I talk to myself. Often.
It isn’t out of the question for my wife to come downstairs, hearing me busily discussing something as I wipe off the kitchen counters, etc.
She’ll inevitably ask, “Who are you talking to in there?”
I quietly respond, “Myself. Again.”
I have had more conversations with people while cleaning or mowing the grass than I have had with those individuals in real life. For whatever reason, it suits me.
The conversations can be troublesome, however. There are times when I will take the fictional, one-man conversation and situate it in my brain and come to the point where I believe I really had that conversation with that particular person.
In other words, it happened out loud in my kitchen and therefore it happened in real life.
I have even acted as if that conversation really happened, and in my head I have held people to the information I “shared” in our fictional back and forth.
This is a problem.
Conversation always works best when someone else is present. A phone call crackles with intensity because someone else is present. The steam of coffee delicately dances between us as we talk in each other’s presence. Even the FaceTime or Skype call has more value and veracity because, even virtually, the other person is present.
We can only move forward in our relational worlds when we engage in each other’s presence.
In this season of Advent, presence is the central move of God.
In the gaping holes of human life, the places where we are starving for something beyond our experience make us long for presence.
When we feel the cold edge of our loneliness, the lack of proximity to someone with whom we can bring our true selves and be loved just as we are, we long for presence.
When we sense we have no advocate, no representative, no one to take our case and have our back, we long for presence.
During the preparation for Christmas, we ready ourselves for presence.
In that readying, I find something important emerges about prayer and presence.
Prayer may seem to us like talking to ourselves. We envision the words striking the ceiling, hollow and without energy.
We cease at some point to bring the best of ourselves, even that deep and rich truth that says “I don’t think you exist” or “how long is this going to last?” because, well, we don’t think anyone is listening.
We may have believed at one point that someone was listening on the other end, but now we're not so sure. Strangely, this is a natural part of the spiritual life.
Every saint who has walked in skin has wrestled, at one point or another, with the apparent silence and absence of God. Welcome.
Advent can, however, bring prayer into a new light. When the message comes that God is now “Emmanuel” – “with us” – the conversation of prayer moves even more precisely into a conversation of presence.
In other words, it is the human concept of “We’ll talk about this when I get home.”
In Jesus, in the season of Advent, we are reminded that God made His home in the world. He invites us as we wait for the days to pass, as we work through our inner worlds and walk through relational conflicts and process our passions and pathogens, He invites us to a conversation.
Advent says, “I’m here. Let’s talk.” We may walk gingerly into that conversation, but Advent is an invitation to the discussion nonetheless.
As we go into this season, may we remember that prayer at its heart is a conversation of presence and at this time in the year we can be sure that He is with us.
It doesn’t ensure that the conversation will be easy, or that we will immediately feel the presence where at one point we didn't, but we can confidently walk knowing we aren’t simply talking to ourselves.