At our Pray First breakfast at church I received a welcome message from our well traveled pastor on prayer. He spoke of the differences in the way people pray around the world. Some pray with abandon, some are reserved, some very solemnly, some structured, some eloquent, and yet others who break into songs of worship and in unison return to prayer as if on some unspoken schedule. As prayer is not something that has come easily to me, I am encouraged to know that so many, pray so very differently.
You see, learning to pray in my thirties was intimidating and supremely uncomfortable. This may sound strange to those of you raised in the church, or in a family of believers. I assure you though, that a person can make it well into adulthood without having ever opened a Bible, or spoken purposely and thoughtfully to the One who made them.
Although I’d had my first glimpse of faith in my great grandmother as a preteen, and I truly believe she was a woman of great faith, she was not particularly evangelical. Though at the time I knew there was a special peace about her and I saw her faith poured out into her life, I never heard her pray. No help there. So, with no experience to draw from, I was left to try to figure this thing out on my own.
I had been attending our church regularly and I was so often blown away by the prayers of some of our elders and pastors. Literally moved to tears by the obvious praise, love, and worship they seemed to so effortlessly pour out of their hearts, into words dripping with sincerity, and soaring to the One who made them. Prayers that touched me so deeply I was positive they had to be pleasing to His ears as well. In hindsight, I realize this gave me some preconceived notions about what my prayers should/would look like. In reality, it went something like this.
Kneeling. Has our bed always been this high? Maybe I can just sit on the bed. Or is posture important? Better just stay put.
Fold Hands. Okay, but now they’re above my head. That feels weird. Maybe if I kneel on a pillow? A little better. Am I stalling?
Pray. How do I start? Like a letter, with a greeting and a body, closing and maybe a postscript? That doesn’t seem right.
Squeaking. Ahhh!!! This isn’t going well! Okay, hang in there. We will just pray silently.
Pray. Praise! I think I start with praise! Then thanksgiving? Then what I want? That just seems greedy. Gee, thanks for…EVERYTHING, now can I have more? Maybe I need to do some more research. Yes. I will get a book. Okay. I tried, right?
I realize now I may have set the bar a little high. I truly did want to pray but I’m pretty sure I thought it would come naturally. It didn’t. And, discouraged, I didn’t try again for awhile. That was exhausting! But, like so many things (i.e. Fifth grade math), I was pressed to learn so that I could teach my children. After all, if they didn’t see me do it, or if I didn’t teach them, chances are they may have that same awkward encounter.
So, like fifth grade math, I did a little reading so they wouldn’t catch on to the fact I didn’t know what I was doing. I came up with a plan. I memorized the Lord’s Prayer. Then, I taught it to them. After awhile, I started asking them if there was anything or anyone they wanted to ask God to help or if there was anything they wanted to thank Him for. Oh, the things they came up with! I was so touched by their thoughtfulness, but mostly by their genuineness. Wait, what?! No, my children were not eloquent. Their prayers were not well organized or brilliant. But they were beautiful for their heartfelt honesty.
Okay, God, I get it.
So, I tried again. And again. And again. And what I discovered is that when I step out in obedience, He takes me the rest of the way. Like a toddler learning to walk, there were first awkward steps (accompanied by a small sense of triumph), a few cushioned falls (habits are hard to learn too), and a couple of bumps along the way. But He has held my hand and led me through. There were several bumps when I’d get caught up in those preconceived notions. Really, I was kind of hoping I’d be a little more organized in my prayers than my children are.
But, I have realized that when the valley I’m in is hard, when my prayers are tangled and chaotic, or worse, when I just don’t even know what to pray for, He already knows. Thank you Jesus! He knows my Valley, He made my mind and He already knows what I need. The most important part is that I bring my heart.