“The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity. It must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thought and gestures, without always asking, ‘Why?’ and ‘Wherefore?’”
I have been thinking a lot about prayer, lately.
For a long time, I didn’t pray. I broke up with God when I was nine, and like all bitter exes I would rant at Him from time to time- but we weren’t really on speaking terms. I still believed in God, but I didn’t see the point in praying just to have those prayers ignored.
That has changed over the past five years. During my divorce, when I was so broken down and depressed- quite literally on the floor with grief- there was nowhere to look but up. So I began praying. Desperate prayers. Pleading prayers, begging God to fix what was broken, or better yet to make it so it had never happened. Sometimes it was nothing more than, “Why Why? Why?” or “Help.”
Even though those prayers were not answered in the way I wanted, for the first time in my adult life I didn’t feel like my words went out into the void and just disappeared. I didn’t feel ignored or forsaken. I felt as though someone was listening- so I kept talking. My prayer changed from a list of what I thought I wanted and needed to a conversation.
I am, for the first time in my adult life, making daily prayer a priority.
I begin every morning with prayer. I have a little ritual. I thank God for the many blessings in my life. I say the serenity prayer. I close with a line I got from my brilliant friend Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog post The Bully Too Close to Home – “Only love today.” My prayer every day is to try and come to every person, every situation, and lead with love. My hope is that every evening when I pray it will also serve as a summation. “Only love today.”
I’ve been struggling with a resentment lately, and I was advised to pray for the person in question. The first night I could not do it. I am seldom at a loss for words, but I was completely stumped. I felt mutinous. I searched for words of love and compassion and none came. I ended up inserting the name into the serenity prayer in lieu of “me.”
I know. Not great. It was the best I could do, though. It was gotten a little easier, I suppose. Not much. But I feel a little less angry every time I do it.
Now, I know doing this will have no effect on the choices this person makes. The situation will still be hard.
Here is what I am learning about prayer, though, I will be less hard. My heart will be less hard.
For me, growing in faith now means I no longer believe my prayers change outcomes. What prayer does change is my heart, it changes my focus, my energy- even my intentions. Prayer changes ME.
Some prayers feel like love songs to me. Sometimes when I am praying I feel that soaring joy and peace that I’ve come to know when I am in communion with God. Sometimes prayers are a desperate cry in the night, like the ones during the demise of my marriage. When I was still drinking I prayed constantly- by my prayers were more like negotiations. “God, if you will please help me get a handle on my drinking, I will x, y & z…”
Those prayers were answered, though it didn’t feel that way at the time. We tend to say our prayers weren’t answered when we get anything other than a resounding ‘yes.’ The answer was a loving, “NO.”
My prayers on this resentment are neither. They are not coming from a place of joy or desperation. I’m just tired. I’m just so, so tired of carrying around this particular heavy thing and giving it so much power. I want to lay it down and I don’t quite know how to do it on my own. (By the way, that admitting I can’t figure something out by myself is new. We’re all very excited about it.)
Anyway, these prayers are halting. Grudging even. But a tiny bit less so, every day. Each prayer, an unclenching. An exhale.
When I was young and attending church and CCD, prayers were rote. There was no emphasis on having a real relationship with God. I said the words I’d memorized, and I said them quickly. I didn’t think about what they meant.
It’s a practice, prayer. Like yoga, like sobriety. It’s not a one and done. It’s sometimes more listening than talking. It’s quiet and unhurried. It’s not a wish or a list of demands. It’s learning I frequently pray for the wrong things. I am more often grateful, in hindsight, for the no answers than the yesses.
I do say the Serenity Prayer, but mindfully. I do say the Our Father at the close of meetings. Mostly, though, I take Anne Lamott’s view of prayer- that there are only three kinds, in the end: Help, thanks, and wow. Guidance, gratitude, and wonder. I find that if I stick to those three things, and accept WHATEVER the answer is, when I lay my head down at night I am in a better position to say, “Only love today.”
I am writing a book and in order to get said book published it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform. At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.
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