Learning To Pray

At forty-three I am learning to pray. I know how to say prayers, don’t get me wrong. In Judaism, a lot of the services and ceremonies are composed of prayers put together by wise and pious rabbis over the centuries, so I certainly learned to say prayers during those years. Christianity doesn’t have as many pre-set prayers, although the ones it has are world-famous, starting with the Lord’s Prayer. I can do prayers. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the act of praying as a conversation with the Almighty. I’m learning to do that.

Recently I’ve been under quite an amount of stress, and it’s made me short-tempered and cranky where I’m normally mellow and relaxed. The other night I snapped at my wife and daughter over something stupid, and my wife in her infinite wisdom and grace simply pointed out what I’d done, and said that I needed to get myself together. She was absolutely right (no surprise there, she usually is — don’t tell her I said that), but I didn’t know what to do to help myself. So I decided to pray, because obviously whatever I’d been doing wasn’t enough, so I needed help from up above.

I sat down, closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, said, “Heavenly Father, Master of the Universe…” And then I froze. I knew how to say prayers, but I realized I didn’t know how to pray to God, how to talk to God. I felt awkward, self-aware, silly even. I felt inadequate, small, imperfect. Why would the Creator of all take time for me, for my dumb little problem? What exactly was I expecting, what did I think was gonna happen here? Why pray at all?

I’ve heard enough sermons over the years to know that praying is supposed to be as simple as a conversation. But how do you have a conversation with the God who sees all, hears all, knows all? Why would you even voice that you’re feeling this, concerned about that? God already knows, right? Again, why pray at all?

I fought through the doubt, the awkwardness, the fear of doing it wrong, and I just started talking to God. It was formulaic at first, but the more I did it, the more natural it became. I realized the conversation wasn’t necessarily for God’s benefit, but for my benefit. Yes, God can look into my thoughts, into my heart, know what afflicts me, what ails me, what I need help with, but in having the conversation I get to face all that as well. I get to confront my deficiencies, my weaknesses, my limitations, my fears, and I do it while engaged with the Creator of Heaven and Earth, my Creator. The psalm (139:13) says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Who better to have this conversation with?

I prayed that night. Imperfectly, yes, but heartfelt. I’ll continue to learn to pray. I know it’s one area that I need to grow in, and the only way to grow is to continue praying, continue having that conversation with God, my God, who holds all of reality in His hand, and also worries about little old me.

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