Sunday, July 12, 2009


I am a member of the YAMs at my church (Young Adult Ministry) and help out with programming for our group. We have a Pub Theology once a month where we take a topic and discuss it at a bar for lunch on a Sunday while partaking in an adult beverage or three. It is a great way to have intellectual and spiritual conversation while enjoying each others' fellowship. We had a meeting last week to decide on new topics for upcoming sessions and one particular topic we chose has been on my mind since then.

The topic is prayer (as you may have noticed from the title of those post...) and we're going to discuss ways to pray, reasons to pray, and beliefs about the power of prayer. I'm looking forward to this session (it is in October). My thoughts...

My first experience with prayer that I can consciously remember takes me back to being four years old at bedtime. I had been taught the prayer
Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

And if I die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take

As a child, I had a slight fear and obsession with death, so you can imagine that this prayer only fueled that fear. Every night I would say the prayer, rolling it off like habit, until it was so routine I did not even think about the words anymore or why I was even saying this prayer. I just knew that I was supposed to say it. Eventually, as I got older, I stopped saying it aloud and would say it to myself in my head (I guess I didn't want people thinking I was talking to myself!) and often wondered if God could still hear my prayer. For a young elementary child, this was an important question regarding prayer - how does God receive our prayers? This was before the days of emails so in my head I pictured God hearing exactly what I said as if I called him on the phone -now I suppose my prayers come in twitter form to him.

In many ways, my naive childhood experiences formed my prayer life today. As an Episcopalian, I rely exclusively on the Book of Common Prayer for guidance in my prayer life. The routine familiarity of the verses in the BCP provide me with an outlet for speaking to God. When asked to say a prayer at a meal or otherwise, I always seem to ramble and come off with a Southern drawl (why? I dont know - maybe I'm channeling my inner Billy Graham). I feel a bit uncomfortable at these times because I feel as if I'm driving without my seatbelt - I don't have that safety harnes, the BCP, in place to comfort and protect me.

Last winter at my favorite retreat, Winterfest, we focused on the idea of prayer. We explored prayer in familiar and unfamiliar ways - lectio divina, the labyrinth, taize, and more. This retreat made me realize that maybe it is the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable that actually helps me become closer to God through prayer. In putting myself out there, in swimming without my swimmie arms, I am more vulnerable and therefore more open to Him. The process of exploring new forms of prayer helped reinvigorate my BCP based prayer life and transform it into a more holistic prayer life.

Yet I still struggle with what to pray about. I read the prayer list at church, I see prayer requests on facebook's news feed, I get calls from friends about something they need people to pray for.. and while I do want to be supportive of my community, I feel righteous for praying for these things. I realized that it was not what I was praying for, but how I was praying for them. As I get older and less self absorbed, I'm learning more about myself and my faith. One of these such things is that as Christians, we cannot tell God what to do through prayer. We cannot say "God, please heal Aunt Sally" (not even saying please makes it ok!) because we are not the commanders of the universe, we are not in charge, we are not the ones with the plan. Rather, we can ask for guidance, ask for support, and ask for care from God. That Aunt Sally prayer then becomes "God, please take Aunt Sally into your arms and look after her." If the plan is for her to be healed, He will do so. If not, she will be taken care of in heaven. As scary as it is to have that situation out of our hands, that is the point - it IS out of our hands. Once we admit this, prayer becomes liberating.

Flashing back to my four year old self, lying in bed saying my bedtime prayer and thinking to myself "but really God - I want to wake up in the morning, don't take that last part seriously," I think about the list of prayers I ended up adding on to the conclusion of my prayer. I don't even remember what all I prayed for but apparently it was so important that I had to pray for those exact things every single night, in the same order, always after the bedtime prayer. My childhood self was a demanding pray-er. I had a list of demands and God had to concede to them. One such prayer? "Dear God - please let Mom's belly have girls." And yet we all know how that turned out - love you Jacob and Ezra! Clearly God had a plan for my family that did not involve little sisters. And boy (pun intended) did He know what he was doing - I love my brothers so much and cannot imagine how I would be now if I was not the "princess" of my house, my daddy's favorite daughter.

I guess, just like with life, in regards to prayer, we really have to "Let Go and Let God."

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