A black cape snapped snug around my neck, our conversation somehow drifted to prayer. My hairdresser is delightfully light hearted and relaxed with everyone who sits in her chair, a skill refined after decades of practice.
After six years of appointments, we’ve learned much about each another. With refreshing honesty she said, “I can’t pray like others I’ve heard. My words get all jumbled. I’m sure you have the gift of prayer,” she said.
I assured her I had no such gift. I don’t believe the ability to pray or the quality of prayers is any indication of a special “blessing.”
Prayer is simply talking to God. But because it’s God it’s not simple.
If I had the opportunity to meet a president of the United States, I would feel anxious about saying the right thing, wearing the right outfit. And I would be nervous knowing I’d likely say something shallow or forget to say what I wanted to say and feel embarrassed when I walked away.
I do the same with God. What do I say to Him? Do I have to kneel or use certain words?
Like darts flying through the air these thoughts of mine dash aimlessly: will God pay more attention if I use the right words… if my mind wanders will He be offended…I sound so silly and juvenile…I feel really stupid because I sound like I’m talking to myself…people who talk to themselves are schizophrenic…am I crazy?
I feel shame that I’m not worthy of His time and attention. I’m embarrassed to be asking Him this. Why am I thinking about that cute sweater I saw but didn’t buy when I’m trying to talk to God?! Sometimes I feel like a prayer failure!
Prayer feels futile. Many times my words have fallen back on me when they reached the ceiling of my house. Weighted by their return, I have felt defeated.
Why even bother?
Like my grandson who said to his mom when he was eight, “Why do I have to tell God what I did wrong when He already knows?” A very perceptive question.
Prayer is the conversation of a relationship. God wants my grandson to tell Him what he did wrong so they can talk about it. He wants me to share my fears and worries and desires, and confess my sins to Him, so He can be my Father and calm my heart. He wants to fulfill my desires according to what is best for me and heal our relationship when I have offended Him.
Here are three ongoing lessons I’m learning about prayer.
1. Practice talking to God. Remember you are His child. Little children learn to talk by practicing. They get their words mixed up, pronounce them incorrectly, and we think they are cute. Have you considered that your Father in Heaven thinks the same about your attempts to talk to Him? When your toddler was learning to walk were you upset with her when she tried and fell? No: you were delighted at the attempts.
I sometimes picture myself as a small child, dragging my blankie, walking into His presence. It helps me relax, remember He doesn’t expect me to have it all together and sound perfect. Even saints like the disciples always remained His children, even though their prayers recorded in the Bible sound so grand. Enjoy being His child before Him.
2. Pray aloud often. Before meals at home we feel some degree of comfort praying out loud, but we don’t as much in a restaurant or when alone. But I challenge you to pray out loud often when you are alone, when you eat in a restaurant, or when you are in the car with your kids, spouse, or even friends. When we choose to talk to God aloud on a regular basis, we recognize that He is present with us wherever we go.
Some days I pray out loud in my car as I make the 20-minute drive to our office. “Guide me, Lord, in this meeting. Give me wisdom when I talk to my friend about this situation. Help me be sensitive to Your whispers to keep my mouth shut or to boldly speak Your words.” When at home I often talk to Him about the most ordinary things, “God, I cannot find that book. I know it’s here somewhere. I know You know all things. Would you graciously remind me where I left it or help me see it if I’m just not focusing?”
And I’ve learned to relax with no answers. I’ve been looking for six months for a certain book of mine that I loved. Finally after not finding it I ordered another copy. No answer from God does not mean He was not hearing, but that it’s beyond my ability to find it. He still knows where my book is.
3. Remember the truth. We’ve been posting about God’s presence with us on our Saturday Spoonful of Sugar snippets of Biblical truth. A great way to be reminded of His never-leave-you presence is to print these beautifully designed verses and display them prominently in your home.
Over 100 times God has told us in the Bible— His love story to us—that He will be with us always. He repeated it prolifically because He knows how easily we forget.
So when your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling or dissipate into the air like mist, tell yourself your feelings are not true. Tell yourself the truth, out loud, too, because the enemy of your soul wants you to believe God isn’t near nor does He hear.
You will still have days next week or even forty years from now when it seems your prayers are futile, but you can also be confident that He always hears and is always near.
Practice produces progress, peace, and trust.