When You Pray…

It’s been a crazy weekend, and today’s slated to be an even crazier day, so I’m pulling one out of the archives today. Be back tomorrow with fresh thoughts!


Pray without ceasing.” I Thessalonians 5:17

The Angelus by Millet ca 1857

I’ve known a lot of faithful people in my life. And one of the most striking things I have noticed is that it’s frighteningly easy to abuse faith. To turn it into an idol of its own.

Maybe I should be more specific. It’s easy to abuse religious practice. Like prayer, for instance.

I’ve known people who substitute prayer for action. I’ve known people who go for quantity of words, as if they think if they go on long enough, they’ll beat God into submission. I’ve known people who go for flowery language, thinking it makes their prayers more important. I’ve known people who use prayer, consciously or unconsciously, as a way to lecture other people in the room. (I should add that at least once in every category above, “people” refers to me.)

“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” Garth Brooks

And I’ve known people who have bought into the idea of the unanswered prayer. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, because there is no such thing. That lesson, learned in my youngest elementary school days at Catholic school, still forms my world view. God answers every prayer. Every one. But sometimes, the answer is “no.”

And sometimes, the answer is “not yet.”

“If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field alone or into the deep, deep woods, and I’d look up into the sky – up – up – up- into that lovely blue sky that looks like there’s no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” Anne Shirley

At some point in my life, someone offered this “formula” for prayer:

First praise, then thanksgiving, and then (and only then), petition.

I struggled for years with the difference between praise and thanksgiving, but finally my daughter taught me the answer to that one.

The trouble is with that last bit. The petition bit. The part that overwhelms prayer for most of us.

The trouble is that we grow up with a wrong-headed idea of what prayer is supposed to do. Prayer isn’t about changing God’s mind. I mean, do you REALLY think you’re going to change the mind of the maker of the entire universe? If that was even possible, I’d lose my faith instantly; who can depend on a God that fickle?

No, prayer is about changing me. It is a lesson in humility, an opportunity to stretch my soul by bending my will to someone else’s. It’s about shifting my attitude from what I want, what I need, what I fear, to what God wants. To what God is asking of me.

That kind of prayer is a lot harder. But it’s also liberating.

I learned the power of this prayer during three years of infertility, when all my life was consumed by the desperate desire for a child. It was such a bruising experience, to pray two dozen times a day, every day for three years, for the same thing, and never once to hear a “yes” in reply. That is spiritual exercise of the most powerful kind. I thought I would never know the reason why God said “not yet” for so long. But in time, that question was answered, too.

“Pray without ceasing.” I Thessalonians 5:17

When I was a kid, I used to hear that quote and shake my head. What a boring life. Are you supposed to just live on your knees? But now I understand that life itself can be a prayer. It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to be eloquent. It doesn’t need words at all. It begins with praise, it continues with thanksgiving, and ends with “Thy Will be done.”

And when I manage to live up to it…it works for me.