The Welcoming Prayer

Try This Activity

Identify an uncomfortable, awkward, upsetting, frightening, sad, or otherwise negative encounter you had today. Write down a one-sentence summary. 

  1. Identify the negative feelings that arose in you from the encounter. Write down as many negative sensations and/or emotions as you felt next to number 1.
  2. Write this sentence next to point 2: “Welcome feelings of [rewrite the list of negative sensations/emotions from point 1].”
  3. Write this sentence next to point 3: “I have no control over you. God does. I release you to God.”

Put an X next to 1, 2 or 3 to indicate which of the three was most difficult or caused the most hesitation for you. If just coming up with a negative encounter was the hardest part, put your X next to 1.

Explanation

Here is a simple, yet very practical, explanation of the welcoming prayer from David G. Benner’s Opening to God.

The welcoming prayer has three steps.

1. Bring your emotion to consciousness. Face it. Don’t deny it. This is the hard part for care-giver types. Feel it. Don’t think it. This is the hard part for thinkers/worriers. It may help to check through your body and notice how your body is responding, maybe elevated breathing, tightness in throat, clenched jaw. Don’t judge the emotion. Don’t try to change it. Just acknowledge it. This is the easy part for me—I’m a gut type by nature—but it isn’t easy for everyone. Take your time.

2. Welcome the emotion. This is when my insides started swearing. Literally say, “Welcome feelings of _____.” You’re welcoming the emotion, perhaps the circumstances, not the wrong that gave rise to it.

3. Let go. Surrender control over the circumstance and over the negative feelings that disturb your peace. Surrender to God, who is in control, not to the darkness, the circumstances, or even the people involved. Ultimately, none of that is in control either. Surrender control to God.

This is what happens as you practice each step.

1. We can only release that which we know we have. This is where your choice is. This is what you can control. Either you acknowledge the emotion or you don’t: that is your choice.

2. David G. Benner writes, “When resistance is replaced by welcome, we remove the power of these unchosen events to disturb our peace.” Think of welcome as agreeing with reality. The crap is here. You can fight or deny the crap, but that only engages with it. If you agree that it is without doing either, it can no longer feed off of your energy.

3. David G. Benner writes, “If it’s surrender to God, it is prayer. What makes this possible is faith in God. Surrender is entrusting to God things over which we have no control. Every time we do so we exercise faith in action.”

Breaking Down Your Defenses

Now, look back at your page and notice which step you Xed.

Step 1: Sink into your emotions. If you identified this as your sticking point, think about why it felt uncomfortable.

Neil T. Anderson writes about forgiveness, which is a particular form of “letting go.” He says, “Forgive from your heart. Allow God to bring to the surface the painful emotions you feel toward those who’ve hurt you. If your forgiveness does not touch the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete.” Now replace the word “forgiveness” with “surrender”: Let go from your heart. Allow God to bring to the surface the painful emotions you feel. If your surrender does not touch the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete. You must pass through your emotion, not around it. Otherwise, you won’t be free of it.

Step 2: Welcome the emotion. If you identified this as your sticking point, consider what feels wrong with it?

Therese Saulnier says, “What I ‘welcome’ in the welcoming prayer practice is not the feeling, emotion, thought or body sensation, but God’s activity in them.” You are not welcoming the wrong. You are agreeing with reality. You are refusing to feed it with your energy.

Step 3: Let go. If you identified this as your sticking point, notice why it seemed wrong to you.

Byron Katie says, “I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours and God’s. . . . Much of our stress comes from mentally living out[side] our business” (3). Let go of any business that is not strictly yours.

Neil T. Anderson writes, “Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin. You are going to live with those consequences anyway whether you like it or not, so the only choice you have is whether you will do so in the bondage of bitterness or in the freedom of forgiveness. No one truly forgives without accepting and suffering the pain of another person’s sin. That can seem unfair and you may wonder where the justice is in it, but justice is found at the foot of the cross, which makes forgiveness legally and morally right.”

Mary Mrozowski, who developed the modern version of the welcoming prayer asks, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be free?” Mary Dwyer responds to her challenge, “I had always assumed the path to freedom was righteousness. Mary [Mrozowski] would point out that a lot of folks were right, but they weren’t free.”

When Not to Welcome

Has feeling your emotions become wallowing in your emotions? It’s time to stop harboring your toxic emotions and move on to the welcoming/no longer engaging with them step 2.

Rumi, the 13th century mystic writes, “This being human is a guest house; every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all, even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture. Still, treat each guest honorably; he may be cleaning you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice—meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

On the other hand, The Didache, a 2d century manual on church order, is pretty clear about holy guests that overstay their welcome: “Act in line with the speaking of the spirit. Welcome every messenger on arriving, as if he were the Lord. but he must not stay beyond one day. In case of necessity, however, the next day too. if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. On departing, a messenger must not accept anything save sufficient food to carry him till his next lodging. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet” (11:3-6).

Has welcoming negative feelings become welcoming the wrong itself? Set boundaries and limits on the wrong, the abuse, or the continued sin. Again Neil T. Anderson writes, “Forgiveness is choosing not to hold someone’s sin against him or her anymore. . . . This doesn’t mean you continue to put up with the future sins of others. God does not tolerate sin and neither should you. Don’t allow yourself to be continually abused by others. Take a stand against sin while continuing to exercise grace and forgiveness, . . . wise limits and boundaries.”

Has letting go of negative feelings become letting go of your uncomfortable responsibilities? Stop trying to move your business onto someone else’s plate. Go back to the welcoming/agreeing with reality step. In this case the reality being that you can and should do something to change the crap.

Welcoming as a Lifestyle

Surrender to God is the key to the Welcoming Prayer and to its lifestyle cousin Practicing the Sacrament of the Present Moment. According to Jean-Pierre de Caussade, practicing the sacrament of the present moment is trusting that whatever the next task is—whether it is painful or pleasant, lofty or lowly—God will make use of your obedience to the task. Your surrender to his will in the next minute is all he requires to make you holy. This may mean that of the five urgent matters before you, God will urge you towards one and then you must listen to that intuition, trusting that if the other four “go to hell in a hand-basket,” that’s his business. De Caussade writes, “I rest contented with the present moment. Thinking only of my duty to it, I submit to the work of this skillful master without caring to know what it is” (56).

Remember that the goal of this practice is not feeling better, it’s staying sane. “The will of God,” says de Caussade, “is the salvation, sanity and life of body and soul, whatever else it may bring to either of them” (44). But I would argue that when you feel crazy, any return to baseline “feels” better.

Resources for Practicing Welcome

Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”

David G. Benner. “Welcoming Prayer.” Pages 154–56 in Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2010.

There are three steps to the Welcoming Prayer.

  1. Bring your emotion to consciousness. Face it. Feel it. It may help to check through your body and notice how your body is responding—elevated breathing, tightness in throat, clenched jaw, etc. Don’t judge the emotion. Don’t try to change it. Just acknowledge it. This is the easy part for me, but it isn’t easy for everyone. Take your time.
  2. Welcome the emotion. (This is when my insides started swearing.) Literally say, “Welcome feelings of isolation, inadequacy, insignificance, being used, hopelessness, loneliness.” Yes. This is my list. Believe it or not, it’s been redacted for your comfort. Anyway, you’re welcoming the emotion, not the circumstance that gave rise to it.
  3. Let go. Surrender control over the circumstance and over the negative feelings that disturb your peace. Surrender to God, who is in control, not to the darkness, the circumstances, or even the people involved. Ultimately, none of that is in control either. Surrender control to God.

This is what happens as you practice each step.

  1. We can only release that which we know we have. This is where your choice is. This is what you can control. Either you acknowledge the emotion or you don’t: that is your choice.
  2. “When resistance is replaced by welcome, we remove the power of these unchosen events to disturb our peace.”
  3. “If it’s surrender to God, it is prayer. What makes this possible is faith in God. Surrender is entrusting to God things over which we have no control. Every time we do so we exercise faith in action.”

Neil T. Anderson. “Forgiveness.” Pages 222–24 in The Bondage Breaker: Overcoming Negative Thoughts, Irrational Feelings, Habitual Sins. Eugene, Ore.: Harvest, 2000.

  • “Forgiveness is not forgetting.”
  • Forgiveness begins like judgment—with the telling of truths—but it ends in mercy, not punishment, for the guilty party and healing for the wounded party.
  • “Forgiveness is a choice, a decision of the will.”
  • Forgiveness lets the guilty party off the hook so that you are no longer bound to that person by the sin.
  • Forgiving the guilty sets the hurt person free.
  • Forgiveness is a “matter of obedience to God.” God wants hurt people to be free. “There is no other way” to be free.
  • “Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin. You are going to live with those consequences anyway whether you like it or not, so the only choice you have is whether you will do so in the bondage of bitterness or in the freedom of forgiveness. No one truly forgives without accepting and suffering the pain of another person’s sin. That can seem unfair and you may wonder where the justice is in it, but justice is found at the foot of the cross, which makes forgiveness legally and morally right.”
  • “Do not wait for the person to ask” forgiveness. That is when reconciliation begins. This is not about reconciliation. This is about freedom.
  • “Forgive from your heart. Allow God to bring to the surface the painful emotions you feel toward those who’ve hurt you. If your forgiveness does not touch the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete.”
  • “Forgiveness is choosing not to hold someone’s sin against him or her anymore. . . . This doesn’t mean you continue to put up with the future sins of others. God does not tolerate sin and neither should you. Don’t allow yourself to be continually abused by others. Take a stand against sin while continuing to exercise grace and forgiveness, . . . wise limits and boundaries.”
  • “Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving. . . . Once you choose to forgive, Satan will have lost his power over you in that area, and God’s healing touch will be free to move. Freedom is what you gain right now, not necessarily a change of feelings.”

Jean-Pierre de Caussade. The Sacrament of the Present Moment. Translated by Kitty Muggeridge. Introduced by Richard M. Foster. Reissue edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2009.  |  This is a good translation with an excellent introduction by Richard Foster. It collects the writings by de Caussade on the sacrament of the present moment. It tends toward emphasizing the heart instead of the whole-person, but it is not difficult to read and it is short. The “sacrament of the present moment” is acting our trust in God by suffering whatever he allows in the moment, welcoming it because he’s allowed it to bring about our unity with him. “Whatever he may offer us is not our business but God’s, and what he ordains is best. How simple is this perfect and total surrender of self to the word of God!” (25). De Caussade’s basic philosophy was Mary Mrozowski’s foundation for the development of the welcoming prayer and so this book is a good primary resource for those who want to make the welcoming prayer a way of life.

If you just want the best quotes from de Caussade’s book, you can “like” Ten Ways to Pray on Facebook by clicking the “like” button to the right and they’ll show up in your newsfeed.

Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell. Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002.  |  This is a secular approach to the same idea. Katie’s basic philosophy is that we suffer because we fight against reality, against things over which we have no control because they are not “our business.” It describes Katie’s process called “the work,” which starts by writing down a painful story and noticing your judgments within the story. Then you ask four questions of this judgment and then turn it around to “find three genuine examples of how the turnaround is true in your life” (19). The four questions are “1. Is it true? 2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true? 3. How do I react when I think that thought? 4. Who would I be without the thought?” (19). The work can be a good exercise in the microcosm of self, but it over-emphasizes non-judgmentalism. According to Anderson, there is a place for sound judgment in forgiveness and letting go.

Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, Pamela Gursoy and Timothy Koock. Welcoming Prayer. The Contemplative Life Program 40 Day Practice. No City: Contemplative Outreach, 2006.  |  This is a small booklet with quotes about the welcoming prayer. Those who have made the welcoming prayer a way of life might find it useful as a support.

Cherry Haisten, “The Practice of Welcoming Prayer,” Contemplative Outreach, http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/ category/category/welcoming-prayer (accessed November 5, 2013).  |  This 15-page pamphlet builds on the framework of the welcoming prayer, using ideas from de Caussade and John Keating. It may also be useful in broadening your prayer into a lifestyle.