On Prayer

As a parent, one of the greatest privileges and greatest challenges has been teaching my kids how to pray. Granted, Willa’s pretty young still and her prayers mainly sound something like this: “Lord, ahewahmisuMommaDaddyphiticahew…Amen!” But I still cherish the moments of seeing her eyes squinted shut, her hands folded (because Audrey told her that’s how prayer is done), and her tiny little voice parroting random words she just learned.

Audrey is often reluctant to pray, but if we can convince her to pray out loud, I’m always amazed by what she has to say to God. If you want to better understand Jesus’ words: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” then I recommend you start by listening to a child pray.

Audrey’s favorite prayer, however, is the one she learned when she was 3 years old at preschool, and it’s called “The Superman Prayer”. One cannot pray the Superman prayer with hands folded, because the Superman prayer is prayed with hands up in the air, as if one is flying like Superman, naturally. It is also not spoken, but sung, to the tune of…you guessed it—the Superman theme song. It goes like this:

“Thank you LOOOORD, for giving us food!

Thank you LOOOORD, for giving us food!

For the THINGS we eat,

For the THINGS we drink,

Thank you LOOOOOORD for giving us food!

Thank you LOOOOOORD for giving us food!

AMEN.”

Now, this was really cute the first time Audrey came home and demonstrated it at the dinner table. It became remarkably less cute when she insisted on doing it at a restaurant. In public. With full participation from everyone at the table. (Parenting, for me, has been one LARGE exercise in learning humility.)

If you were privy to my awkward and feeble attempts at explaining prayer to my kids, you’d probably be shocked at the clumsiness. Prayer is something I’ve spent most of my life doing, watching, and studying, and yet it is still a mystery to me. Communicating with a God we can’t see requires great faith and vulnerability, and yet, it is one the greatest sources of strength. I can’t tell you why some prayers go seemingly unanswered, while other very specific and outlandish prayers are answered definitively and miraculously. I don’t pretend to completely understand God, only to seek Him and to know Him a little more each day. And that’s why I pray.

I also pray because I am utterly and completely needy. No, really. I am simply not capable of handling life on my own. If you hang out with me for more than 5 minutes, that will become abundantly clear. I pray because my life literally depends on it.

Over the years, I’ve journaled my prayers because it helps focus my mind, and I love being able to go back and look at it later (Sometimes. Other times I’m reminded that if I die young, no one should allow my kids to read my journals until they are 21, and are also mature enough to handle the reality that their mom was a total psycho.)

Somewhere along the line, I developed the habit of writing in red whenever I felt God was speaking to me, and that is probably one of my favorite (albeit incredibly cheesy) aspects of my prayer life. For one thing, it stops my steady stream of thought, and forces me to consider whether that thought I just had was really from God. Is that what God would say? Is that in his character? Is it kind? Is it loving? I think that’s one of the things that helped train me to actually hear God’s voice. For another thing, I love being able to go back and quickly find what God spoke to me in different seasons. It’s those words in red that have carried me, challenged me, changed me, and grown me up.

A few months ago, I felt like my prayer life was staggering. Of course, as a mom of 2 young kids, I was still praying what the great mystics call the “breath prayers”. You know, the “Lord, have mercy” and “Come, Holy Spirit”, and “FOR THE LOVE HEEEEEEELP!” (What can I say? Tranquility does not come naturally to me, thus the desperate need for the spiritual practice of prayer in my life.) I was still attempting to get quiet on a regular basis, to acknowledge God’s presence, and just to be still and listen, but my mind just stopped cooperating. As soon as I closed my eyes and took the first deep breath, I would be viciously attacked. My mental to-do lists, my messy kitchen, my worries about the upcoming day and week, and my children would all choke out any effort at stillness and solitude I was trying to cultivate.

That’s when I knew I needed help. I’ve been practicing what some call “contemplative prayer” for years, but it had never been this challenging. For some reason, when I would try to sit in silence, I immediately felt inner chaos. Luckily, God anticipated this bump in the road, and provided a rescue just in time.

A few months ago, my husband attended a conference at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, and learned that the host, Brian Zhand, taught a prayer school periodically. Ben insisted we plan to attend together, and I readily agreed. I was absolutely 100% in favor of 2 whole days away from the kids in solitude learning about prayer.

The Prayer School was not only timely, but revolutionary. It has completely changed my life. I do not say those horribly cliché words lightly. Not only was it like a tall drink of water for my thirsty soul, but it provided me with tools for my wayward and horridly-behaved mind. He basically passed on to us his daily practice of prayer, and explained the “why” behind it. He challenged us to give his morning prayer liturgy a chance for the summer, and to evaluate it at the end of August. Well, it’s June 24th and I’m here to tell you I am amazed at what God is doing in me already.

Most of what was taught is Scripture, some of it from The Book of Common Prayer, and all of it feels like it is straight from God for me. As I pray every morning, I sense God’s nearness, I gain new revelation, and my soul is refreshed. I see the Holy Spirit at work in me, shaping me and transforming me as I internalize the words Christians have been praying for centuries.

The liturgy helps to train my heart and focus it in a Godward direction, so that when it comes time to pour out my own heart to God I’m able to do it in much fewer and more eloquent words. When it comes time to pray what’s in my heart, I recognize what emerges as more pure and more aligned with the character of Christ. The prayers also help me quiet my own thoughts, so that when it comes time to listen, my mind is trained in the ability to sit in solitude and true silence.

I’ve been taking notes, and I’m still journaling most days, so I imagine much of what I’m learning will emerge here on the blog. For now, I will say that if you feel stuck when it comes to prayer, there are tools out there to help. Start with the Psalms, and pray one every day. They cover the range of human emotion, and as you meditate and chew on the words, they will orient your spirit toward a fresh understanding of God.

My husband acommonprayer1nd I just celebrated our 8th anniversary. We commemorated eight happy, full, satisfying years of marriage covered in dirt and mosquito bites at a Dairy Queen in Motley, Minnesota. That’s another story for another day. But my thoughtful, generous, incredibly handsome, sexy…wait, what?! How did my mind go there? You see what I mean about my wandering mind. Anyway, my incredibly sweet husband gave me a small, carefully-wrapped package later that night. When I opened it, I of course began to cry. commonprayer2

I am discovering treasure after treasure, and I am basking in the deep well of prayers prayed by the many saints who have gone before me. If you’re curious about it, you can access it online for free here.

This has been much longer than I intended, but i’ll chalk it up to my husband being at the College World Series this evening, thus leaving me with way too much free time on my hands. If you’ve made it to the end, bravo to you, and good night. I have a date with my Bible and my anniversary present tomorrow morning, so I’ve got to turn in.

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