by Brendan Hickey
Does anyone else find prayer to be a brain-busting puzzle? What-how-why-huh-sputter? So, if I get the basic concept right, I can talk to God in my mind or say my thoughts aloud, anywhere at any time, and God will hear me? Right now, my only prayer, the only thing that makes any sense to me, is simply, “God, please increase my faith.” I am going to try to explain why.
I have also heard that some places are better for prayer, like a church, or other sacred ground, and I can pray in my own words but there are also scripted prayers. It’s hard to imagine a prayer that could be better than one written by God, the “Our Father,” except that I have trouble with the part about “forgive us our trespasses/as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That sneaky little word “as” is my problem. It could mean, “at the same time” which is a problem, but it could also mean, “in the same way as” which is a much bigger problem. I want, and really need, God to forgive me faster and much better than I forgive others.
The part about sacred ground actually makes more sense to me. Yes, I can and will pray in bed and in my living room and my car, but a sacred space is an intentional space. My church has two buildings designated for worship, one a traditional church with box pews, and the other a bank barn with chairs instead of pews. The bank barn has an open floor plan. It can be and is used for everything from worship to banquets to a theater. The barn, when arranged for prayer of any kind, is a sacred space, that holiness being the result of the design + the human intent. A sacred space sets the mind and heart into a prayerful condition just as surely as a library does for reading and study, or a Wawa for coffee. The environment and its sensory cues and our experience and habits therein put into the tendency to do what we usually do there. I can pray in my car, but I usually just drive it. I can pray in bed, but I usually sleep there. Those environments want to pull me to other purposes.
My problem is elsewhere. I petition God, appeal for what I think that I want and feebly suppose that I need, though I am probably right about half the time on the former and probably far less on the latter. Even if I am right about what I need, that is according to my plan, which is garbage compared to the plan of a powerful and knowledgeable living and loving God. I might need to have my butt kicked in a particular manner that teaches me something that I need to know for something else that is much more important. You can cue “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks right about now, the times when we ask for things that we are better without.
However, even that is not quite what baffles me right now, so much as the idea of asking God in the first place. God knows my heart and mind perfectly at all times so why put it into words? I suspect that my words, as the evil that I encounter, are there to remind me of my need for God. When things are going well, it’s easy to believe that it’s my doing, and that I deserve it, and maybe from there to think that I don’t need God. The bad times wreck those illusions and draw me closer, and so perhaps it is with my petitions. They are flawed and awkward and incredibly ignorant most of the time, though if I am driving on ice then I am confident in my assessment that I need to not hit the utility pole that I am approaching.
That is my other problem with petitions. They so readily lurch across the line into being prescriptive. From asking God for something, and the presumption that we are right about what should happen, we tell God how it should happen, and who should do it, and when. The antidote to that, of course, is to listen to God, but what becomes of those who proclaim, “God told me….”? Most of the time, isn’t amazing how God told that person something that fits perfectly with an existing agenda? A prayer rooted in faith does not push for a specific outcome. It assumes that God’s outcome is the right, is the best, even though the ways and the reasons may not be clear.
That’s why my only prayer right now is, “God, please increase my faith.” I want to stop trying to control everything, stop trying to predict everything, talk less and listen more. Yes, God gave me gifts and talents and a speck of power in this world, but when I listen to God then I will know how to use those gifts and talents and that speck of power.