Lately I've been examining prayer. Actually, I've been examining everything I was taught in the church, bit by bit, pulling it all apart and re-examining it again. I feel like I'm learning to ride a bike again. Or maybe I'm like a person who was completely paralyzed but is slowly regaining feeling in my body. I'll hopefully walk again, but for now I'm just learning what my toes and fingers feel like.
Today I posed a question on facebook about prayer:
Survey time. What does prayer mean to you? Meditation, relationship, conversation, listening, none of the above? I'd like to hear from all faiths on this one!So far I've heard from a Jew and a Christian. I'd really like to hear from someone who believes in God but has never attended any church or religious institution. They would have no filter, pre-conceived notions, etc. (I wish had re-worded my initial question to state that those who don't have a religion are welcome to share.) Anyway, I'm trying to open my mind up to what prayer is to me personally, not simply what the church told me it was. This is my interpretation of prayer I wrote on facebook: "For me prayer can take on many different forms. I'm realizing that prayer isn't simply a conversation to or with God. It's a communication of the soul that goes far beyond "Our father who art in heaven." For me art can be a prayer, as can dance or other artistic forms. The traditional "church prayer" has hemmed me in for years and now I'm finding my own personal prayer language."
One of the main reasons I'm re-examining prayer is that I've been thinking about something a good friend told me some months back. She was going through difficult things in her life and said to me, "So I've been praying, a lot, and you know what? God isn't doing anything! Prayer doesn't work!" I've heard people say that before and have even felt it myself, but for the very first time in my life I heard what she said suddenly realized that maybe prayer isn't about getting the answer I want...maybe it's far more than this. Maybe prayer isn't even traditional "prayer" as the church taught me. Then I started thinking about all of the prayers I've prayed in my entire life - from the most desperate prayers I prayed in the emergency room, "God, please don't let me die. Don't let my baby die", to the "God please give me a parking spot" prayers. I realized that few of the prayers I prayed were answered the way I wanted them to be.
The past five years of my life have probably been the most difficult, which is saying a lot since I've had chronic illness my whole life, I've had three miscarriages, I've survived a very unstable upbringing, I've have had heart surgery, I've had an eating disorder, and the list goes on...The past few years have been physically, financially and spiritually challenging on every level. I've battled horrible depression, anxiety, and grief with few reprieves. As my kids get older I'm facing the demons of my past and some of the most difficult years I've lived have seemed to come alive to me again in an unrelenting torrent. There have been times when I went to bed and I prayed I wouldn't wake up. Living wasn't living and there was no point to existing if life was going to be so full of pain and misery. Then I got to the point where I just quit praying. What was the point when there was no change, no reassurance, no voice guiding me. It was like God took a very long vacation to Hawaii and forgot I existed. Then I began to wonder if the only reason I ever took comfort in prayer was because church told me it was good and that it worked. It wasn't working for me, so why should I continue doing it? So I told God that I wasn't doing it that way anymore, period. He was going to have to intervene if we were going to keep the conversation going. A few times I was horrified when I realized I hadn't prayed for months at a time. I felt great guilt and condemnation but then I remembered that I was free.
Now I'm defining what prayer means to me personally. I'm intentionally opening up my mind to it outside of religion and the answers I'm getting are surprising me. I didn't ask God to show me...I'm simply opening up my spirit and mind. God knows what I'm thinking, I don't have to approach Him formally and say a traditional prayer. I'm beginning to see prayer as this beautiful connection between my soul and the one who created me. I'm finding answers in surprising places and the pain of the past is unraveling slowly like a ball of yarn. Some of the things I prayed to be freed from for years are letting go finally. The condemnation I used to feel fenced me in. It closed my ears to the truth, it blinded me to who I am and who God sees me as. I see the lies for what they are. I'm still exploring, still searching and reaching out. The peace and freedom are growing like flowers in my soul.
My friend Maddy wrote this on facebook and I think it's really beautiful: "Growing up jewish, a lot of our prayers were either of thankfulness for food/wine/friends/family, or thankfulness for the ability to atone and improve on one's life. Even though I haven't really been involved with the temple for years, I try to live in a way that practices this gratitude. I don't think prayer is or should be just asking god a favor; it's thanking god for the endless favors from the minute you were born, and living in a way that uses those favors wisely. Does that make sense?"
So, what is prayer to you?