I’ll be honest with you, I have a problem with prayer. So much so that I rarely pray in the conventional sense. I don’t set aside time to pray every day; at best, I only pray when I absolutely have to.During public prayers, no matter how hard I try to contain it, my mind wanders all over the place. And, don’t even think about asking me to pray in public, that just isn’t going to happen.
I’m not sure why I’m like this, but it’s not a recent occurrence: it’s been this way as long as I can remember. I do have some ideas about it, just nothing concrete. Well, except for the mind-wandering thing; I’m pretty sure we can chalk that up to my ADD. I’d be a terrible Buddhist because it’s almost impossible for to close my eyes and just be. As for the rest of it, maybe it’s because my understanding of prayer is flawed.
In the past, I have tended to view God as a genie and prayer is like rubbing the lamp and asking for your three wishes. I’m not alone, plenty of people approach prayer this way. Some time in the past, however, I began to see intercessory prayer in a different light. I thought if every time I prayed I was asking for stuff, I was like that person who only calls when they need something. Nobody likes that guy (or girl) and I, for one, did not want to be them. For a while, I thought the answer was to just shoot the breeze with God when I prayed. You know, not asking for anything, just hanging out. It didn’t work, though. How do you hang out with someone who doesn’t have corporeal form?
While we’re talking about ways to pray, let me mention something else that grinds my gears (yes, a Family Guy reference, so don’t click if you’re easily offended). All this effusive thanks and praise talk in prayers bothers me. Constantly referring to how great God is, thanking God for every little thing that happens and promising to glorify God at every opportunity makes God sound really insecure and I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Whenever I hear this stuff, I imagine God facepalming and saying, “Get on with it already!”
The fact that I really haven’t gotten a lot of answers to my prayers doesn’t help. I’ve asked God for a lot of stuff over the years and haven’t gotten much response. And, don’t start throwing off those trite sayings people use when this subject rears its head. Things like “God answers every prayer. Sometimes the answer is no” or “When God doesn’t answer your prayer, it’s because He has something better for you” don’t help, they just make God sound like an ass. I will grant that it’s possible that some of my prayers have been answered and I don’t see it because the answer came in a way I wasn’t expecting, but that’s not any better. Think of this way, if you asked a friend for help and they just ignored you, did something you didn’t ask for or did what you asked in such a roundabout way you didn’t know it happened, would you be happy with that friend? I didn’t think so.
Even though I didn’t realize it, I’ve been looking for another way to see and understand prayer. On his Facebook page this morning, Brian McLaren shared a quote from Sister Joan Chittester about prayer where she said:
“. . . There is only one thing wrong with the traditional definition of prayer: it misrepresents God. “Prayer,” the old teaching said, was “the raising of our hearts and minds to God.” As if God were some regal, distant judge outside ourselves. But science–with its new perception that matter and spirit are of a piece, sometimes particles, sometimes energy–suggests that God is not on a cloud somewhere, imperious and suspecting. God is the very Energy that animates us. God is not male humanity writ large. God is the Spirit that leads us and drives us on. God is the voice within us calling us to Life. God is the Reality trying to come to fullness within us, both individually and together. It is to that cosmic God, that personal, inner, enkindling God, that we pray.”
Reading this, I realized why I have problems with prayer: I’ve been doing it wrong. Prayer isn’t formal words spoken in a specific pattern, it’s communing with the spirit of God that lives within us. Asking that spirit to somehow magically make things better felt strange because it is strange. If prayer is effective in these instances, it’s because prayer galvanizes us to be active in our own life and the lives of others. If prayer is effective at bringing peace, it’s because we’ve gotten in touch with the peace that resides in the spirit of God. Prayer isn’t an out there thing, it’s in here.
So, does this mean everything’s all hunky-dory and I’ll set aside time for prayer and contemplation everyday? I don’t know. It does mean I see prayer in a different light and I plan to delve deeper into it in the future. You’ll just have to wait and see what comes of that.