What! You too?

I have always felt a bit of guilt regarding my prayer life. My words rarely seem deep enough,  or thoughtfully composed enough; or my prayers were so distracted especially during that listening part of the conversation. They were predictable - almost like a mad lib. Prayer has felt something like this:

Father - Thank you for the (noun). It’s been (adjective) but I and grateful for (noun).
You are my (favorite name of God) and thank you for (noun).
Please help my friend (name here) as she/he (request)
And (friend) who is dealing with (issue or ailment)
(Distracting thought about the grocery list)
I’m sorry God - forgive me for not being focused enough on you.
(Distracting thought: I need to get a baby gift for that shower next weekend.)
Again forgive me Lord  for (sin here)
Help me (verb).
(Distracting thought: Teacher conferences are next week. Where did I put the send home information and what time did I sign up for? Did I tell mason about them?)

And that is when I throw my hands up and walk away… Years of church instruction  told me what a prayer had to be without a certain spiritual depth. This prevented my growth from blossoming past a third grade perspective.

Stellar prayer warrior is not on my spiritual resume, at least not in the way I thought it had to be. The mental picture of a prayer warrior in my head is very specific. The packing list for praying required a quiet or dark room or closet, Bible in the right hand, journal or notepad in the left (with a pen handy as well), ambient music, and a candle burning to represent the presence of Christ. It sounds divinely pristine. There’s nothing wrong with that picture, but it rarely represents my reality. It does not take into consideration what energizes me and what I long for when I think of conversation with God.

The other picture of prayer warriors that come to mind are the faces of specific people that I am confident have worn a bare spot in the carpet due to the amount of time they spend on their knees. The faces of Doris Cain, Whitney Gates Cate, and my own grandmother appear in my minds eye. I often felt they must have a holy of holies in their home. To slip behind that curtain, and know what it must be like to be so very close to the Creator, seems so far away and takes me to the conclusions that my methods are far inferior to whatever they are doing in their prayer life.

I’m not much for public speaking and thought it was the word part that was my hang up. If I had a better vocabulary or more spiritual syntax, then I would be more capable. But the more I’ve rolled this around in my head, the more I realize that words are not the issue. I’ve claimed Romans 8:26-27 in my shortcomings,” In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

My struggle manifests itself in the methodology rather than the words. It’s this whole “sitting still in my closet and thinking quietly words in my head” that truly is the bigger issue in my case. Through my 30-something years of existence, I know that I am visual and kinetic learner similar to many of the children I work with. I have to be doing something for lessons to absorb. When I am required to read and need motivation on getting it done, you will find me pacing and walking the halls with a book in my hand - while others may find a quiet corner to cozy up in. If I am in a meeting or on the phone, my pen will doodle all over my paper turning words into gardens on my page. I am confident it appears that I am not paying a lick of attention, but somehow the content magically soaks in much deeper than if I have to sit straight in my seat with eyes on the speaker. And still some of the most meaningful worship experiences have been with my earbuds stuffed in my ears and my feet pounding the pavement around the neighborhood.

This is who I am. But I often play the dangerous game of comparison. If I don’t pray like Doris I must not be growing in the right ways. If my worship doesn’t look like Whitney’s way of worship is it genuine?

We have been told to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). Imitation requires observation. But if we are not pursuing humility, pride will hijack observation and transform it to comparison. Pride wants glory and sees others as threats to self-glory rather than necessary parts of Christ’s body carrying out Christ’s mission. We can see this when we look at others and don’t see the fruits of God growing, but reflections of our own inferiority. We don’t see them as windows into God’s glory, but as mirrors into which we are asking, “Who’s the fairest one of all?” — and it’s not me.

It is natural for me to connect with God in the way he created me but for some reason in my head this was not enough to count as prayer or worship. If comparison is the thief of Joy, and the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; then comparison steals, kills and destroys. Instead of letting the weight of these perceived expectations and prayer formulas crush my spirit, I am using it as a training tool in my spiritual marathon. I have found freedom in knowing myself and letting that fuel my conversations with God.

Prayer can be purposeful doodles without the worry that my markings indicate distraction.

Aerobics to Beckah Shaes “Me and My God” can be as meaningful worship experience as an hour in the pew.

And solace in the Lord can take the shape of simply folding towels in the quiet of my laundry room.

C.S. Lewis said  “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”  And luckily for me, I have discovered I am not the only person with this struggle. I have a whole group of friends who join me in a small group and we are exploring the creative ways to connect with God, as well as a church family that celebrates diversity in more ways than skin color.

Deanna Atkinson