue the most oppressed of this world, even though no offerings are going to be named for me. My daily chaos is simple but it’s also beautiful: a husband and two boys stomping around, learning to love each other and see the needs of the world around them. My life is not extravagant, but God isn’t asking me for extravagance. He’s asking me for love. And I’m learning to love him and love the people in my life.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Micha Boyett.