Learning a New (Old) Way to Pray

For all of my life I have talked to God. Growing up, even as a toddler, I parroted the words of my parents, closing eyes and bowing my head, showing gratitude, adoration, and petition. Therefore, I thought I definitely knew how to pray. At every stage of life we have different needs, and my needs in my relationship with Jesus have grown as I have.

Many thanks to pastor Fatimah Salleh, for asking me the right questions, helping me to see my need for a new way to talk with God. I still talk to God in the old way, head bowed and hands folded. I still run around and cry out to the Lord with ecstatic utterances and guttural grumblings, usually when by myself. But this new way of prayer for me is helping in a powerful way.

I say that I’m learning a new way to pray, but in some ways it is one of the oldest ways. Jesus taught the disciples The Lord’s Prayer, both as a paradigm but also because there was so much in it that they needed to be reminded of every day. My new way of praying is kind of like this, repeating a prayer to God, trying to allow it to sink in.

This is the same thing that liturgy does in liturgical worship. Because it is already written, it allows the worshipper to speak the words, and it frees up part of the soul and spirit to internalize their meaning, to further be transformed by the working of God. In some ways it is quite mystical. We read a prayer, that either we or somebody else has written, and we come into agreement, that its meaning can have authority over us, that the Holy Spirit can use it to impact us on a deep and subconscious level.

I used to hate written prayers, thinking that they were inauthentic and disingenuous. Now, I have a profound respect for them, realizing how important it is for the Holy Spirit to be at work in there inscription, and how important it is for the authors of written prayers to think about the obvious and possible meaning.

For me, I have started praying with pre-scripted prayers that I have written, precisely because they are things that I need to hear over and over. I’m going to share some of the prayers that I have been praying over and over, with the invitation for you to think about things that you need to pray about, things that you need to keep asking God for:

Prayer 1: ” Help me to keep my head where my feet are.” This prayer is for my innate neurochemistry, that has me paying attention to everything or nothing. It helps prevent me from being caught up with the next thing I need to do, so that I can be appreciative of what I am doing and who I am with.

Prayer 2: “Help me to be impulsive, but give me good impulses, from the Holy Spirit. Help me to ask if what I am doing will hurt my relationships. Amen.” When I began pastoral ministry, just over seven years ago, I worked really hard to kill my impulsivity. At the drop of a hat, I would do wild or out of the box things, and it distracted me from the things that I was getting “graded on.” As I have grown in my pastoral identity, I realized that my impulsivity was both a gift and a challenge. I am trying to reclaim some of it, so that I can act in the moment. Jesus was incredibly impulsive, he just had perfect impulses. I’m trying to be open to step out of my comfort zone, but also with the stopgap that prevents me from harming my relationships.

Prayer 3: “Help me to stay focused on my tasks, but also help me to leave room for interruptions. God, you show up in the interruptions of the people who love me and whom I love.”
In the previous couple years I have taken on many new and diverse responsibilities, many of them outside of the four walls of the church and outside of my family ministry. This has forced me to be organized and try to be strict with myself and my time. However, this prayer helps me remember that the person in front of me, even if they come barreling into my attention when I’d rather be focused, is a gift.

Prayer 4: “Lord, transform my sibling’isms. Please. Amen.”
If any of you grew up with sisters or brothers, you know exactly what I’m talking about here. Those little passive aggressive quips that helped you be heard in the sibling rivalry somehow made it into adulthood. This prayer is a reminder to allow God’s Spirit to silence those in me.

For me, these prayers are like water, slowly eroding surfaces that have been barriers in my life for a long time. They are taking the jagged edges of my heart and mind and smoothing them out. It takes a lot of repetition, but God is meeting me where I am.

When I was young I spoke to God with reckless abandon, and a lot of my prayers are still like data dumps. But I realize now that I’m older, that some of my sinfulness (literally, some of the ways that I miss the mark) are more difficult than a “one time fix,” in prayer. In the same way that I show up, time after time, trying to teach my children respect and boundaries, I need to ask God to show up, time and again, to help me learn as well. I hope that whatever this looks like in your life, that you are able to ask God for it, and then keep asking again and again.

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