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    Give Rest to the Weary

    The Prayer for Those Who Are Too Tired to Pray

    By Tish Harrison Warren

    February 17, 2021
    • ruth m sill

      So much good stuff in here...especially love your descriptions regarding sitting in silence and how that can be so uncomfortable. Sharing with some friends ..

    Weary is a weighty word. It brings to mind heavy eyelids and aching joints, the worn out faces of those who have borne too much. To be truly weary is a state of both body and soul. The woman’s swollen face after she’s cried all that she can cry. The burned-out man collapsing on the couch after a brutal day. The couple who has gone round and round, circling the same impasse.

    We know the difference between the kind of gratifying tiredness that comes after a good day’s work and the burden of weariness, when the hardness of life settles on us thick and leaden. The book of Ecclesiastes names the latter the “weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). It comes with desolation, anxiety, and the deep sigh of despair.

    In this prayer of Compline, we ask that God would give rest to the weary as Jesus promised that he would. In every Anglican prayer office, we read Scripture. In Compline, we read a quote from Jesus, when he spoke to a crowd and said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).

    Jesus calls the weary to himself. He does not call the self-sufficient, nor those with the proper religious credentials or perfect, Instagram-able lives. He calls those exhausted from toil, from just getting through the day. He calls those burdened with heavy loads, those weighed down by sin and sorrow. It is these, not the confident and successful, to whom Jesus says, “Come to me.”

    One Ash Wednesday a decade ago, when I was new to Anglicanism, I knelt at a rail as Fr. Thomas, my priest, smeared a black cross on each forehead. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” he intoned, and marked the preteen girl kneeling next to me. Then, I heard her turn to her mom and whisper, “Does my ash look all right?”

    The ones Jesus calls are the weary ones, the ones who snap at those they love after a long day, the ones who battle addiction, the ones who aren’t who they wish they were, the ones who know they are not strong, the ones who wrestle and repent, who fail and fail again.

    Still kneeling, I started to laugh. Because of course it didn’t look all right. She had a large black smudge in the middle of her forehead. There is no way for that to look all right. But I also laughed because I heard my own heart in her question. I know I’m limited. I know I’m dust and returning to dust. I bear vulnerability, weariness, and mortality. I bear sin, selfishness, and struggle. But I still want to, you know, look okay. I want to pretend I am still all right. I have it together. It’s a well-practiced façade. I’m a ten-year-old girl with a big, black smudge on my face hoping to somehow pass as acceptably cool.

    The good news of Jesus is not that we get a merit badge for being put together and hope that God ignores our failures. We serve God not only with our strengths, but in our weaknesses.

    The ones Jesus calls are the weary ones, the ones who snap at those they love after a long day, the ones who battle addiction, the ones who aren’t who they wish they were, the ones who know they are not strong, the ones who wrestle and repent, who fail and fail again. This is the church, these ones through whom Jesus is strong.

    To be clear, I don’t mean that God is glorified in our fashionable weakness. It’s a trend now to meticulously display imperfection online. Messiness can be part of our personal brand. We don’t like people who seem too put together, so many Christian leaders are sure to go out of their way to show us how “messy” they are. But it’s all so very curated. Our truest weaknesses will never be a selling point. It’s those things that the people closest to us know about us that we’d rather forget – or perhaps that we don’t even know about ourselves. It’s those things we’d never share in a job interview and that people (we hope) won’t mention in our eulogy.

    One of my favorite movie lines is Lester Bangs’s confession in Almost Famous: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” If sharing our imperfections makes us seem cooler and more approachable, then it’s not true weakness. The things that are really wrong with us are embarrassing and uncomfortable. True vulnerability is too tender to trust with any except those who love us most. Sharing this part of ourselves with our community makes us more whole, but it will never help our brand. We are, truly, a mess – and not in a cute way, but in a sad and often humiliating way. The ashes on our forehead do not look all right.

    Weariness when it cuts us to the core, reveals our truest, most fragile selves.

    woman in yellow clothes sleeping on a bench against a wall filled with graffiti

    Photograph by Carles Rabada

    The hardest time for me to pray is when I am weary. Spiritual discipline requires energy, and exhaustion turns resolution into dissipation. When our strength evaporates, when we are spent, we often cannot drum up feelings of ardent faith or conjure the words for prayer. And this is why weariness is almost a prerequisite to learning to rest in God. This is also why seasons of weariness taught me new and different ways to pray.

    I have always loved words, so I have loved wordy prayers. It wasn’t until my late twenties, in a season of disappointment and heartache, when I ran out of words and slowly learned that there was more to prayer than I had known. I grew weary, my faith flagged, and I learned to receive the prayers of the church as my own. I learned that prayer is a tutor, not a performance. It’s the stretcher on which we collapse and are carried to the Healer.

    In 2017, I turned to Compline when I didn’t have anything else to say, when I was so bone-tired and soul-spent that I could only receive prayer as a gift. That year I also leaned on other ancient ways of praying that rely less on cognitive and verbal ability. In particular, I found refuge in prayers of silence.

    There is little that requires less of us than simply sitting in silence, doing nothing. It is prayer for the castaway who has forgotten the language of faith. In a sense, it’s easy.

    Yet sitting in silence is an exercise in tolerating mystery. It reminds us that there is a limit to the power of words and to human reason, even as a woman who loves words and argument.

    Silence also taught me to be patient with God’s silence – to keep struggling to trust him when he wouldn’t give an answer, a sign, or a quick resolution. 

    Silence gave me space to remember that my most urgent spiritual questions are not necessarily the ones that will endure. To be a Christian is to sit, however uncomfortably, in mystery, in something that we can never quite nail down or name. After all, we’re talking about God here, the maker of the crab nebula and black holes and protons and puffins.

    Silence also taught me to be patient with God’s silence – to keep struggling to trust him when he wouldn’t give an answer, a sign, or a quick resolution.

    And when we are too weary to pray altogether, the one who knows our hearts far better than we do prays for us. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Paul writes. The Spirit of him who says “Come to me” comes to us. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought,” Paul goes on, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). In our weakness, the Spirit of God does not make us completely competent or all sufficient or winners in life’s lottery. Instead, he prays for us. God intercedes for us, wordlessly. In our long, dark nights we don’t know how to pray. But we know God, the one who prays for us. And that is enough.

    Adapted from Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren. Copyright © 2021 by Tish Harrison Warren. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

    Contributed By

    Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. She is the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary, which was Christianity Today's 2018 Book of the Year. Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Comment Magazine, The Point, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband and three children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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