I suppose there must be as many ways to pray as there are people who pray. And that’s a good thing, people have differences in the way we do things and God is certainly knows that. There are lots of ways to pray. We can experiment and try new ways. We can see what fits, what helps us communicate and commune with God.
But what about those times when nothing fits? When familiar practices seem empty? Or worse yet, those times when we don’t even feel like praying? It happens, I suspect, to all of us at one time or another. It might happen to some of us with some regularity.
Prayer, no matter how you pray, ought to be one of the chief delights of Christians.* But, for many of us- at least speaking for myself- prayer can be hard work. There are days I simply don’t want to bother with it.
What’s up with that?
The simple explanation is that, like many people, I can only keep up a routine for so long. That’s why I don’t make New Years resolutions to exercise, to diet, or to whatever; it’s just too depressing when I fail to keep them. And believe me, I will fail to keep them.
But I think there is also something deeper going on. Part of it is related to the impulse that got Adam and Eve in trouble. We think we can get along without God. That we know better than God. That we don’t need God’s guidance. That we can take care of ourselves. That we can take care of the world’s problems ourselves. We know better. It’s not true, but the pull of independence is strong.
Another part of this is worry about what we might be getting into if we take prayer seriously. The Bible is full of stories of reluctant people called to do difficult things. If we are truly serious about prayer, what might God be getting us into? To quote C.S. Lewis, “We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” (Letters of C.S. Lewis:29 April 1959)
In this life we are never completely who we are created to be. And that I think, is at the root of our problem. Laziness, the desire for independence, fear, they all work to separate us from God, from being fully who we are created to be.
So what to do when it is difficult to pray? Well, speaking strictly for myself;
sometimes I simply need to have a stern talk with myself and quit being lazy or quit thinking I can manage on my own.
sometimes, I need to recognize that its time to explore different ways to pray. A certain times in my life, certain practices were life-giving. But as my circumstances changed, so did the best way for me to pray.
sometimes I need to ask others for help. I can be reluctant to do this, but having friends with whom you meet regularly to talk about your spiritual life is something I have found incredibly helpful.
The good news, of course, is that while we may feel unable to pray, God is still present. Anne Lamott in her book Travelling Mercies writes that Jesus was like a stray cat that kept following her, waiting to be let in. That’s a helpful image for me, particularly when I see one of our cats sitting near me, waiting, being present.
The apostle Paul reminds us we are never really separated from God. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)
I’d like to know, what do you think?
I know people of other faiths have rich prayer traditions. I’m writing about Christians and prayer today because I only know how to pray as a Christian and can only write from that perspective. If you are from another religious tradition, I hope you will feel welcome to respond with your comments and insights.
Also, I know that sometimes, it is hard to pray because of serious life circumstances, serious illness, death, or devastating loss of some sort. Those difficult situations are not my focus today. If this is your situation, my prayer is that you will soon feel God’s love and presence.