There Is No Wrong Way To Pray
I grew up in churches where I was surrounded by people who knew how to pray eloquently, and with a certain amount of flair.
The words and rhythms they used were patterned after the King James Version of the Bible, which was the sole version of the Bible we were sanctioned to read. The reasons why this was so were convoluted and weird, but that's a story for another day.
Anyway, the aforementioned eloquent folk would pray like this:
Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this day, and for thy bountiful blessings. Keep us in thy care, deliver us from temptation, and hasten the day when thy Son Jesus shall return and carry us home to thy heavenly abode. In Jesus' name. Amen.
I remember trying to pray that way, too, but with less success and not nearly with the same fluidity as the people I wanted to emulate. They seemed to be able to pray with ease that escaped me because my own private prayers to God were more conversational, and not at all formal.
At some point, I stopped praying altogether---not just because I felt like I wasn't that good at it, but because I found that I couldn't really believe in the kind of God who demanded that I sound like I was quoting Shakespeare in order to be heard.
Over the years I've had countless conversations with people who struggled to know how to pray or who ran into the same problems I'd faced when I was a kid. And I told them, the same thing I'm going to share right here.
God doesn't care how you pray. There is no wrong way to do it. The important thing is to pray---whenever and however you can. Prayer should be more like an open conversation with the Divine Presence all around you and in you.
It can flow like poetry, become a shout of rage, turn into a therapy session with you doing all the talking... It can be a song that you sing, a word that you repeat, a cry of grief, an exclamation of joy...
Sure, Jesus gave his disciples a formula for praying which we call the Lord's Prayer, but he also had many moments where he just talked to God like a friend or a parent.
Prayer doesn't even have to contain words. Sometimes even confused and broken silence is more of a prayer than some flowery concoction spouted from a pulpit.
You should also know that prayer can be raw and real. Sometimes, I swear when I pray. Sometimes I laugh or cry---maybe even at the same time. I shout questions, whisper confessions, sigh with sorrow... It's all part of what it means to pray.
I recently read this amazing poem by Amena Brown that speaks right into this very idea:
God’s ears are here for the babies
For the immigrant, for the refugee
For the depressed, for the lonely
For the dreamers
The widow, the orphan
The oppressed and the helpless
Those about to make a mess or caught
in the middle of cleaning one up
Dirt don’t scare God’s ears
God is a Gardener
God knows things can’t grow without sun, rain, and soil
Come on!! How can you read that and not want to just get up and strut around the room a bit? I just did. It lights me up because I need to hear those words.
I need to know that the God I'm offering up my prayers to is not high in some holy temple in the clouds far away from my suffering, joys, toil, triumphs, and trials. I need to know that the God I'm praying to is right here with me.
And this God isn't turned away by anything I might say. This God is always there listening.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.