I have a confession: I’m bad at praying. At my best, I space out and start thinking about when I last did my laundry or what I want for dinner. At my worst, I fall asleep. Ever since I became too old for the “now I lay me down to sleep” prayer, I’ve been at a loss as to how I’m supposed to communicate with God. Not that I don’t talk with God. I like to have random discussions with Him throughout the day when things occur to me that I feel may be important (even if they are a bit one-sided). But I don’t think talking with God is the same as praying. I feel like praying is something more. And I’m not sure how to do it.
My parents taught my sisters and I that when you pray, you thank God for the things He’s provided, for what you have, because its all from Him. That makes sense. I can do that. Kind of writing a thank you card to the man upstairs. How hard is that? Then, my parents said, you are supposed to bring your problems, your wants, your frustrations to Him; the things you need help with, the things you don’t understand. Whenever I did this, or do this, it feels like a letter to Santa. Like a shopping list of things I want: “Hey God, if you could maybe give me a good job to pay off my loans, find me a place to live, send me a boyfriend, help me get a book published, and make me beautiful and happy, I would really appreciate it.” I hate that.
Going to God for specific things, asking for what I want (not always what I need) makes me feel guilty. There are so many people in the world with problems I can’t even fathom having and one of the first things that comes to mind when people ask me if I have a prayer request is “I’m tired of being single.” Like God, the most powerful being of the universe, needs to be bothered with my guy problems.
So maybe that’s my problem with prayer: I never know when my requests are just ridiculous. Does there come a point when instead of praying, I’m just wishing for things I want? When God just becomes a shooting star across the sky or a clock showing the time “11:11”? Or maybe I use prayer like a child uses a special blanket, something I clutch to when the world is spinning out of control and I have no where else to go to make the fear and emptiness and terror stop?
I can count exactly how many times I’ve come to God completely stricken and utterly broken, sobbing uncontrollably because there was no way I could control what was happening in my life. In those moments, I prayed. I had to. There was nothing else left, no way around it. Prayer was my only option. I begged God to take away the gnawing emptiness, the overwhelming sadness, the unbelievable stress. I came to Him as my final attempt, my last resort.
I don’t like the idea of me ‘using’ God, treating Him like a toy to take out and play with as I please, putting Him away when I no longer need Him or tire of Him. I hate praying like I’m wishing for something I want, rather than coming to Him for solutions and self-discovery. I’m annoyed that I can’t figure out how to pray, embarrassed that I’m so clueless.
Maybe I’ll never be able to pray the ‘right’ way, because there isn’t one right way. Maybe each of us come to God differently as our relationship with Him evolves and matures. And perhaps it isn’t ridiculous for me to ask for a better job, to get published, or a boyfriend. But perhaps it is ridiculous to ask for it now, at this moment in time. Someday, those may be appropriate prayer requests. Someday, I might word them in such a way that God will hear them, smile, and think to Himself, “She’s finally figured it out.”
God never tells us there are things we can’t pray about, things we can’t ask for. He never puts limits or restrictions on the act of praying except to say He doesn’t want us to look idiotic like the Pharisees. But He never says there isn’t something we can’t bring to Him, a worry we can’t share with Him, a dream we can’t ask Him to make come true. He never turns us away, and He never calls us ridiculous. Come to me, He says. I already know what you need, what you require in life, but come to me and tell me.
So maybe prayer isn’t about the request at all. It isn’t about us asking for things. Maybe it’s about us finally coming to God, realizing we can’t do it on our own. It’s about having a conversation rather than reciting a shopping list. It’s that moment when you’re sitting in your bathtub, bewildered with life and tired of living in on our own, and finally call on Him. Not as a last resort, but because you realize He was the only choice all along. Maybe prayer is coming to God and trusting in that moment He will be able to give you exactly what you need, even if you don’t know exactly what that is.
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