I don’t remember much from movies. I can’t quote lines from Monty Python or sing the lyrics from Grease. I often don’t remember if I’ve seen a movie based on its title alone. On more than one occasion I’ve been half way through a film before I realize I’ve seen it before, which usually isn’t a problem since I most likely can’t remember the ending.
But for some reason, this dialogue from the film “Shadowlands” has always stuck with me.
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time-waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God-it changes me.” -C.S. Lewis
If you’re not familiar, this 1993 production is a biography chronicling the life of author C.S. Lewis. Lewis, in many people’s opinion, was one of the greatest theological and philosophical minds of the 20th century. You can get lost exploring the layers in The Screwtape Letters or The Chronicles of Narnia for hours on end.
I’ve heard people challenge this quote. They offer up Biblical evidence of how our prayers do, in fact, influence God. They remind us that Jesus taught us to ask God to give us our daily bread (Luke 11:3) and told stories encouraging us to persist in asking like a stubborn neighbor who won’t leave the front porch until someone coughs up a cup of sugar (Luke 11:5-10).
I’m not going to argue with any of that. I suspect Lewis wouldn’t. But I think getting stuck on the phrase “it doesn’t change God” is to miss the entire point of what Lewis is saying.
Of course, I have no idea in what context he penned or spoke these words, but I love the way Anthony Hopkins interpreted them on the big screen. If I remember right (which, as I established earlier is a sketchy proposition), Hopkins’ character has just received a big award or promotion at the school at which he teaches. When his colleague congratulates him on how God has “answered his prayers,” Lewis seems to take offense at this suggestion. Why doesn’t he want to correlate his good fortune with God answering his prayers?
Because then when things don’t go his way, he’d have to blame God for unanswered prayers.
What I see in this quote is a man who didn’t want to treat God as a prayer vending machine. I see a man who understood prayer as a relational conversation with the one he was dependent on as his Lord, Savior, and friend. He felt the need to be in constant connection with God, waking and sleeping. This communication was vital to his very existence, like water or air or ice cream.
And as he stands back and contemplates the reason that he prays, he realizes that when he communes with God, he is the one who is changed.
Why do you pray?
If we only come to God looking for answers, then maybe that’s why we don’t feel the need flowing out of us all the time-waking and sleeping.
Lewis found something so much greater to experience in prayer. May we discover it too.