It always feels really weird to me to have to say something that I’m not sure I really mean. Or maybe that I’m really sure that I don’t mean. It can feel like marveling at the Emperor’s new clothes.
I remember how difficult that was as a kid. Having to say “thank-you” when I didn’t happen to feel very thankful. Having to say “excuse me” when someone clumsy got in my way. Having to apologize to my brother for something that deep-down I figured he had coming.
Sometime I’d try to hold out against these injunctions: “But I’m not sorry!” However, parents have a way of winning these childhood standoffs, and eventually I’d mumble my contrition even as my demeanor glared my dissent.
That always seemed silly. Why say something if you don’t really mean it? What good does it do to insist to Aunt Sally that you really do love her zucchini-and-peanut butter lasagna? Why say it if you don’t mean it? That only makes sense.
But on the other hand, I think there are times when we might not mean something until we say it. While my views on a toxic casserole might not waver, there have been things that I know I didn’t mean until I started to announce them. Take almost anything having to do with real love, for instance. I have shockingly few moments of spontaneous servanthood; usually I have to prompt myself to be helpful or to apologize or even to let someone else go first through a doorway. Those kinds of things just don’t come naturally to me. There’s a sense in which I can still hear my parents’ instructions: “say thank you…say you’re sorry…”.
My point is that sometimes I won’t really feel something until I say it. The very process of going through the motions helps me situate myself in the attitude that I really want to have. Saying I'm sorry helps me be sorry when it doesn’t come naturally. It helps me mean it better, you could say.
I find that the same kind of thing often happens in prayer. Later this morning our congregation, The Gathering, will be holding a special prayer service. Our people will be led in prayer by our worship leaders, in spoken prayers and in some of the songs we sing. Some of our people will choose to pray with special prayer teams positioned around the room. And I’d bet good money that we won’t fully mean many of the things we say to God in those prayers, at least not at the time that we say them. Like telling God we trust in Him, or that we really want to see His will happen in our crisis situations. We’ll likely profess faith that doesn’t ring very true, or ask for guidance when what we really want is for God to take a few pointers from us.
We’ll say things that we don’t really, fully mean. We’ll join with the father before Jesus in Mark 9: “I believe, help my unbelief!”
And frankly, I’m OK with that. While it’d be great to think that our hearts always feel the right things, some of those things won’t fully change until after we hear a loud trumpet blast. And in the meantime, we’re still sinners, and we’ll still have to say some of these things to help us mean them.