Truthfully, I’ve not known how to put this into words. While scattered, my many emotions surrounding prayer could recently be summed up with only one: frustration.
I’m not frustrated with what prayer is. Actually, its most basic definitions and the degree to which we need it have become incredibly beautiful to me. The swirling cacophony of uncertainty, irritation, and anger I’ve felt were instead set into motion by how we pray. Or, more specifically, how I pray.
Perhaps it is awful of me, but knowing the disgustingly ambiguous and inconsistent intentions encasing the classic Christian phrase “I’ll pray for you” within my own heart causes me to project the same onto others. Yes, I’ve decided this is awful of me – it’s not my place to presume. But I’ve accepted my own insincerity and hope others who need to can do the same.
My final year of college saw me beginning to suspect prayer the way one suspects used car salesman, televangelists, or late night infomercials. It all seemed too easy, and unseen catches were waiting to screw you over.
So many of my peers and professors spoke of the vast spiritual power that could be wielded through wishing a few words to the air in front of you. Prayer was “the good Christian’s greatest weapon against evil and injustice,” as opposed to taking action.
Those young in the faith could have easily gotten the impression they could speak their deepest wishes the right way and God grants them, á la Aladdin’s lamp. However, disappointment and even resentment sets in when this God presents himself to be stingy and a fickle listener who rarely gives us what we want.
I mean, if we’re being honest don’t we all think we’re doing it “right”? We see others sending their words to the man upstairs and almost always have a criticism. “He talks too long.” “She asks for the wrong things; doesn’t she know how God works?” “He doesn’t pray nearly enough.”
After a while prayer could start to look like Harry Potter – there are right words, the way you say them matter, and heaven help you if you don’t have the right posture.
All of this – the style, the specific phrases, the comparing – they all exist because deep down we believe prayer is a means to get what we want. We’re selfish. We tried asking for stuff we want, it didn’t work, so we tweak how we ask and try again hoping it will work this time.
Now, before you start thinking you aren’t as guilty of this as the rest of us, remember that selfishness doesn’t always have to do with “things”. You probably don’t pray for Ferraris any more, but I bet you do pray to feel better when you’re sick. Or to be removed from uncomfortable situations, whether personal or emotional. I bet there are nights where you lie awake begging God to intervene because you’ve made a mistake and you don’t want to deal with the consequences. I know because I do these all consistently.
I’m not here to tell you stop, because habits don’t change without having something better to become. I want to toss out there that maybe there’s something more.
What if we trusted that God really cares for us, knows what is best, and is instrumenting each instance of our lives with these in mind? What if our sole life purpose wasn’t to reach some spiritual summit where we become “the person God created us to be” by our own actions (like that ever happens)? What if we instead believed that not only did God create the flawed us we’re trying so hard to change, but accepts us wholly for who we are? What if we let God do the changing in us we’re so desperately trying to accomplish ourselves?
Well then, my friend – I think our prayers would start to sound very different. Without our problems to think about anymore we’re left only to think about the world around us. Prayer could become a tool of love, a means of expressing how much you care for those important to you. You might even find you’re praying less, opting instead for action when you see you could be the agent of love and hope you’re asking for in the world. And when you do think about yourself again, you won’t be seeing your problems that need fixing anymore – you’ll instead see how incredibly blessed you are and your prayers will be full of thankfulness.
I want that.