I’m going to be uncomfortably honest here. Prayer is not something which comes easily to me. It never really has. Perhaps you can relate, and I am here to encourage you that there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Struggle with Prayer Is Real
I get stuck in my own little world, trying so hard to accomplish everything on my to-do list, carrying everything on my own wimpy shoulders.
Maybe it’s my perfectionist tendencies: I am afraid of talking to someone I can’t see, because I’m afraid of what that person thinks of me, and I know I’m probably falling short. So I’d rather just avoid talking to that person.
The Best I Can Do
I sometimes can’t drum up the energy required to pray anything eloquent, and all that I can manage to squeak out is, “Help me.” Before I know it my throat is tight and my eyes are brimming with the inevitable tears that come from having allowed too much time to pass since my last prayer. And that’s as far as I can get sometimes, just, “Help me.”
I know there are some great books out there about prayer which might have some advice for me. I bought an audiobook on cd once about prayer, but I didn’t really like the narrator’s voice. I lost interest in listening after the first hour or so. It stayed in my car for a while, but I’m not sure where it ended up after that.
Right now I’m actually praying for help learning how to pray. Ha!
My Theory That Simple Prayer Is Best, Anyway
Brennan Manning says in The Ragamuffin Gospel that even the desire to say grace before meals is itself a gift from God. Some days that’s all I can manage. Other days I forget even that.
For a long time I’ve had a story stuck in my head that I read in a book, but I cannot figure out which book it was or who wrote it. The story was about a group of monks who were visiting another group of monks, and the first group asked the second what their prayers consisted of. Their reply was simply, “Lord, help us.” The first group had intended to offer spiritual guidance to the second, but realized their guidance wasn’t even needed. I carry this story around with me like a mini first-aid kit. It always helps to heal me a little.
Embracing Ineffective and Foolish
I was flipping through a copy of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies today, looking for that monk story. Instead, I came across this: “… I remembered something one of my priest friends had said once, that grace is having a commitment to – or at least an acceptance of – being ineffective and foolish. That our bottled charm is the main roadblock to drinking that clear cool glass of love….”
These days I am working hard to make some changes in my life, and I’m constantly trying to learn and accomplish as much as I can. But I often forget to leave any open space in my life. My days are so full, there is very little room for that grace to squeeze in. And sometimes it feels like the harder I work to make changes, the further away my goals seem, and the less energy I have to pray about them.
The Need for More Space
This blog post is a record of my need to create or allow the space to receive grace. Of my need to recognize that prayer is not about what ineffective and foolish words I can bring to God on my own, or the amount of effort I am putting in (or not putting in). Of my need to admit that I want to get better at being still and emptying myself of my self. Maybe it will help you somehow. I can only hope.
I have a note on my iPhone from a sermon a few years ago which reminds me that “Prayer is answering God.” Answering involves first opening my ears and stopping to listen. It’s never been about what I’m bringing anyway.
As far as goals go, there’s this idea that Patanjali had: that success is already established in us, but in order to perceive it, we have to remove the obstacles still in our path; namely, fear.
Let’s remove the obstacle of fearing that, along with the bazillion other things we have to be good at in our lives, we have to be good at prayer, too. Let’s allow ourselves the freedom to keep it simple, open, even foolish if needed. All we have to do is keep at it. Even if it’s just, “Help me.”