God's Longing for Us
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. - Collect for Proper 22
The weekly collects in the Book of Common Prayer are a treasure of theological depth. They are timeless, and frankly, one could develop a rich prayer life by simply praying these daily. It is a good spiritual practice to ask ourselves what we hear when we pray these words. My first reaction to the one above was to imagine that it was about our limits. We don’t pray enough, we want more than we should, and we deeply need God’s mercy. This is a true and faithful way to pray these words.
But, the longer I sat with this week’s prayer I started to hear it in another way. It sounded like it was more about who God is, rather than who we are in response to God. The first line of this week’s prayer speaks to God’s deep longing for us. Whether we are regular in our prayer routines or more occasional isn’t the point. We don’t have to hear this prayer as a deficiency on our part, but rather a statement about God's identity. Even if we pray without ceasing — God is still more ready to hear us. Let that sink in for a moment. God’s very nature is complete and God is always available. God made us and chose a relationship with us, without any need for us.
That kind of generosity in relationship is something we cannot fully comprehend or understand. It takes a lifetime of experiencing God’s grace to even begin to trust and rely on that kind of steadfastness. But when we get an inkling of it, it transforms everything. That is why we ask for mercy, not solely to ask for forgiveness, but also to name our own longing to be in God's grace as much as possible. We long to have all sense of separation removed so that we can bask in that light of pure love. St. Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee, O God.” That longing we have for God is simply the longing to return to that which has created us from love.
We cannot control our experience of that love, but we can orient our lives to be reminded of it. We can pray. We can serve. We can love our neighbors and ourselves. We can also intentionally foster a practice of looking at our life with gratitude. We can ask ourselves, when did I experience a moment of love? Might that be God trying to get my attention so I return God’s gaze. The more we look for those moments, the more we see them, and the more we start to see the world as God sees us.