When I Pray, and How I Pray, and Why I Pray

I tried to become an atheist once. I was 18 years old and a participant in an Honors theology/philosophy/literature class called “Logos.” The teacher, a Lutheran pastor turned professor, had managed to decimate my faith in a matter of weeks. That wouldn’t be a surprise for most young adolescents, but considering that I was voted as one of four students that were “most likely to enter a convent” out of high school, it sure-shocked me.

While that professors teachings have become essential to my walk of faith — and one of the best experiences of my spiritual formation — I wan’t ready for them at the time. And so, as a college freshman, I sat on my bed and determined that I would give up the faith.

And God laughed at me.

In an inaudible voice, I remember Jesus following the chuckle with a lighthearted, “Let’s see how that works out.”

It was going to be hard to be an atheist when I could sense God’s presence in my rebellion, and when I could “hear” His voice the same way that one “feels” their own heart beat and “hears” their own thoughts.

But that experience pretty much sums up my life experience with prayer. I go to pray, and I feel like God says, “I’ve already heard you, let’s continue the conversation.” Prayer is relationship; and that’s what relationship does. It invites the conversation to happen.

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People ask me to pray for them all the time. I’m not sure why. Some have suggested that God listens to my prayers more than others. (I don’t take any stock in that.) Others tell me that the other gifts I use in prayer encourage them. (I’m grateful that my words do something beneficial.) But I must admit that my first reaction when people ask me to pray is fear.

I am afraid because I know that this invitation for conversation is open. There might be questions that need to be asked. There might be healing that needs to happen. There might be a need for humility or physical touch, or change. And I don’t know if that’s what others really want. Do they want to grow? Do they want Someone walking through the eye of the storm with them? Do they want breadcrumbs to follow? Or do they just want God to be in the circle so they can be mad at Him when things go awry? It makes me uneasy — this uncertainty of what we’re really doing when we go to prayer.

Unfortunately for me, my God can handle Himself, and He rather enjoys His creation coming to Him — no matter why or how they come. And He has a penchant for knowing how to serve beautifully. And so, often, when people ask me to pray, I end up feeling like Judas or like the disciples, trying to keep the children from getting to Jesus.

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The irony in all this, of course, is that when I go to prayer, I go armed with one thing: honesty. I was taught from a very early age that if you’re going to be anything with God, the very least you can do is to be honest.

Sometimes I go with tears, and nothing else. Sometimes I go with curses and frustrations, flailing my arms all about. Sometimes I go with emptiness and disbelief. And sometimes, when He calls me to prayer, I go with obedience only, feeling guilty because I know that He’s actually offering something pretty great, and I’m treating it as if it were a chore.

But I pray because I don’t know what else to do. I pray because I love to talk to someone that I don’t have to filter myself for. I pray because I like questions, and I like thinking. I pray because He keeps me from being an idiot (at least some of the time.) I pray because I can’t stop. I’ve tried. And it didn’t work out well. I missed my friend.

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