How do I pray when ___?
Pray about it! I declare. Pray without ceasing, the Bible tells us. Prayer changes us, I promise. I write about prayer, but do I truly believe it? Absolutely.
Except sometimes life gets in the way of our best intentions.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer and then passed away in spite of all the prayers my family and friends prayed, I floundered. Not just floundered. I flopped. Fell, tumbled, stumbled away, pretending I was okay while knowing I’d never be okay again. God hadn’t saved her life. The only thing stronger than my anger was my denial about being angry.
When I watched my neighbor carry his six-year-old son Henry to the hearse parked in the driveway between our houses, after Henry had succumbed to the brain tumor that distorted his beautiful face, the ache in my heart was almost too much to bear. Even though he wasn’t my own child, my heart was broken. And I had trouble finding words.
When my daughter missed more school than she attended her senior year and had to be hospitalized three hours away from home for a week at a migraine specialty hospital, and clients needed brochures and ads turned around quickly, and my other daughter needed ankle surgery, and my dad was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells, and money wasn’t coming in to my graphic design business account, I was more inclined to curl up in a ball and take a nap than I was to pray. It was too much to try to wade through it all.
When the British man who had devastated me in college by ending our two-year romance with a heartless letter found me online many years later, it threw me. As much as I loved my husband and my life, I had to reframe the way I’d thought about that relationship for the past twenty years, and figure out what any of it meant for my current life. My brain was a tangled-up mess. In prayer, I’d simply sit. I didn’t know how to put words to the chaos I felt inside.
Maybe for you it was a pastor or teacher or family friend who did unspeakable things and no one believed you. Or maybe it was a church who judged you—rightly or wrongly—and pushed you away. Your baby stopped breathing, or didn’t survive until birth. Your spouse cheated on you. Again and again. Your employee stole from you. Your boss spitefully reprimanded you, costing you the promotion you wanted. Or you admitted to being abused and nobody did a thing to stop it. Maybe you adore children and don’t understand why God hasn’t given you a baby of your own when so many who don’t want a baby get pregnant. Maybe you think the only way out of your financial mess is to file bankruptcy, but those debts don’t qualify, you don’t make enough to cover your expenses, and your job is a dead end. Or maybe you are an addict and can’t imagine God could ever deliver you from that.
You may not struggle with a traumatic event, but fight tangled emotions and insecurities—why would God want me after all I’ve done? Perhaps you’re waiting until you feel like you’re in a respectable place, with your life cleaned up. Maybe you can’t forgive yourself so you certainly don’t expect God to do so, and you’re certain He won’t want to hear from you.
It might be that you’ve watched holier-than-thou Christians judge and condemn and live hypocritical lives, and you just can’t bear to associate with them in any way because of the impression they convey to the world.
Or maybe you struggle with the age-old questions: How can God allow evil? What kind of God would let that happen? Is God really real? Why can’t I feel Him? Why doesn’t He answer me?
I could write pages and pages and never touch on half of the obstacles people face when it comes to prayer.
What I hope this tells you is that when—not if, but when—you struggle, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you.
In spite of the struggles, though, I’ve also seen answers. I’ve seen my life and attitudes and prejudices and beliefs transformed over time. I’ve witnessed what seem to be miraculous answers, unexplained by science and logic. I’ve watched science heal people, and found myself thanking God for working through medicine.
I haven’t seen God with my eyes, but I’ve witnessed His presence in one situation after another. He hasn’t spoken in an audible voice, but I’ve heard him loud and clear. He isn’t tangible, I can’t touch Him, but I’ve felt Him hold me tight and carry me through moments of unspeakable pain.
So how do we pray when there’s too much going on? When we can’t see God in it? When we don’t know where to begin? When we’re in pain? Sad? Depressed? Uninspired? When we don’t like the way God is answering? When we don’t feel like He’s listening? What do we do when we’re out of words or when our words are angry and don’t seem fitting to be used in a holy pursuit like prayer?
Try something new. Something to jolt our minds and our hearts, something to bypass established behaviors and patterns. We need to trick our minds out of relying on the known and instead seek the unknown.
Think of it as preparation for future situations. Just as an artist has to learn how to mix paint colors, or a basketball player has to focus on individual skills like dribbling and shooting, in order to practice prayer long-term we need to experiment. If you can find ways to strengthen and notice more of God in the everyday, then when it comes time for you to step up to the canvas (or get off the bench), you’re ready. You have all the tools you need to face the problem before you.
Today, and tomorrow, and possibly even the next day, I hope you will try something different. Stand up if you normally sit down. Speak out loud if you typically pray in silence. Read a liturgical prayer or spiritual poem. Write it down. Shake things up.
You can totally do this on your own, but if you would like to dedicate some time to exploring different approaches to prayer, I hope you’ll check out my new book. Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage with God releases on August 1, and it’s an 8-week individual Bible study designed to lead women into a deeper relationship with God. (You can order it now.)
Whether you read my book or not, I’m excited to hear what you discover. I hope you’ll share your experiences with me here or on my blog.
Dear Lord, sometimes it’s a little intimidating to try something new. But I hold tight to the truth I’ve discovered as I’ve walked this path with You: As long as You are in it, I want to be there too. Change can be painful at times, and sometimes I fight it. But Your vision surpasses mine, so I surrender myself willingly. When You get involved, when You begin to refine me and smooth the rough edges, I don’t become less but more. Open my heart and mind to new possibilities, and teach me to express my creativity in ways that allow me to find You. Make connections for me between people and ideas and my awareness of You—let me see more of the ways You’ve woven us all together and connected us all with Your love. Amen.