One of my father’s mottos seems to have been, “There must be a harder way.” It sounds crazy, but I am absolutely convinced that, more often than not, my dad thought if something was efficient or time/labor saving, it must have some deep evil attached to it. Dad thought that a certain amount of struggle and suffering was good for everyone.
It feels like, more often than not, we’ve approached prayer [in good churchy lingo, I’d say “our prayer life”] with a bit of this motto in mind. When I’ve spoken with people about prayer, and when I’ve heard others speak about prayer, it feels like we’re trying really hard to make prayer as hard as it can be. It could be because many of our encounters with prayer include some pastor person offering a set-piece prayer – you know, that prayer at church. Of course the pastor has thought it through [mostly] and written it out. That’s sort of what we do in church. But let me let you in on a secret; most pastors [or, at least this pastor] don’t pray that way in private. Prayer is a conversation based on a relationship. People ask, “How should I pray?” Not to be glib, I’d suggest you simply start talking. What’s on your mind? What are your hopes? Your dreams? Your worries? What are you excited about? Start there. And while you’re talking, try hard to remember that God is not singularly faceted being. God doesn’t just want to hear about what you want or need. How fun is it to be in a relationship with someone who only asks for things from you? God is interested in your hopes and dreams. What’s good? What’s bad? Are you bored? Let it all out. Remember this: prayer is one of the foundational pieces Christians have used for as long as there have been Christians to enter into a fuller relationship with God. That sounds heavy, but I assure you, it isn’t. It’s a bit like saying that talking with someone is one of the foundational ways people have formed relationships with others. But here’s the thing, you’ve got to start talking.
Famously, Jesus taught us a prayer. Jesus’ disciples asked the same thing we ask. They wanted a bit of help. In St. Matthew 6:9-13 we can read the basic form of the Lord’s Prayer. Here, Jesus tells us to orient ourselves toward God and toward God’s hopes and dreams in the world. We learn to trust God for our daily needs and find peace and reconciliation for the messes we make [and those that others make as well] and for help to live in an admittedly broken world that has quite a bit of evil lurking around. It’s a great outline for prayer because we recognize the whole outline of our lives here. If you follow this, it helps keep you from getting too stuck in one place.
If you’re looking for a bit more help, there are a few handy things available to you. There are three great apps that are free and can give you a great jumping off point for your prayers. [Honestly, there aren’t things you pay for that are better than these three apps] They are [in order of my personal preference]:
Pray as you Go: I’ve used this for years and it has led me to think about things I would have never seen on my own.
Sacred Space: This is the companion app to the devotional books we’ve used during Advent and this Lenten season. Everything in the book is available in the app and corresponding website.
3 Minute Retreats: Yep. That’s right. 3 minutes. That’s it.
Try it out. If you can, let me know how it goes. Remember, start by talking. It’s no harder than that.