Finding Faith: Praying takes practice
"Praying can be intimidating, and our history of making prayer obligatory and reverent hasn’t been particularly helpful, in my view. ... I would encourage us to view prayer as simply a conversation with God, or Jesus if that is more comfortable. You can pray to the Holy Spirit too, or Mother Earth, for that matter."
Each week during confirmation, our church’s version of teenage faith education, we open with and close with a prayer.
I ask students to take turns offering the opening and ending prayers. The goal, of course, is get our students more comfortable with prayer by practice. Because how else do we get better at anything without practice!
Understandably, many of our confirmands are nervous when it comes to praying in front of their peers, but we as a group positively support everyone’s efforts, even when it comes out as briefly as, “Thank you God for our confirmation time. Amen.”
But it isn’t just our teenagers who I find are uncomfortable with the act of having a conversation with God. Frankly, a good many adults I talk with are just as uncomfortable with praying because they say they don’t know how to.
I will chalk some of this up to the nature of us folk who dwell up here in the northern climes. In a region that is full of Lutheran Scandinavian descendants, maybe it’s not so surprising that praying can be difficult for many. After all, the act of prayer makes us pretty vulnerable, whether it’s said out loud in front of your confirmation buddies, or just said in your heart to God.
Praying can be intimidating, and our history of making prayer obligatory and reverent hasn’t been particularly helpful, in my view. It turns what should simply be a conversation with God into an act of obedience, with rules about what is correct and what isn’t. No wonder so many think they don’t know how to pray: Because we’ve essentially created a litmus test over how and how not to pray!
Rather, I would encourage us to view prayer as simply a conversation with God, or Jesus if that is more comfortable. You can pray to the Holy Spirit too, or Mother Earth, for that matter, if that is more in line with your faith beliefs. Hey, I get that praying to “God the Father” has been made difficult for many, as God has been used in very abusive ways over the centuries.
My point is that we need not complicate having a conversation with God. There is no right way, nor wrong way, to pray to God. Sure, there are models of prayer that have been taught by faith leaders down through the generations, but I worry less about that than just encouraging you to open the conversation.
God is a faithful conversation partner when you just begin to open up yourself. In fact, I am often surprised by the ways in which God converses back with me when we talk. It might be in a direct way, or through other signs, or sometimes I don’t hear anything back at all. But I do know that he is listening and hearing, and sometimes that is the absolute best trait in a conversation partner ever!
Devlyn Brooks, who works for Modulist, a Forum Communications Co.-owned company, is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. He serves as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minnesota. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments and story ideas.