Prayer has always been a central part of the Christian life. Unfortunately, it has also been the most difficult part to practice in my own faith, at least until recently.
I’ve spent much of my life in a decidedly Christian context so I’ve always been surrounded by prayer, but it never stuck; something about it didn’t “work” for me. Even though I was immersed in it, it always felt like an awkward foreign language where you have to try so hard to get the words out that you don’t really enjoy the conversation.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that my struggles with prayer are caught up in all sorts of questions about God and what prayer is at its core. One of those questions being, do I really think the creator of the universe should be concerned how much I want my soccer team to win the game we are about to play? Because it seems so petty.
And if God would help my team win, couldn’t we save up that divine intervention and spend it on something like my friend’s mom with terminal cancer instead?
Why do we pray for good results and safety during travel for away games or parking spaces and sales when we Christmas shop? It feels like God becomes just a sort of cosmic vending machine or a genie who if we say the magic words will cater to our suburban “felt needs.”
Now if you pray for those sorts of things, that’s your prerogative, and I’m not trying to belittle that. Maybe you’re so connected to God in prayer that, as you drive to the mall praying for your hurting friend and your relationship with your kids, you send one up about good parking spaces and God happens to open up a spot right in front of Macy’s. I’m not saying it can’t work that way; I’m just saying it’s never worked that way for me.
The language game of evangelical prayer life, the forced spontaneity which in reality fits a pretty routine pattern of prayer, the constant barrage of prayer requests for every ache and pain, the need to say the right thing at the right time so your prayer “works” – I can’t do it, and I’ve never really been able to no matter how many times I’ve committed myself to trying harder.
I’ll start praying and then think about how pointless it can feel if God knows what I’m going to say and has predetermined everything anyways. Or I pray for a test I’m about to take and then think about how many more important issues there are in the world and that I’d really rather God did something about those. Or I start thinking about how many times the person praying before me in the circle said “just.” Or…
And then I sigh and stop.
Not because I don’t see how important prayer is, quite the opposite. I think it’s a beautiful, vital, central part of Christian faith. But it’s been a long struggle to make any sense of it and incorporate it into my spiritual journey.
Perhaps your experiences in prayer are like Mason’s, or perhaps you have a suggestion or two:
- Is prayer something you struggle with? Why or why not?
- Does the Evangelical tradition of prayer work for you?
- Do you have questions that have haunted your prayer life?