Prayer has always played a role in my life but that role has changed as I have moved through different stages.
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”
When I was a child prayer was a sing-song verse I recited without really understanding the meaning. If I really knew what the prayers were saying I would have never slept, always worried that God would take my soul if I weren’t on guard.
As I grew older and Sunday School lessons filtered into my life, I began to understand prayers as a way of talking to God. They became more like one-way conversations, a litany of deals and compromises in exchange for something I needed.
“Dear God, please don’t have Mrs. Green ask me to present my project in front of the class. I would just die if I made a mistake. I promise I won’t fight with my little sister anymore if you do this for me.”
Of course each prayer would end with — I will never ask for anything else of you again. Promise – but there would always be another request and another promise.
Not unlike most adolescents, my teen years were a struggle. One day I wanted to be older and receive the privileges that came with age. Other days I liked the security of still being a child with less responsibility.
My prayers mimicked my internal confusion. I still made requests to God even though none of my past prayers were ever answered. Or rather they were never answered to my satisfaction. My prayers also started to look to God for answers: why are children abused? Why do the more popular people seem to succeed without effort? Why do humans hate each other so much?
We were raised in the belief that God is love and that he loves us all, but all these hateful things were happening around us. If he made us than why would he let us be so destructive and uncaring? I don’t think I really expected an answer but I thought maybe God wasn’t aware. The world is a huge place perhaps he just needed to hear my questions in order to remind himself about things on his To-Do list.
Prayer is still part of my adult life though not so much in the form of a structured ritual of kneeling by the bed and reciting memorized prayers from my youth. I still view prayer as a communication channel and talk to God as though he were a friend sitting at my dining room table over tea. Though I still struggle with all the despicable deeds we inflict on one another, from beating children and killing families to less morbid but just as sinister acts of judging and spreading rumours about one another, I have come to the realization that it is our freewill and not God that makes these things happen. It is our choice to act this way and speak up for those who are afraid, unwilling or unable.
At this stage in my life my prayers are less about questioning and requests and more about gratitude, though I do occasionally ask for more patience and understanding in order to deal with my kids. For me, prayer is just as much a gratitude to God for my life and the impact I can make, as it is a moment for me to reflect on all the good that surrounds me. Even a shitty day can hold some promise and I’m grateful for that.
As my parents get older and I have to deal with the area of death, as my kids grow and move into a life of their own, I expect my journey will change again. In my past prayer always seemed like a task, something I had to do because I was told it was important. I’m sure it’s because of this forced and structured idea around prayer that I have walked away from it many times in my life but it always seems to find its way back or I find it. I think this journey of understanding it and making it mine, even if others find it blasphemous, is what has brought me back, finding a way for it to fit in my life. For that I’m grateful.