More frequently than I am comfortable with, others tell me that I am "such a good pray-er." These words always take me by surprise because, well, I feel like anything but a "good" pray-er.
In fact, anyone who knows me knows that given the opportunity, I would strongly pass on any opportunity to pray out loud or in public. In fact, I have done so. And it's gotten me into some trouble. (But that's another story.)
For the longest time, I wondered what it was about prayer. I mean, I'm a chaplain. Or I'm going to be. Why should I feel so uncomfortable, so insecure, offering prayer with persons? Do I not believe that prayer works? Do I not think that God hears me? Do I not believe that He's listening?
As a younger Christian, I would have told you that all of that was true. It took me a long time to really buy-in to prayer. It was hard for my finite mind to understand how words spoken into empty space could effect a change, how a God I couldn't see could ever hear me, how I could be even be sure He was listening. Prayer, for the longest time, felt like one of those things Christians did because they didn't know what else to do and even if it wasn't anything, it at least felt like something. So let us pray.
I still get that impression sometimes from those who desire to pray. That it's just something they're doing because even if it isn't anything, it still feels like something. And that's enough.
The older I've gotten, and the more life's pressed in on me and required me to pray, the more I understand the silliness of my former hesitations. I know without a doubt that prayer works, that it doesn't just feel like something; it is something. God absolutely hears me. I know because of the little affirmations He whispers. And He must be listening because when I pray, I feel heard.
Then why do I still feel so insecure praying?
I think what troubles me most about praying in public or praying with others is that I know there is an intimacy to prayer that's difficult to convey. It's hard to get others to understand how my heart tingles when I'm talking to God, how the breath just starts to get choked up right in the middle of my chest when I start to feel His presence there. How sometimes, I slow my words or calm them to a whisper just because I can hear Him whispering back, and I'd much rather He speak than me.
It's because I know that when I pray in public or when I pray with others, it's somehow also a lesson in prayer. I know this because it was for me for so many years. I always listened to the ways that people prayed, taking mental notes of all the "Father God"s and all the little pauses and the way some people would struggle for words every time and others would have abundant words at the ready. For the longest time, before I found my own voice, I think my prayers were an eclectic mix of the prayers that I heard from those around me.
And so every time I pray, I know that some of those who hear my words may one day borrow them. Some of those listening to my voice may try to speak in it. And so, when I pray, I always ask myself if I would advise someone else to pray this way. Knowing...knowing that no matter how hard I try, I don't think the heart of my prayer comes through as strongly as the words of my prayer.
I wish it did. That might ease my hesitations. I wish you could know that when I pray, if I can shake free of the pressure I feel knowing that you're listening, it's not a duty I'm performing; it's a delight. I'm not praying because this is when we pray. I'm praying because...because I can't help but pray. I want God to hear me. Because I want to hear Him.
I wish...I wish that when we listened to each other pray, we weren't thinking so much about how we pray. That it wasn't a lesson in the way we do this thing called pray. I wish that we were invited to celebrate why we pray. That we would understand from one another this intimate conversation happening right before our very eyes.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray, and we use His words to this day. Our Father in Heaven... But prayer has never been about the words; it's about the heart. It's so hard to get that across. I think that's why it's such a struggle for me. I think that's why I feel so insecure about it. I think that's why, given the opportunity, I so often pass on the opportunity to pray in public.
Because I know I can't make your heart tingle. I can't make your breath catch in your chest. I can't make your ears hear the whispers of God as He interrupts your spirit. And if I haven't done that, I haven't taught you how to pray.
Not that I think I'm really teaching you, but I know you're listening.
Don't listen to me pray. Don't ever listen to me pray. Listen to God. He will teach you how to pray.