Thoughts on Prayer...

As you know if you've been reading for a while, I have been trying to be more disciplined and consistent in my prayer life. I thought I would share some of my struggles. Perhaps someone else struggles in a similar way. Please feel free to offer feedback or share your own thoughts on the subject.

In my book I wrote about how difficult it is for me to pray out loud in the presence of others. I become extremely self-conscious. In any other setting, I am seldom at a loss for words. Public speaking has never fazed me. But when put on the spot to lead a prayer, I become nervous and inhibited. If I pray from my heart, I cry. If I try not to cry, I feel like I'm offering a speech rather than a genuine prayer.

Because most of my friends are not this inhibited about praying, I have wondered how much this may have to do with my religious upbringing. Women never lead prayers where I grew up. Actually, in most cases, there wasn't a person who said/lead a prayer in a corporate setting (other than saying grace over a meal). In the church group I grew up in, everyone muttered quiet prayers of their own simultaneously. Some were loud, but most whispered softly. I've heard people say (who were not accustomed to this kind of praying) that it sounded kind of like chanting. But what I remember is that most of the time I wasn't praying. I just closed my eyes. I don't remember praying much in all those years except at a time of need, desperation or crisis.

When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I prayed for her. I asked God to heal her. He didn't (at least not physically). In my book I shared about how I had asked God to give me a Scripture and I opened my Bible to the blank page between the Old and New Testaments. Meanwhile, all around me people were receiving Scriptures and experiences saying my mom would be healed. But she died. I've prayed for many people to be healed who ultimately died.

Because I don't view faith as a form of positive thinking, my faith has never suffered as a result of God not answering a prayer the way I wanted Him to. I know there's a plan. I know all of my prayers are not according to His will (no matter how much I want them to be). And I really do believe He is working all things for my good; even the hard things. I don't ever remember doubting His love for me. But I always wondered if the details of my life actually mattered to Him. My mom prayed for parking spaces. I never could pray about trivial things. I thought it was ridiculous to think God cared about the insignificant details of my life. And I have never liked to ask Him for things. Not because I don't want His help. I think it's because I feel unworthy and insignificant. I no longer believe that God doesn't care about the details of my life, but I still wouldn't even consider asking Him to give me a good parking space.

My struggle with prayer is not about faith or thinking He doesn't hear me. I know He does because there have been times when I absolutely knew I "heard" a response from Him (not an audible voice, but an inner voice that said something to my heart). Some of the prayers I have received the most undeniable answers to were prayed one time. And other prayers that I prayed over and over seemed to go unanswered. This confuses me.

The easiest and most natural prayers for me are just thanking God for His grace and mercy to me. Prayers of thanksgiving just roll out of me and evoke such emotion. Those are the prayers I offer all through the day, as I go to sleep at night, when I wake up in the morning. I am so aware that everything good in my life is a gift from Him. And I know that many of the hard things I've faced have also been for my good. I have learned and grown so much as a result of things I have suffered. I believe that is why God ordains suffering in all our lives. I don't resent the challenges He's placed in my path; or that He has allowed to be there. I'm thankful for the way He has redeemed my suffering and even my bad choices.

The prayers I struggle to pray are the "petitioning" prayers. I have a prayer list. When someone asks me to pray for them, I try to write it down so I will remember. People frequently say to one another, "Pray for me." And I often wonder how many people actually remember to pray after saying, "I'm praying for you," or "You're in my prayers." I don't want to say those words to people lightly. So many times I have felt the need to tell someone, "Well, I'm not exactly a prayer warrior. I say little prayers throughout the day..." I feel the need to be honest about my inadequacy in this area.

When I pray for the people on my list, I always wonder one thing. I have even asked God this question. But, of course, He hasn't answered it. I wonder why God wants me to ask for the same things over and over, day after day. If He already has a plan and knows the outcome; if He is only going to answer according to His will; and if I trust Him to know what's best; Why does He want me to go down a list of items day after day petitioning Him for the same requests? I just don't get it.

There is a part of me that doesn't want to ask over and over. Even when I pray for John, I struggle with not understanding why God wants me to beg Him for John's health or healing. I feel more peace about just putting John (or others) in His hands and trusting Him for His will. Pleading for a certain outcome at times feels like torture to me. And I find myself not wanting to do it. The reason I do is because His Word tells me to. So there must be some benefit in this exercise. But so often I find myself just not wanting to pray. And that makes me feel like a failure as a Christian.

Surely prayer is not this difficult for everyone. I wonder why it is so challenging for me. And because of my perfectionistic upbringing, this leads to my feeling that I am a disappointment to God, that I just don't measure up and never will. Surely if I loved Him the way I say I do, I would not struggle so with prayer. As I typed that last sentence, my eyes filled with tears.

I'm doing so-so with my efforts to be more disciplined. The struggle is still there. I have had a lot of distractions the last week or so and my resolve has wavered. But I'm not giving up. I've asked God to help me grow in this area. I get tired of hearing myself repent for failing again and again. Perhaps I am viewing it as performance because that is how I am hard-wired. Then again, I don't know how to shake that totally.

I just felt like sharing my struggle. Maybe it will resonate with someone else. And maybe one of you who IS a prayer warrior will pray for me to someday be one too. I feel that I am still in my infancy ... except when it comes to being thankful. I can't imagine how I could be more thankful in my heart. When I think of God and His love for me, I am filled with gratitude. Even in the things I can't fully understand, I trust that He has a reason and a purpose for everything. I accept that all of my questions won't be answered in this life. I just wonder at times if I'm the only one like me, or if someone else has these same struggles.

Somehow, I don't think I'm as unique as I might be tempted to believe.


Corinne said…
While I am not what anyone would call a religious person, I am a spiritual person, and I find that many times a day I find myself trying to voice appreciation for the gifts in my life. When it comes to asking for help or guidance I find it very difficult to voice the need. My opinion is that much of the praying we do to ask for help is so unnecessary. We all have a path to walk and many choices to make. Ultimately, we will have walked the path that we were mean to have taken. I don't believe that this loving God you follow finds it necessary for you to "beg" for anything. He knows what is in your heart, and what your desire is. He knows you care for his "flock". Keep giving your thanks and sending your messages of love, faith, and loyalty. That is the important stuff.
Linda Greer said…
Shari, I feel as if I wrote a large portion of this myself. I have confided to a few friends that I feel like I am ordering God around when I pray, leaving me feeling selfish and ashamed. Thank you for sharing, you are such a beautiful inspiration to many. Linda Greer
Anonymous said…
Shari, even those who seemingly pray so easily struggle at times with various aspects of prayer. For some folks, it varies. For others, the struggle, like yours, is more specific. Just as God has made us so unique, I doubt that He expects us all to pray exactly the same way as everyone else.

One of the hardest things about prayer for me are not the "yes or no" answers, but the ones that are the "not now/wait" ones. But as I firmly believe that God's plan and timing are perfect, I try to content myself to wait.

We are called to "pray without ceasing", and thus, every aspect of our lives is prayer. In monastaries, the physical work is considered as much a prayer as the words spoken. Our lives are to be a living sacrifice for Him, and as such, we are to be a living prayer for those around us, whether it be in making them laugh, comforting them, feeding them, or just making sure they know they are loved. What we do for the "least of these" is our living example of what we believe. It is in doing these things that we are close to God and in, if you will, conversation with Him.

Some people are not called to pray publically, and it pains me that individuals are often judged as to their spirituality on the basis of how well they can pray aloud.

As personal as your relationship is to Him is the manner in which you should take care of your prayer life. I am sure, my friend, that God hears much from and about you. :>)

Alice in PA
Shari said…
I have not had a chance to get on my blot today, but I wanted to take a minute tonight to let you guys know how much your comments meant to me this morning!

I always enjoy comments on my blog and I was really hoping somebody would give me some feedback on this one! Thanks for reading and allowing me to share my struggles with you. And thank you for sharing your hearts with me!
Shari said…
See, I do miss typos now and then.
Blot = Blog.
Dana said…
"Surely prayer is not this difficult for everyone."

Maybe not. But it is this difficult for some others of us. Thank you for sharing your heart about this. I was not in an abusive church, but in an abusive marriage. I hate anything that looks even the slightest bit manipulative. I hate pretending like things aren't the way they are. Prayer confuses me on these counts and others. Like you, I find it easier to just trust myself or those I love to God than to figure out how praying for them fits in the whole of the plan God is working out for them/me. Sometimes I get madder if I think God is answering some of my prayers than I do when I'm not sure that He does anything in response to my prayers. It's less that I'm not sure God can do amazing things, and more that it is very confusing that he sometimes does and sometimes doesn't, even though he always can... His ways are a mystery to me, and I find I'm okay with that, up to a point.

Sometimes I also get overwhelmed by his mercies to me, and his grace and all, and it is easier to acknowledge that, than to pray "for" someone or something. And sometimes (maybe mostly) I just feel what I'm feeling for somebody else and turn those feelings toward God, in a sort of heart-felt trusting. But sometimes, life is just so raw that even doing that feels like too much, and then I cry for myself, or out of myself and my own confusion and trust he sees and knows that, and that he is good with that, and with me. I have found such comfort from the prayers in the Old Testament, the laments, really, and such freedom from being able to be so honest about how uncertain I am about God's trustworthiness. If I had a "life verse" (which I don't), it would probably have to be something like Jeremiah saying, "Your help seems as unpredictable as a seasonal brook."

I wonder sometimes if the biggest evidence of my trust in God is that I'm so not afraid of how "badly" I pray or even trust. My heart is a disaster, at times, not just from the abuse I suffered, but also from the fairly sudden death of my Dad recently from lung cancer related pneumonia, and from overwhelming other personal and family issues. It's funny, because I'm never too sure about the Lord in so many areas, but I know he suffered, and that is a consolation to me, and I know I'm safe with him, crying out to him the way that I am--questions, doubts, warts and all--not all theologized up properly.

Well, that's quite a ramble unleashed by reading your words. Thank you for telling of your struggle with prayer, here.
Dana said…
Oops, I'm guessing, based on the long version of my comment being posted, that you got inundated with several comments from me. It kept saying it wouldn't accept my comment, because it was too long, so I'd shorten it and try again. This looks like my first version, so I would guess that you probably got them all. I'm sorry about that!
Shari said…
Hey Dana, no problem. I only recently enabled comment moderation because of a concern I had about someone from my past (not in CGT) possibly leaving a harrassing comment anonymously on my blog. I wanted to be able to intercept anything ugly that might show up. And that is the ONLY reason I have to approve comments now before they are published.

I did get several versions of your comment and I figured you might have thought they were not going through. I didn't notice that they weren't all identical until after I'd published this one. But it is not too long in MY opinion! You may have noticed that I am rather wordy myself when I start expressing my thoughts. : )

Please feel free to leave as many lengthy comments here as you feel to. I have written too many words to fit into a comment before. And I just continue in another text box! Thank you so much for sharing your heart with me here. I really enjoy feedback from readers and appreciated your thoughts!
Shari said…
And, by the way, I was also in an abusive marriage for twenty-seven years. So I understand those wounds as well.
Dana said…
Thanks, Shari,
Sometimes it really gets to me, how very much sadness and suffering there is. I'm sorry you went through 27 years of domestic abuse, in addition to all the suffering in the church. I've remarried, and I can't believe how wonderful safe feels. The first time around, I don't think it even really crossed my mind that I could be unsafe in a marriage. Now, I'm thankful for it every day, over and over. I love realizing that I'm not afraid of mind games or disdain or manipulation or.... I'm not afraid of destroying someone else (because that's, ironically, a fear that was drilled in me in my first marriage.) I still have side effects, besides the propensity to trigger about stuff, from that first marriage, namely a deep exhaustion and burnout that is only very slowly getting better. But, I am safe, and I am happy and I am at peace and so very thankful. Anyway, I'm sorry you have also walked that path, but I'm really glad for the healing you've experienced and how it seems you are able to help and encourage others, too.
Shari said…
Dana, I am also remarried and very happy now. I have an amazing husband who is so good to me. I never imagined marriage could be so easy. We have both been through some tough times in the past, which only enhances our appreciation for each other and our fairytale marriage. Because of the way my life worked out, I can't even be sorry about what I've been through in the past. I think it probably made me stronger, wiser, and definitely much, much, much more appreciative of the wonderful husband and marriage I am blessed to enjoy today. Same with my past church experience. I have such a deeper appreciation today for the cross and God's grace after so many years of not knowing the true meaning of either!

It sounds like we lived through a lot of the same stuff. When you have lived that way for so long, it almost seems too good to be true to be so safe and secure. But I know exactly what you mean. My husband is such a good guy. He is mellow, easy going and a peace lover. If he thinks he has even hurt my feelings with a joke, it really bothers him. I am so thankful for his gentle and loving heart. I constantly thank God for the privilege of being his wife.