I planned to write about prayer today, but I can’t pray. This hasn’t happened in a while. But it pops up often enough that I thought I’d mention it rather than sweeping it under the rug and doing a cut/paste post from one of the dozens of talks I’ve given on this subject during easier times.
Anyone else finding it hard to pray lately? It’s just all…a lot. Despite the yard signs declaring, “We’re all in this together!” I think this pandemic experience is unique for each person living through it. It may be simultaneous, but it’s not necessarily similar. Any day I’m brave/foolish enough to scroll through social media, I’m hit with the endless different stressors, worries, problems, and losses this pandemic is creating. And I, like all of you, have stressors, worries, problems, and losses of my own (although most of them I don’t dare admit in public right now because of the collective outrage thing happening where you get smashed down like you’re in a game of whack-a-mole and told to shut up and get over it because here are 147 different people whose problems are worse than yours).
I find the smashing unhelpful. But sometimes, I still get stuck.
Here are three work-arounds that have gotten me through prayer-stuckness in the past. I’ll be working all of them as soon as I get off my computer. (Who am I kidding? I’m working the first one now). I hope they help you, too.
WORK AROUND #1: Talk to God all day.
Whenever, however. Use all the words or just mumble. Take off the pressures of format and formality, and just talk at God. Common question: How do I know I’m talking to God, rather than just talking to myself? Honest answer: I start with “Hey God…” and trust that’s enough to make it clear. So far today, my prayers have consisted of thanking God for sunshine, and a tree I saw when I walked the dog. I may have tossed up an “Are you kidding me right now?” when I sat down to blog about prayer and realized I had nothing to say. But here’s the thing: “Are you kidding me right now?” when prefaced with “Hey God”? That’s a prayer. I’ve not heard back specifically on whether or not God was kidding me. But I’m typing words about prayer now, so I’ll take that as an answer.
WORK AROUND #2: Use other people’s pre-made prayers.
I’m generally a happy, optimistic person. But when I consider all the things that could go wrong but haven’t yet, then try to layer those prayers onto challenges I’m actually facing, along with any hopes I might have, it can feel like I’m drowning. And yet a lifetime of praying (ever since I read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and learned that honest prayer was a thing) I’m 100% convinced that prayer is hugely effective and important…and if some is good, more is better. So I avail myself of other people’s prayers to shore up my limitations.
By far, my favorite resources for this are Stormie Omartian’s books. The Power of a Praying Woman, The Power of a Praying Wife ,The Power of a Praying Parent, The Power of Praying Through Fear… The list is huge. In each book, she covers a range of issues common to the human experience, and then crafts a solid prayer for each topic, filled with references to God’s promises in the Bible.
Right now, I’m using two of her books: I do one prayer a day for our marriage and one that is Cherub-based. Over the course of a month, her prayers help me cover so many things I wouldn’t think to pray about otherwise. And in the areas where I’m tempted to be scared, her words lift me out of my emotions and give me a way to pray in bold faith, instead of fear. When I’m done? I feel so much better. That’s a great test for a prayer resource, by the way: regardless of how you feel before you pray, are you in a better head & heart space after? Do you feel peace that comes from entrusting God with a situation (or at least looping Him in)? If you feel icky afterwards, or guilty, or some other funky thing, whatever resource you have might not be for you. Ask God to lead you to another one. Here’s my special prayer for times like this: “Dear God, I need help. Please help.”
WORK AROUND #3: Write down your prayers.
I started doing this about a month ago. My prayers were scattershot, like a yard sale. I was overwhelmed & unfocused; half the time I couldn’t even remember what I’d prayed. I couldn’t have told you if God answered. We were in the midst of some big challenges and I wanted a way to track what I prayed for and if/when/how God came through. So I pulled out this journal.
I giggled about the whole “Lemons into lemonade” theme, then admitted to God that this felt forced and weird because I don’t even like lemonade. I was hoping for something better than a sour drink. With that settled, I grabbed at pen to start writing out my biggest prayers.
This uncovered a problem almost immediately: It turns out I was terrified to ask God for what I hoped for. I could pray for vague things like safety, blessings on people I love, things happening in the news, etc. But anything personal? Nope. Not one word. As I analyzed this I realized: I wasn’t afraid God wouldn’t answer. I was afraid that if I admitted any sort of hope, some evil force would come and rip down some other area of my life in retaliation. (There’s a chance I’ve been traumatized by how the past few years have gone…)
As I sat there, paralyzed, with my pen hovering over the page NOT transcribing the words I planned – I had a choice to make: I could put the journal down and walk away, or make this paralyzing fear my top prayer. I chose option 2. I’m not sure how, because internally, it felt like flinging myself off a cliff while trusting a vague promise that something would catch me. I wrote, “Dear God, I confess that I’m afraid to ask You for anything…will You please deliver me from fear? In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” I transcribed a Scripture we recite before bed with the Cherubs, declaring the Truth that regardless of how I feel, “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.” Then I shut the journal.
A few weeks later, after almost daily writing of prayers, I realized: I wasn’t afraid anymore. I just asked God for what I hoped for, and trusted Him to translate that into His best for the world and for my life. I’m not sure when it happened. Just that it did. And I don’t think I would have recognized this if I hadn’t written the whole thing down.
BONUS WORK AROUND:
Whatever you’re afraid of, bring it to God, and leave it there. You can even say, “Hey God, I’m leaving this here. Have at it…”
We’re tempted to believe that prayer doesn’t matter. Or that OUR prayers don’t matter. Or that if we want God to deliver us from something huge like this pandemic, we shouldn’t distract Him with requests like “Could you please help me pay this bill?” or “Could you please let my toddler take a nap today?” But God is not us – He can actually multitask.
I’m encouraged by this truth in the Old Testament: The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) How do we show that our hearts are fully committed? We seek God’s strength when we need it, in any form of prayer we can. If you’re trying to communicate with God, it all counts.
Let me pray for us…
Dear God, thank You that when I don’t know how to pray, You make it it possible and I find myself praying anyway. Thank you that the thing I THINK I need to pray about isn’t always the thing I need to pray about, and as I show up to You – enthusiastic and overflowing, bored and distracted, or speechless and hopeless – the act of showing up counts as prayer. Give me the experience of You meeting me there as I show up. You know my heart, Lord. Help me to know it, too, and to bring it to you to transform, heal, and delight in. Make me brave enough to trust You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.