Prayer is a funny thing. How does one do it? What’s the purpose of it? Over the years, my prayer life has changed. And the ways in which I think of prayer, and it’s various uses, has also changed.
Prayer and meditation are strongly encouraged in the 12-step community. Early on in recovery, I wasn’t sure how to start. The best thing about it is it’s an individual adventure, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
For some, prayer is simply talking to God. That’s the way Rachel has described her prayer life to me. She says she’s constantly praying because she’s constantly talking to God. For me, I’ve always looked at prayer as a more formal thing, for better or worse.
My 12-step sponsor encouraged me to view prayer as “quiet time.” I see prayer as a time to be still and connect with God. This works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, I’ve been drawn to what the monks and ascetics have taught about prayer, about how it’s a time to simply be silent and quiet the inner voice.
Prayer is no panacea, though. I’ve learned it will not make me perfectly calm and peaceful. I learned this through much trial and error. Prayer is also not about demanding that God make certain things happen for me.
A few years back when my dad was sick, I prayed constantly that things would work out. I didn’t necessarily believe my prayers could keep him from dying. But perhaps subconsciously, I believed that if I prayed long and hard enough, God would protect me from the grief and turmoil I felt.
This didn’t happen.
My dad eventually died, and I was devastated. All those prayers seemed to go unanswered. I felt abandoned by God, in a way. I fell into deep self-pity, crying, “Why me?” But as people in 12-step rooms had told me before, “Why not you?” Pain and grief are doled out to everyone at some point.
What is prayer for?
I look back on those prayers and that time in my life and I wonder. I prayed for good things to happen, for my loved ones to be kept safe, for good things to happen to me. At the end of my prayers, I’d say, “God’s will, not mine, be done.” But, judging by how and what I prayed for, it was more like I was asking for my will to be done.
I don’t talk much when I pray now. I don’t come to my moments of prayer with a long list of requests, and I don’t treat God like Santa Claus. (Well, maybe I fall back into the habit sometimes). But for the most part, my time in prayer is silent and I don’t try to understand the mystery of God’s will.
God’s will is beyond my comprehension, obviously. Much of what happens in this life is beyond my control. I put myself out there, do the work, and the results are controlled by various factors.
So, what is prayer for?
I still ask myself that question. Lately, I’ve been thinking it’s mostly about connection. It’s about getting quiet, tuning in with God and myself, especially when most of the time my mind is racing.
It’s about gratitude and saying, “Thank you.” It’s about looking at those small victories and little things that make me blessed and giving thanks to my Creator who provides them.
For instance, during this pandemic I’ve been blessed to be healthy and safe (so far) and surrounded by loved ones, even if we’ve been socially distant.
Praying from the heart
So, when the bad stuff comes down the road, those challenges like lost jobs, deaths of loved ones, etc., can I keep this mindset?
That’s the litmus test. It’s also why the Book of Job is perhaps my favorite book in the Bible. I like to think that Job is constantly praying throughout the book – even when he’s yelling at his friends, yelling at God, and bemoaning his losses. These are genuine prayers.
I’ve always been a bit melodramatic, and I guess I always will be. But I think yelling at God at least proves you still believe in one.
At the end of the day, whether things go my way or not, I will continue to pray. I’ll never truly know if these wishes or prayers are answered – I believe I can’t know that.
The point is the connection, the moments of peace that happen every so often, and reminding myself to be still and know God is there with me.