Every now and then in my reading, I run across the story of some great giant of the faith. Generally, the story tells about how this saint would get up at 3:00 or 4:00 after a couple of hours of sleep and spend hours and hours on their knees in prayer. This is almost always accompanied by an editorial comment that this prayer was the secret of their powerful ministry for God. The writer then either explicitly or implicitly suggests that weak faith and poor ministry on the part of the reader is a result not following this model of prayer.
When I first began reading such reports a long time ago, I used to feel guilty and inadequate. The only times I was up at 3 or 4 am was to go to the bathroom, not to pray. As for kneeling down, I have suffered from arthritis in both knees since I was in my teens, which means that if I ever managed to actually get down on my knees, getting back up would probably require ropes and a paramedic.
Other books about prayer and faith suggest keeping a prayer list or prayer journal. I tried that. For years, I religiously maintained a prayer list that kept a careful daily balance of praying for church members, family members, missionaries, and so on. Creating and maintaining the list took longer than praying it. Eventually, I realized that doing the list thing wasn’t really helping my prayer life because I was basically reading off the list on autopilot.
I expect my failure to pray according to many of the accepted and heroic practises means that no biographer is going to write stories about my prayer life. But since I am a writer and have a blog, I can write about my own prayer life–unfortunately, I am not sure what to say. I do pray a lot professionally, as I mentioned in the last blog. But privately, I sometimes wonder if I actually pray much.
I don’t have regular prayer times. I don’t have a prayer list. I do try to pray immediately when I receive a prayer request or hear about some need but I rarely carry that need on beyond that time. I don’t use traditional formulas in my times of what may or may not be prayer–no “Our Father”, no “amen”, no kneeling, no bowed head or closed eyes.
What I do is try to be aware of the reality of God’s presence in my life. I don’t necessarily try to feel God’s presence as much as be aware of the faith reality that no matter what I think or feel, God is with me. I am not always successful with that–but when I am able to carry that thought in my mind, I find that I am talking to God a lot.
I realized that I respond to the awareness of the presence of God in the same way I respond to the presence of my wife or a good friend. I make comments, ask questions, have periods of silence, tell jokes, express feelings. Just as I rarely say to my wife, “Let’s begin a conversation” and “End of conversation”, when I am aware of the presence of God, I don’t say, “I’m praying” and “I’m done praying”.
I might wonder why mosquitoes fit in the overall plan of creation, mention a friend or parishioner who is facing surgery, ask that the slow driver in front turn off the road soon, confess a failure to do what I think God wants me to do, comment on the beauty of a tall tree in full leaf, wish for rain for the grass seed I put in, hope our middle child has the patience to deal with his somewhat difficult doctoral advisor, joke about something I heard, marvel at the ingenuity behind some new tech toy and on and on. It sounds like two friends having a normal, everyday relationship.
If I am doing this with my wife, it feels good and ultimately helps our relationship grow. If I am doing it with God, it still feels good–but it is prayer? I think it is. It may not follow the traditional patterns but it has two great advantages for me. It protects my sleep and knees and it deepens my relationship with God. It is an approach to prayer that won’t work for everyone but it does work for me.
May the peace of God be with you.