Prayer: How does it work?
This quote rings so true and resonates with me so much because he has summed up how I’ve felt about prayer for as long as I am able to remember. Praying to me isn’t something I dedicate long hours to, or do at any particular time of day, I never make the sign of the cross, get down on my knees or even say ‘Amen’. I feel like I’m just in a constant state of longing for his guidance. I feel like whenever I’m thinking, or contemplative or making any kind of consideration I’m talking to him. Whenever I’m going over things in my head I’m acutely aware that he is listening and I never feel alone. But whenever I pray in the more traditional manner the whole interaction just feels inept. I feel like my prayers are being marked. Like there is criteria that they have to meet if they are to be taken seriously: conciseness, selflessness, appreciation, inclusion, sincerity etc. and they tend to go something like this:
“Hi God, how are you? I’m good, thank you. And Jesus, I hope he’s well. I just wanted to run something by you, I’ve been thinking about it all day and I know you can hear everything we think and I don’t want to bore you, so I’ll keep it short [insert problems, worries and anxieties here]… but I don’t mean to complain, I know I’m very lucky and have been abundantly blessed, but if you could just do me this one solid I promise, I won’t complain again for at least another month. Amen…
Oh! And I would like to pray for all of my loved ones; my sister who has exams, my dad who is abroad, please keep him safe, my boyfriend who has a really important interview coming up… oh and my colleague at work whose mum is very ill… and I can’t forget Sharon, I told her specifically I would pray for her marriage too… oh, and erm, of course, world peace and all the children starving… and I really mean it too, please help them! But if you could help me first that would be great… but that’s selfish isn’t it… you know what, forget me, just help them… ok I didn’t mean that… but you know I didn’t and I've just lied to you… I’ll tell you what, I’m going to sleep on it and we can try this again in the morning… Deal? Fantastic! Okay, I’m going to go now, but you’re with me all the time so this goodbye was pointless… this is getting awkward… Amen?!?”
Painful. So, so painful. After many failed attempts, I started thinking, maybe I’ll write my prayers down, I tried it and it worked. I automatically articulate myself better when I write and it also helps me process my emotions. It could be a poem, an analysis of a particular event or situation or just a good old ramble, venting for no purpose other than catharsis and it also helps me keep track of my growth as a person. I look back at the things I’ve complained about in the past, or the situations in which I’ve asked for help and I can see that he equipped me with the tools to handle it.
Why do you pray? Honestly, what is it that prompts you to pray? Are you a creature of habit? Is it because you believe heavily in the power of prayer? Do you pray because your mum makes you or because the church says you should?
For me, praying is a last resort and what I turn to once I’ve exhausted all other options. I know that sounds bad, but I often feel unworthy of God’s mercy, especially in the traditional context of religion because according to all the ones I'm familiar with I’m not a ‘true believer’, so my prayers are said under the resolve of ‘what’s the harm, worst he can do is ignore me”.
I’m not even entirely sure of what I think God is. I know how I feel about him, but I’m aware that there is no way for us to ever understand God’s wonder and the lack of answers to my questions makes it hard for me to be devote. I don’t know how to reconcile the idea of fate and free will existing simultaneously, I don’t understand how he can be all loving and all-powerful and I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea of worship, so do my prayers get answered or put in the ‘maybe’ pile?
How do I confidently pray to something when I’m not 100% certain it’s out there? My heart feels his presence, but my brain can’t comprehend all that I've been taught about him. I love him and I thank him, but do I want to get on my knees and surrender myself to him? That doesn’t feel natural to me. I feel like God resides within me, that he is apart of me, as opposed to existing outside of me, and I feel in order to truly know him, I must keep searching inwards. Jeffery Small explains a metaphor by Thich Nhat Hanh in his post Re-imagining God in the 21st Century that says we are like a wave and God is the sea:
The ocean and the wave are related in two important ways. The ocean is the “ground” of the wave in the sense that the water molecules of the ocean make up the essence of the wave. From a creative and dynamic perspective, the power of the ocean creates the individual existence of the wave. The wave (like us) has its own individuality, but its lifespan is relatively short. The wave emanates from the infinite ocean, and at the end of its existence, it returns to the ocean. Each individual wave is connected to all other waves because they share the ocean as their ground. Existence is finite, individualized and unique, yet underlying existence is a connection to the infinite.
Your relationship with God, although it requires work, should be intrinsic and, if I’m being honest, all of the customary forms of worship make me feel uncomfortable. Just as the wave exists because of the ocean, not for it, I believe I exist because of God not to serve him. Do not misunderstand me, I am eternally grateful and I believe I show my appreciation to him in living my best life and being my best self. Displaying integrity and honesty, fairness and justice, love and kindness, by investing in myself and giving to others, by looking at what is right and good up against what is wrong and bad and striving to always choose the former.
I don’t believe that I need praise and worship or group prayer, I don’t believe in any holy book and I don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God or that miracles are real and this is where I implore you to look at that word, ‘belief’:
noun: belief; plural noun: beliefs
an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof. "his belief in extraterrestrial life"
something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion. "we're prepared to fight for our beliefs"
Do I believe that God exists? Yes. Do I believe in any of the things religions teach about him? No. I accept that they are all possible, but I know I will probably never in my life believe, with full conviction, anything other than he is out there in some shape or form as the ultimate contributor to existence. Even still, I will always hope to, one day, know for sure.