Why do you pray? Or why don’t you pray?
In the four years that I was in Education for Ministry (EfM), there was always a point in the year when the conversation would turn to prayer. Growing up, I went to mostly Baptist and other evangelical churches, where prayers were created on the spot. The people in those pews knew how to string words together from Dear Lord to Amen. Most of the people in my EfM class had grown up in the Episcopal Church, which has a whole book of prayers for every occasion. Want to express some gratitude to God? It’s in there. Need a prayer for an election? Covered. Many of them found praying with their own words much harder to do.
In talking about prayer, we would often share what prayer looks like for each person. So, as I think about this question – why do I pray (because I do pray) – my mind immediately goes to what I do. For me, I have three ways that I do it:
As if my voice were connected to my feet.
This afternoon, we did a prayer walk around Avondale Park and a few blocks in the Avondale community. Our goal was to listen to and watch what was happening around us. We sought out the places where we felt God and hoped to hear God telling us what would happen to us next. There was more talking amongst ourselves than there was prayer in the traditional sense. I like to think God was the introvert walking along at the back of the group taking everything in. Then, when we sat on the grass at the park to talk through what we were hearing, he whispered questions to us. He did not stand up, point to an empty house, and say, “That is your house.” He whispered, “Have you asked anyone else what they are feeling called to do?”
When I lived in Franklin, TN, I used to pace and pray. I walked in circles in the living room asking God to bring me a friend to ease my loneliness. He answered that prayer in the most beautiful way. In more recent times, I told God that I no longer wanted to say that prayer. I wanted to be alone. He ignored that prayer. Thanks goodness He did.
As if God were in the passenger seat of my car, gripping the seatbelt for dear life.
The second type of prayer I love is the great debate in the car. This started when I began working. I had enough time from work to home that I could have a good, casual conversation with God. I have figured out a lot about my theology in those conversations. I have cried and laughed in the same conversation. Those are the ones where I have felt God the most.
In 2020, I stopped commuting to work and did not make the hour-long trip up and back to see my mother like I used to. I am not a very good driver, often distracted by my own thoughts, so I found the time outside of the car to be a blessing. Tonight, though, I am realizing that I lost something last year – a way to pray.
As if I am pressed down by the world.
The last type of prayer is the fervent one where I am kneeling on the floor and my forehead is pressed down into my hands. Those are either the desperate cries for help or the overwhelmed cries of joy. Those feel like the most reverential. I am presenting myself in front of a God of great power and love in those moments.
The other day, I stopped working in the middle of the day. I went and knelt in front of our makeshift altar area and said a prayer. I remember it feeling like a very significant, holy time. Today, I have no clue why.
When my grandmother was close to dying, I knelt in the floor of my mother’s house and prayed. I gave God an either or situation. If it were His will and could be done with complete healing and no more pain, I asked Him to keep my grandmother alive. Immediately after that I gave him the other option. Let her pass quickly so that her pain would go away. My prayer that night ended up being about preparing my heart to accept either answer.
But why do I pray?
I’ve talked so much about how I pray, but I can’t seem to get to the answer to the why I pray. My view of God is of a personal relationship. I pray for the same reason I call my mother. I want to be in relationship with God. I don’t want to worship something or someone that is distant from me. I want to believe that I can have a deep conversation with Him or pretend that He has a sense of humor. I want to believe that I feel a presence in the room with me. And that by speaking things out loud, even if it is just a low whine in the back of my throat, that someone hears me. That someone cares.