This has been a long, undisciplined month. I knew when I began that prayer does not come easy for me, but I thought I'd be able to something for this month's experiment. I had the idea to start out easy, because in a book I'd just finished, the author wrote about doing something simple with prayer, like giving God the morning's first thoughts. I immediately grabbed onto that idea and asked a Jewish friend of mine what the first blessing is upon opening one's eyes. He told me, I marked the page in my siddur (yes, I have a Jewish prayer book. Two, actually) and put it right by my bed. And then I used it once. So I asked myself "Why don't I just say something I know, like "this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it", instead of my usual, "ugh, it's morning already?" thought. That should work better for me, and it did...for a couple of days.
And so, I have failed in saying a simple morning blessing or prayer. I don't really like praying out loud at meals (or out loud any time). I haven't spent any time deliberately sitting down to pray.
Prayer is just talking to God, people say. Sounds so easy, right?
But what do you do when you don't really enjoy a lot of conversation? What is prayer like for someone who likes to think a lot, to write a lot, but not to speak a lot? Are my thoughts prayer? My random, jumbled, stream-of-consciousness thoughts? Do they count? Do they matter? Does what I am writing now count? Because if not, it's just one more reminder that I am a failure at prayer. The thought of spending hours trying to talk to God is just one that makes me go, "ugh". Isn't that awful and un-Christian of me?
These thoughts of prayer make me want to cry, because really, it seems that if prayer is just talking to God, I suck at prayer.
But what if prayer is not "just talking to God"? What if prayer is really about communicating, regardless of how it is done? Maybe my random thoughts are prayer. Maybe when I whisper the words to Gungor's "Beautiful Things", that is prayer. Maybe my month on meditation was actually prayer, because I was communicating with God, not so much by what I said or wrote, but because I was listening for what God had to say to me.
I think we forget about that aspect of prayer, the listening. When we constantly describe prayer as talking to God, it makes it a one-way conversation, and what good is that?
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes that "In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God's thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills" (33). He then goes on to pose an intriguing idea about "God's will". He writes that "the most astonishing characteristic of Jesus' praying is that when he prayed for others he never concluded by saying 'If it be thy will.' Nor did the apostles or prophets when they were praying for others. They obviously believed that they knew what the will of God was before they prayed the prayer of faith. They were so immersed in the milieu of the Holy Spirit that when they encountered a specific situation, they knew what should be done. Their praying was so positive that if often took the form of a direct, authoritative command: 'Walk," 'Be well," "Stand up." I saw that when praying for others there was evidently no room for indecisive, tentative, half-hoping, 'If it be thy will' prayers." (37).
If that is what prayer is, then I'm in. I would much rather be communicating with God, back and forth, throughout my day, in countless tiny ways that I can't even explain, in words that I am not even speaking with my mouth but ones that come formlessly out of my heart than spend a pre-determined amount of time doing it. This type of prayer speaks to me. This type of prayer is something that I believe I have experienced through my intuition (for people who are not intuitive, this will be very hard to understand, I know). More than a year ago, when we were contemplating where to move, I knew, I knew which of the options that presented itself would be the one. We still had to go through an application and interview process, of course, but deep down, I knew where God was leading us, and I didn't feel as though I had to "pray about it".
Often, prayer is a last resort. We are faced with a situation and we then decide to pray about it to get the answer. But what if we were supposed to have been in prayer all along, even if we didn't know what the situation was? Can we be like Jesus and his disciples, as Foster describes them, that they just knew the will of God because they were so immersed in the Holy Spirit? Is that really what it means to "pray without ceasing"? (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
I have tried--and failed--for years to pray the way that I thought I was supposed to pray. I think that maybe it's time to give up trying and just pray the way that I pray best: intuitively, in the Spirit, and sometimes, without words.
This upcoming month will be the discipline of fasting. I don't know if I'll fast from food or something else, if I'll do it for a day, a week, or all month. I do know that fasting is often connected with prayer, so I guess I'll see how that goes, too. If you've got any tips from your own experience, let me know!