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A Prayer Image

Sometimes, an image comes to me during prayer – spontaneously emerging without any intention or effort on my part. In the most recent unbidden image, I was falling down before God.

I’m not a falling-down kind of guy. For most of my life, I’ve focused on climbing: achieving goals, producing results, and mastering the ways of ascent. I like control, and I’ve worked hard to defy gravity in my efforts to climb and excel. Yet, from somewhere deep in my unconscious, this compelling image of falling down before God surfaced. It both intrigued and disturbed me.

I learned climbing from my parents; it was an ingrained family trait. Yet, as I thought about falling down, I remembered my mother’s experience. In her early 90’s, deteriorating health forced her into assisted living. The weekly schedule was that late on Saturday afternoon, the aides would come to help her shower. Strong-willed and independent, my mother hated needing help. One Saturday, she decided to shower before the aides got there. Sadly, she fell and broke both her arm and her pelvis. At first, I was furious with her! Then, I was forced to admit that my own independence and relentless self-determination have often caused me to refuse the help I need.

One of the things that I’ve learned about prayer images is that they sometimes provide a necessary corrective. They help me see something I’m missing. The image can reveal a blind spot and show me another way. 

As a climber, it’s hard to accept weakness and need. I am so invested in self-determination that I resist the notion of falling down – before God or anyone else. I find it hard to acknowledge humanness, accept vulnerability, and admit my limitations. The image of falling down before God reveals the importance of an appropriate humbling. It indicates that I need to expand my self-awareness and accept the full scope of who I am: gifted yet needy, strong yet vulnerable, confident yet insecure.

There are moments when, like it or not, we are forced to confront our limits. I identify with the leader of the synagogue – a man who gives orders and calls the shots. When tragedy strikes and his daughter dies, it leaves him powerless. In his grief, he does the only thing he can think of doing. He falls down before Jesus with a desperate plea: “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” (Matt 9:18) The leader’s world has come crashing down, and his power and position are unable to protect or insulate him. His daughter’s death has brought him to his knees, and his only hope is to surrender and beg for help.

Falling down isn’t necessary because God wants us to grovel. The prodigal son was greeted with an embrace, forgiveness, and a celebration. There was no penance he had to perform. He had already experienced his necessary humbling. There was no need to belittle, embarrass, or shame him. Like the prodigal, there comes a time when we need to accept our humanness, acknowledge our powerlessness, and admit our faults. There comes a time for self-emptying, for surrender, for falling down before God.

Lazarus was already dead and entombed for four days when Jesus arrived in Bethany. Martha immediately goes out to meet him; and – in typical fashion – she is quick to speak her mind: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask . . .” (John 11: 21-22) In contrast to Martha’s direct request, Mary falls at Jesus’ feet weeping. Her tears are her prayer – a desperate plea from the depth of her need. Jesus’ deep love for her causes him to be “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” (John 11: 32-33) Mary knew something about falling down – of tears, vulnerability, and powerlessness. She also knew where to place her ultimate trust.

We don’t travel the spiritual journey alone. It’s not a self-improvement project. My relentless climbing and self-determination need to give way to openness and receptivity. I have always welcomed the opportunity to help others. There’s also a time when I need to accept the help they offer me – receiving it with graciousness and gratitude. I need to learn to embrace a mutuality in which I have something to give, but I also have something I need to receive. My over-emphasis on doing and achieving needs to be balanced by being in relationship with others and with God. Embracing the spiritual journey requires shifting gears, accepting a necessary recalibration, changing my attitude and mindset, and being open to another way.

Falling down before God is both an attitude of prayer and a way of life. It focuses on where we place our ultimate trust. All too often, I have placed my trust in my own skills, hard work, and determination. Falling down before God requires accepting my humanness, acknowledging my need, and opening myself to the help of others. 

Falling down before God requires placing my ultimate trust in the mercy, forgiveness, and love of God.

At some point, the moment of ultimate surrender will come for all of us. This prayer image helps reveal the wisdom we may need to make a necessary correction. Its subtle guidance urges us to accept the full scope of who we are: gifted yet needy, strong yet vulnerable, confident yet insecure. It invites us to see the limits of our skills and hard work; and it call us to place our trust in the mercy, forgiveness, and love of God. When our moment of ultimate surrender comes, it calls us to empty ourselves, to let go, and to fall into the arms of the God who loves us more than our wildest imagination is able to grasp.

Invitation to Prayer

Here is an invitation to prayer that encourages falling down before God.

God of mercy and love,
Thank you for the images that emerge from deep within
Even when they come unbidden and unsettle me.
Even when they call me to conversion in ways I resist.

God of mercy and love,
Let me fall down before you,
Acknowledging my weakness and need,
Owning up to my humanness and embracing humility.

God of mercy and love,
Open me to receive,
Willingly accepting the help and support of others,
With gratitude and graciousness.

God of mercy and love,
When the ultimate moment of surrender comes,
Give me the courage to empty myself, let go and
Fall into the forgiving love of your eternal embrace.