I feel compelled to share what motivated me to write my last post and to clarify the way I now pray. This past Sunday I opened up to my friend Anna at church about what sparked me to share my reshaped approach to prayer. I had an unexpected conversation about God with my brother.
‘Reshaped’ captures the fact that I still pray, but I do so in light of circumstances that have forced me to stop praying the clichéd prayers of my youth.
My brother doesn’t go to church. He mentions God as if he believes in God’s existence with a dash of having God figured out. The problem is that when I interact with my brother and people who aren’t churchgoers or believers, I encounter this barrier. Their perception of me, a Christian, is that I am anything but human — that I don’t struggle, that I don’t cry, that I have the ideal life, that I pray all the time, that I shouldn’t be divorced and remarried, that I have it altogether (and if I don’t, then I’m a hypocrite).
I cannot change these biases based on false perceptions of who I should be rather than of who I am, a real human being. Sometimes, however, I make the mistake of trying. In doing so, I open myself up to the two triggers that cause me to retreat like a terrified animal: attack and criticism.
The conversation with my brother was cordial having to do with my son battling a tumor condition. We got onto the topic of prayer. My brother mentioned a painting contractor who comes into our father’s paint store on occasion. Whenever he does, this man urges my brother to lay hands and pray over my son so that Jesus can heal him. My brother just assumed that I, a ‘good’ Christian girl, also pray for God’s healing in this way.
I told my brother that I no longer pray for my son’s healing because it is ridiculous to do so, for it denies the reality of what is so. In that moment, my brother did not know what to say because he realized that he has no idea who I am. I, his sister, am a stranger.
Even as a little girl, I used prayer and Jesus to shield myself from the reality of circumstances beyond my control and that I never asked to be born into.
Make it stop, I prayed as a child. It never did.
Heal my son, I now pray. There is no cure.
Here at the crossroads of reality and denial, where faith and doubt coexist, fixed ways of believing that God should answer my prayers and life should go as promised in Jeremiah 29:11 — plans for God to prosper and not to harm — disintegrate.
I will say it again, regardless of how it makes some people feel. Prayer is not for treating Jesus like some genie to appear and grant me whatever I want. Indeed, Jesus came, but he did not come to set everything right. I think of Jesus’ life. Hard was his destiny. Once I get real about this, a crisis follows: what if prayer makes no difference?
So how do I pray? I begin in silence and picture God in two ways, as a massive being expanding the universe as love, and as a person in the image and likeness of a human being. I come to Jesus as I am by expressing honestly my feelings and thoughts. I name what I’m grateful for. Then I pray two prayers: the Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer (as instructed by Jesus to his followers in Matthew 6:9 –13)
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from evil.[For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,
now and forever. Amen].”
The Serenity Prayer
“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
There is one other prayer activity we engage in as a family. It is called, “Serious Illness, Simple Prayer,” written by my friend the Rev. Paige Evers. Pastor Paige has a gracious and delicate way of bringing a family together to pray for a loved one who is sick and suffering.
These ways of praying call for reflection and acknowledgment of who God is, where God is, and honor Jesus’ teaching on prayer. These prayers root us in relationship with God.
These prayers have moved me beyond the “Please God” and “I want” forms of praying to believing that God’s mercy is so great, God may choose to heal without me ever asking for it.
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