Like a prayer

“The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity. It must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thought and gestures, without always asking, ‘Why?’ and ‘Wherefore?’”

Romano Guardini

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I have been thinking a lot about prayer, lately.

For a long time, I didn’t pray.  I broke up with God when I was nine, and like all bitter exes I would rant at Him from time to time- but we weren’t really on speaking terms.  I still believed in God, but I didn’t see the point in praying just to have those prayers ignored.

That has changed over the past five years.  During my divorce, when I was so broken down and depressed- quite literally on the floor with grief- there was nowhere to look but up.  So I began praying.  Desperate prayers.  Pleading prayers, begging God to fix what was broken, or better yet to make it so it had never happened.  Sometimes it was nothing more than, “Why  Why?  Why?”  or “Help.”

Even though those prayers were not answered in the way I wanted, for the first time in my adult life I didn’t feel like my words went out into the void and just disappeared. I didn’t feel ignored or forsaken. I felt as though someone was listening- so I kept talking. My prayer changed from a list of what I thought I wanted and needed to a conversation.

I am, for the first time in my adult life, making daily prayer a priority.

I begin every morning with prayer.  I have a little ritual.  I thank God for the many blessings in my life.  I say the serenity prayer.  I close with a line I got from my brilliant friend Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog post The Bully Too Close to Home – “Only love today.”  My prayer every day is to try and come to every person, every situation, and lead with love.  My hope is that every evening when I pray it will also serve as a summation.  “Only love today.”

I’ve been struggling with a resentment lately, and I was advised to pray for the person in question.  The first night I could not do it.  I am seldom at a loss for words, but I was completely stumped.  I felt mutinous.  I searched for words of love and compassion and none came.  I ended up inserting the name into the serenity prayer in lieu of “me.”

I know.  Not great.  It was the best I could do, though.  It was gotten a little easier, I suppose.  Not much.  But I feel a little less angry every time I do it.

Now, I know doing this will have no effect on the choices this person makes.  The situation will still be hard.

Here is what I am learning about prayer, though,  I will be less hard.  My heart will be less hard.

For me, growing in faith now means I no longer believe my prayers change outcomes. What prayer does change is my heart, it changes my focus, my energy- even my intentions.  Prayer changes ME.

Some prayers feel like love songs to me.  Sometimes when I am praying I feel that soaring joy and peace that I’ve come to know when I am in communion with God.  Sometimes prayers are a desperate cry in the night, like the ones during the demise of my marriage. When I was still drinking I prayed constantly- by my prayers were more like negotiations.  “God, if you will please help me get a handle on my drinking, I will x, y & z…”

Those prayers were answered, though it didn’t feel that way at the time.  We tend to say our prayers weren’t answered when we get anything other than a resounding ‘yes.’  The answer was a loving, “NO.”

My prayers on this resentment are neither.  They are not coming from a place of joy or desperation.  I’m just tired.  I’m just so, so tired of carrying around this particular heavy thing and giving it so much power.  I want to lay it down and I don’t quite know how to do it on my own. (By the way, that admitting I can’t figure something out by myself is new. We’re all very excited about it.)

Anyway, these prayers are halting.  Grudging even.  But a tiny bit less so, every day.  Each prayer, an unclenching.  An exhale.

When I was young and attending church and CCD, prayers were rote.  There was no emphasis on having a real relationship with God.  I said the words I’d memorized, and I said them quickly.  I didn’t think about what they meant.

It’s a practice, prayer.  Like yoga, like sobriety.  It’s not a one and done.  It’s sometimes more listening than talking.  It’s quiet and unhurried.  It’s not a wish or a list of demands.  It’s learning I frequently pray for the wrong things.  I am more often grateful, in hindsight, for the no answers than the yesses.

I do say the Serenity Prayer, but mindfully.  I do say the Our Father at the close of meetings.  Mostly, though, I take Anne Lamott’s view of prayer- that there are only three kinds, in the end:  Help, thanks, and wow.  Guidance, gratitude, and wonder.  I find that if I stick to those three things, and accept WHATEVER the answer is, when I lay my head down at night I am in a better position to say, “Only love today.”

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Hey beloveds!

I am writing a book and in order to get said book published it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform.  At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.

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17 Comments on “Like a prayer

  1. Yes.

    Funny, I was in a Barnes & Noble, 4 months after I first stumbled in the back door of a church for the first time in my life (several years ago), wrestling with how do you even know if God is real or something we make up…

    And my son had called me with some devastating news, and I sat in a chair in the bookstore and cried my heartbreak.

    (I didn’t know how to pray, I’d never been taught, never learned, didn’t even know if there was anyone listening.)

    On my way out, there was a round table with some books on it. Not in the religious section, and not all of them were religious. The one you mention was there and leaped out at me: “Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers”

    I did buy it.

    And I still hold on to those three basic prayers. Because I’m still not real good at the praying thing.

    But one thing — a couple weeks ago I was baptized.

    That means I said not only is there a God, but no matter what I think of myself, no matter how stained and unworthy I feel… I was ready to say yes to Him. To believe that He could love me, even if I can’t love myself.

    I think you and I have corresponded enough that you recognize how huge that is for me. It still amazes me, and I’m not sure I totally understand it, but I’m grateful for it.

    And it also meant that I’ve either forgiven Him for abandoning me and turning his back on my first 18 years, or …. have learned that He was there even if I didn’t know it or feel it — and if I was mad that I didn’t know it or feel it, I’ve gotten over that hurt enough to be in relationship with Him.

    Big stuff.

    I have heard that you should pray for those who have hurt you, upset you.

    I’m not there yet.

    Good luck with your resentment. I agree it’s about letting go your anger for YOURSELF not the other person. I’m just not that big of a person yet.

    But happy with the movement I’ve made, anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Love, love, love Help, Thanks, Wow. Your next book, if you’ve not already read it, is Finding God in the Ruins. It really helped me. And this? “That means I said not only is there a God, but no matter what I think of myself, no matter how stained and unworthy I feel… I was ready to say yes to Him. To believe that He could love me, even if I can’t love myself” makes me so happy I could weep.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Meredith W, you’ve been a constant cheerleader and even if we’ve only spoken in comments here, I’ve been very aware of and touched by that. Thank you.

        Don’t promise I won’t still have dark days, but it’s nice to have space between the clouds.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Maybe the spaces between the clouds are like the cracks in Leonard Cohen’s song, ‘Anthem.’

        Ring the bells that still can ring,
        Forget your perfect offering.
        There is a crack in everything,
        That’s how the light gets in.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I haven’t heard that song before, but I like the words.

        And I always like light…my favorite bible verse has light (Matthew and not hiding your lamp) and there’s a Martin Luther King Jr quote that I like:

        Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
        Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

        There’s a lot of power in that symbology, isn’t there? Light getting through cracks, the lonely candle flame holding back darkness…

        Liked by 2 people

    • moth2flame – Something about your story, your life, grabbed me, and I can’t say why. It just did. I am still way behind on Laura’s blog, but for a while I was concerned that you might leave and not come back…it was all SO hard for you to talk about.

      I know that the chances are infinitesimal that we would ever meet and we will probably never do more than touch fingers, E.T.-like, on this blog, but I would hate to have you disappear and never know if you were okay. (Am I weird to feel that way about a stranger? It doesn’t happen often.)

      If you ever felt like communicating more directly, this lovely blogger could arrange that, but that’s entirely up to you. Either way, I will be cheering you on. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • That doesn’t strike me as weird at all, but I form connections with people fairly easily. I care, really care, whether I’ve “met them” or not. So I get it. Just not used to being on the other side of it!

        Yeah. It was hard. I think Laura is right, though. There’s power in sharing, and doing so becomes a little more freeing each time.

        I would love if she’d share our personal information — my email address or facebook or whatever, so she definitely has my permission!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I 100% broke up with God. That is the perfect way to say it. I dumped him and peaced the hell out. I was a jilted lover, left at the altar, and I was DONE.

    You say, “Some prayers feel like love songs to me.  Sometimes when I am praying I feel that soaring joy and peace that I’ve come to know when I am in communion with God.” THIS is what I’ve dreamt of feeling. This is what I left on that altar when I turned around and walked away, trying to preserve any shred of dignity I had left. I’ve prayed, begged, pleaded, bargained, cried out, surrendered, said all I know to say, and it has been silence. It’s like a repeated divine rejection.

    But, I can see how it is a practice like you say. A learning – quiet and unhurried. It’s been some years since I’ve tried to speak with God in prayer, and this is where I think I’m going to start. Quiet and unhurried, a repeated “Only love today. Only love today.” Because I have to believe that even if no one is hearing a single word I utter in prayer, “Only love today” surely will bring a glimpse of light into this dark world.

    Like

    • If the only prayer you ever say for the rest of your life is, “Only love today” that would be enough. I forget, are you reading Present over Perfect? If not, do. There is an incredible description of prayer in that book that really helped me.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Mosaic of Grace – A Book Review | In Others' Words...

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