I am not much of a pray-er. When I say that, what I mean is that I count heads at chaplain's fellowship every month because the fifth person in leads the morning prayer, and if I'm number five, well, I might just have to go to the bathroom first. When I say that, what I mean is that when I get up on a Sunday morning to share a Communion thought with my church, I almost always forget (until my last awkward breath) that I am also supposed to pray. When I say that, what I mean is that I spend more time talking to myself in my head than I do talking with God from my heart.
I think prayer is the last great mystery of discipleship for me; it's the last discipline I really need to incorporate in my life to have a more full understanding of what it means to be God's.
It's not that I have anything against prayer; I don't. It's that...well, it's a couple of things. First, I came to the church as a teenager and surrounded by a bunch of teenagers, the only thing I remember noticing during prayer time at church was a bunch of fidgeting. Counting the seconds, and minutes, that passed. Eyes darting around, hands dutifully folded, until it seemed like things were wrapping up. Aside from the man up front, or whoever was leading the prayer, I never really saw anyone pray. I know. That's how it's supposed to be in corporate prayer, but I just got this sense that someone else was praying and I was supposed to be respectful, but not involved.
And this led me to a place where I also started to feel like I was eavesdropping. Talking with God...it's such a personal thing, and here was this man (in those days, always a man) talking to God and I wasn't sure I was supposed to hear the words. So I wasn't really listening.
I think about this sort of thing every time I am asked to pray. (Which is why I'm thinking about it this morning.) If you ever watch me pray, you will probably notice two things. First, I'm fidgeting. I'm really just counting the seconds, wondering when I'm going to be done, wondering if I've prayed long enough for everyone else to fidget. (Yes, this is a standard of prayer.) Second, I'm not really listening to myself.
That's because I know you're listening. I feel like you're eavesdropping. And if you ever knew how I really talk with God....
I don't have a lot of room for reverence. There's not room in my relationship with God for decorum. I'm more of a crying-out spirit. I'm one of those people on the side of the road, screaming at the top of my lungs for God to turn to me in this moment and not simply pass me by. I talk to God the way I talk to myself, the way I talk to my grandmother, the way I talk to my friends. It's not really a model I've seen very much from the men up front, but more and more as time goes by, maybe. I overcompensate when I'm praying in public and start adding the decorum back in, but it hits me right away how fake it all sounds. And I long to pray just the way I pray.
Approved or not.
But here's the thing, and this is what I know. Maybe it's not this way for everyone, but don't blow it for me, okay? I used to listen for the amen. I used to tune my ears to hear only that word, but knowing that I hadn't prayed, knowing that I couldn't say a single word, or even thought, that the pray-er had shared, I hesitated to join when all the people say. In fact, I never said it. It was only when I started listening to the prayer that I started to utter an amen, quietly, softly. Timidly.
I'm still kind of afraid of the amen. But at the very least, it means I was listening.
And you know? I have never prayed a prayer out loud with only my amen. There is always a chorus when I'm done, always others who chime in and add their amen. It's affirming. To me, it means someone was listening. It means someone was either taking my words or using their own words, but they were engaged in this time of prayer. It doesn't necessarily mean to me that I have prayed a brilliant prayer, but it does say to me that I have opened up a time and a space that someone else was able to engage in prayer. And people do. Given the opportunity, I think people pray.
For those that don't, that's where our courage to pray comes in. These are the moments by which we lead them to their own prayer time. This is where we set our example. This is where we show them what it means to pray, and what it means to be a person who believes in prayer. Which means, when I pray, what's more important than anything is that I believe what I'm praying.
I'm getting better at that every day.
There's not really a point to all of this rambling; these are just some thoughts I'm having this morning as I think about prayer, what it means to be a praying person, what it's like to be entrusted to lead others in prayer, and what it means to say amen.