I find prayer the most tedious and overly complicated of the spiritual disciplines. Every Monday morning at 9am there’s a standing appointment on my calendar: “Team Prayer”. One of my co-workers wanted to encourage the team by gathering together to pray at the start to the week. As the time rolls around to pray they start poking their head into offices and cubes to invite everyone to join. A noble practice I dislike. Being a Christian working for a Christian organization I feel obligated. It’s not the peaceful moment of repose it should be for me. At that point it’s a disruption in my day as I had been working for several hours by that point. I resent them for making me participate yet despise myself for not wanting to be there. Questions roll through my mind as I head back to my office. Why does this have to be so complicated? Am I a good Christian?
Think about it for a minute. How many Christians really LOVE to pray? Very few I’d guess. It’s socially awkward. Get a group of Christians together and ask if there are any volunteers for prayer and immediately it’s like you’re back in high school. All eyes hit the floor so they don’t make eye contact with the leader and won’t get volunteered. After several minutes a lone hand will typically raise or as the leader you’ll just get frustrated and do it yourself. We all have these grandiose visions of eloquent prayer that moves everyone in the room to tears. And if you’re like me and don’t hear an “Amen” or “mmm hm” from one other person who acknowledges your prayer touched them, you wonder if it was effective.
I’ve never considered myself a good pray-er. I have these images of Elder Roscoe leading the congregation on his knees with the prayer that never ends as he forgets that we’re all kneeling on stone tile with pain shooting through our kneecaps. Or it’s Sister Diane who pulls out the written prayer she prepared a week ago that sounds so cold and methodical that it’s hard to take it seriously. When alone my mind wanders into lists of things that what I’m praying for remind me to do. “Lord, please help me to be more patient with the boys. Oh tomorrow’s show and tell, I wonder if the boys have their things together. Do I have my stuff ready for my meeting? Crap, I forgot about my meeting…”
There are entire libraries worth of books on prayer; the different parts of a prayer, when, where, whether to kneel or not, etc. What’s the point really? Don’t we pray to communicate with God in order to build a relationship? Then why does it feel so unnatural? We’ve been trained to feel guilty if it doesn’t ring with formality. “Our magnificent and holy father creator God of the universe and time, we humbly come to you in supplication as lambs before the great shepherd longing for your peace and love and infinite grace for us sinners wholly undeserving of your love which you bestowed upon us through the blood of Jesus Christ…” Come on, when was the last time you started a conversation with a friend with “Hello John Smith, father of two beautiful daughters and loyal friend since high school to whom I owe more than words can describe for bailing me out of jail that one time in college…” Then what if the only time you called John was to ask for help or when you felt overwhelmed by life. Does God even want that kind of relationship? That’s the way most of us approach prayer. What if God’s thinking “Great, it’s John again asking for wisdom and peace going to his presentation. Why doesn’t he ever just want to talk?”
I prefer to approach prayer like a conversation. My best prayer comes in the car, out loud, while driving down the road. Like I have a buddy sitting in the seat next to me. It’s not filled with exaltation, adoration, and supplication. It’s about what’s on my heart and my mind. It’s just talking it out with a really good listener. I picture David doing that, sitting in the cave by himself. It’s no complicated that way. It’s natural. It’s personal.