The past few months I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking about prayer. I realize I should also have spent time praying about prayer but sadly that didn’t dawn on me until I sat down to write this. And that’s the problem. My prayer life is hasty, inconsistent and awkward which then leads to feelings of guilt and shame. Not being a big fan of guilt and shame I decided to pay some attention to my prayer life and sort some stuff out.
When I was a kid I prayed every morning with my classmates. This was back in day when we recited The Lord’s Prayer each morning in school before singing “Oh Canada.” After elementary school I experienced a 25-year dry spell with no prayer of any kind. Then after my husband Chris and I married we began attending church. I was both curious and intimidated by all things church and this included prayer.
Chris was just coming out of a prayer dry spell himself, so I had to look elsewhere for insight into prayer. I asked my new church friend, Angela, “When do you pray?”
I naively envisioned her praying with her hands together and possibly kneeling in quiet solitude, so I was shocked when she answered with, “Alison, right now I am praying every single minute of the day.”
As a mother of three girls under the age of four, she explained that she was in constant conversation with God just to make it through the day. I had no idea what that could look like but I was excited to learn that prayer was more than the stuff we read together in church – it was speaking and it was listening. It was a conversation with God.
As I flailed about trying to make sense of church and figure out who this Jesus guy was, my friends Dan and Kathy took me under their discipleship wings, and provided a safe space for me and a couple of others to ask all the questions we needed. It was also with this group that I prayed out loud for the first time. It was awkward and stressful but at the same time very cool. I was talking to Him.
Our group studied The Lord’s Prayer and I learned about the acronym ACTS – adoration, confession, thanksgiving and then supplication or intercession. This was helpful for me because I always felt bad about just asking God for stuff. The adoration piece was tough for me so I always started with the stand by phrase of “God you are awesome.” Confession was also tricky as I was still wrapping my head around the idea that I was a sinner. But I did feel pretty good about the thanksgiving and supplication pieces. So while I found this formula helpful it didn’t feel like a conversation or relationship with God. I did eventually get there but it took time, trust and communication – just like any relationship.
A few months ago I realized my everyday prayer life includes falling asleep mid-prayer, distractedly trying to stay focused or just not showing up at all. I imagined God sitting in my living room waiting for me. He waited while I started a load of laundry, did the dishes or played some stupid game on my phone. He sat there patiently while I ran in and out saying, “Hang on I just need to clean the bathroom. I’ll be there in two minutes after I send this email. Whoa, look at the time I need to pick up the girls from school. Can we chat after dinner?”
I was really disappointed in myself because prayer is yet another discipline I have failed at much like exercising, eating healthier and sticking to a budget. Clearly, if I was more disciplined with prayer I might have a shot at the others. I could at least pray about them. Thankfully every time I popped my head back in the living room God was still sitting there patiently, lovingly waiting for me.
I was so frustrated with myself and this pattern of non-prayer. Jesus intentionally stepped away from the disciples and crowds to pray. I had to stop squeezing it in or hoping I would find time. I had to set time aside and show up. For me that’s in the morning after the rowdy people have cleared out and just before I get into bed at night.
So having sorted out the when, I focused on the what. I purchased Phyllis Tickles’ books The Divine Hours, a book of fixed hour prayers. It includes morning, mid-day and evening offices which include prayers, hymns, responses, and readings. Reading the Call to Prayer or Greeting give me the words of adoration that I struggled to find.
After my reading I focus on a person or situation. I no longer worry or stress about sounding awkward or finding the right words or asking for the right thing.
“He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” – Romans 8:28The Message
My guilt and shame have mostly evaporated. There are days when I don’t step away to be still but more often there are days that I do. It’s not perfect but this daily rhythm of morning and evening prayers works for me in addition to the ongoing conversation. It was a helpful exercise examining my prayer life. It took me somewhere unexpected. And I know this is not a one -off. My prayer life will change and evolve but I’m hoping I remember to keep it simple.
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage.” – Matthew 6:6The Message