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Finding new ways to connect with God
I feel like I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out the right way to pray.
If prayer life is a journey, I’ll be honest and say that much of my journey I’ve been a little lost and off the beaten path. Was I supposed to feel something? Was I supposed to hear something? How does this work exactly??? Praying was HARD. But whyyyy was it so hard??? I saw others around me acting like they really enjoyed their “prayer life” and got so much out of it, but I always felt awkward and lost when I tried to pray - and don’t even get me started on how weird I felt if I was called upon to pray OUT LOUD in FRONT OF PEOPLE. There really wasn’t much I’d rather NOT do in life than that. For many years, I just chalked it up to me not being a good “pray-er”.
My parents were devoted Christians, so I was taught from a young age that having a relationship with God (and Jesus) was so very important. Praying was a big part of developing that relationship. However, I found myself consistently struggling with prayer. I would get on my knees, fold my hands, and talk to God, but… I don’t know, it just didn’t seem to work like everyone said it was supposed to. Sometimes it felt like God showed up, but most of the time, I just felt like I was doing it wrong. Something was missing.
So what is prayer exactly???
In my youth, I really only thought prayer was about one thing: Asking God for stuff. And by “stuff” I mean just about anything. It could be material things for us. It could be for health or wisdom or any of the spiritual gifts. It could be for opportunity, wealth, discernment, a better job, a husband or wife. It could be for protection from the devil or any other evils that might be lurking around us. I later learned that this kind of prayer was called a petitionary prayer. We are petitioning God to intervene on our behalf.
There is a old joke I recall about petitionary prayer:
A man is desperately looking for a space in a church parking lot, prior to a wedding where he is the best man. He is running late and becomes desperate, so he cries out, “God, I’ll go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life if you’ll just find me a parking space now!” Suddenly a spot opens up. “Oh, never mind God,” he says. “I just found one.”
Ha! You see, therein lies one problem with only focusing on petitionary prayers. How many times have I overlooked God’s answered prayers and just chalked them up to coincidence? How many times have I overlooked God working in my life, choosing instead to believe I did it all by myself? How can I prove it was God’s intervention and not something I created on my own?
There is nothing wrong with petitionary prayers. Even Jesus instructed us to pray that way: “Give us this day our daily bread”. Asking for God’s help isn’t a bad thing. It’s one way to connect with God. However, as I grew older and deeper in my faith, I became aware that my prayer life could be so much more. My connection with God was lacking, and my prayer life was part of the problem. It was one-dimensional, and frankly… spiritually infantile.
Before I leave the topic of petitionary prayers, I want to say that keeping a prayer journal has helped me answer those questions above. When I write out my prayer requests and pray over them each morning, I also start seeing a pattern of response from God. It’s delightful to put a little check beside each request that has been answered in some way. It doesn’t always get answered the way I wanted, but it does indeed get answered and it’s hard to ignore the patterns that begin to unfold. Seeing how God chooses to answer those prayers can be very eye-opening when I see it actually written down on paper. I sometimes find mysterious ways God connects the dots in the people and circumstances that I am praying for. Seriously, if you don’t have a prayer journal, I highly recommend it.
Several years ago when I started my faith deconstruction, one of the first things I started breaking down was prayer. I wanted to find new ways to speak to and listen to God. I started learning SO MUCH about the types of prayers available to us and it kind of blew my mind! I had spent my whole religious life in a very small box of beliefs about God and as I look around, I can see it’s pretty common. When you are raised up in one religious belief, you tend to only use the resources available to you from the spiritual leaders in that one religion. It’s really a shame because there are so many other spiritual practices all over the world that have helped others connect to God, and yet most religions tend to advise against going outside the walls of their specific religion or denomination to find and connect with God. I remember one particular leader in my church advising me against going to other church services, reading about other religions, or even having close friends that weren’t part of our particular faith. He said it would be “too easy for Satan to get into my heart and brain and confuse you. You might lose your way.” Lose my way????? Shudder. Well, I certainly didn’t want to get lost so I just stuck to the only way that I was taught was the direct road to God. Sigh… Oh, how much we miss out on because of fear.
Most of you know my story, but at one point in my life, I walked away from religion and God altogether because the “way” I was being taught just wasn’t working in my life and I honestly didn’t see it manifesting itself in the lives of people around me in a good way either. When I eventually started my journey back to God, praying was the first thing I wanted to “deconstruct”.
There has to be more to it than just bowing my head, closing my eyes and asking God for a bunch of things that he supposedly already knows that I want — or telling him how I feel about things when he supposedly already knows how I feel. Or asking forgiveness for things that I’m not even sure are “sins” anymore.
So I started doing some research on prayer and how others do it. One of the first books I ever read that really opened my eyes to some different ways to approach prayer is a book by author Diane Moody called Confessions of a Prayer Slacker. I immediately related to the title…lol… so I dove right in! While it’s written from a Christian perspective, I believe there are helpful instructions for anyone, no matter their religion that might get them “out of their prayer box” so to speak.
The more I researched about prayer and the “right way to pray” I learned that there really is no right way to pray, but there are thousands of ways to pray! I learned that petitionary prayers were only one tiny way to approach prayer time. There were also intercessory prayers, contemplative prayers, breath prayers, arrow prayers, corporate prayers, and meditation. There were prayers of thanksgiving, supplication (what the heck is supplication?- it’s really just a fancy word for petitionary), adoration, forgiveness and more.
Today, this is what I think about prayer in general: I think each person’s prayer life is unique to them and that it morphs and changes as we grow spiritually. I’ve learned that prayer can be about acknowledging our own feelings and intentions, as well as fostering a deeper connection with God. It helps us get honest with ourselves and practice mindfulness. Prayer changes me, as much or more than it changes the people or situations I’m praying about.
Prayer is a huge part of my journey towards wholeness.
In the last few years, I have gotten bolder and started including other spiritual practices to help enhance my prayer life. Learning about meditation and contemplation has been a wonderful addition. I also have learned that my environment is super important when I’m going into deep prayer. I can’t have distractions. Something that is very helpful for me is to put on some music to “set the tone” for the spiritual practice I’m about to engage in. Sometimes I’ll put on a worship song to set my intentions, but my favorite music these days is just something calming and instrumental. Nothing with words to distract my thoughts. Just music to calm my soul and let my mind know that it’s ok to shut down other thoughts for awhile. (*I’ll put a link at the bottom of this newsletter with some of my favorites).
There is also the acronym of P.R.A.Y that I learned from the Lectio 365 daily devotional app, which I have on my phone and use often.
P — Pause (pausing to be still)
R — Rejoicing and Reflecting (rejoicing in what God has done and reflecting on his goodness)
A — Ask (asking God to help us and others)
Y — Yield (yielding to his will in our lives, come what may)
I have used that P.R.A.Y approach often and it’s one of my favorite practices in the mornings. But a new prayer practice that has really been super helpful to me lately is called “The Examen”. There are basically 5 steps to this prayer practice and it’s a good one to do at night before bed. It can vary a bit but here is my version of it:
Gratitude — I start by thanking God for his favors.
Review — What happened today? What made me happy? Stressed? Confused? Where did I see God show up?
Request for Clarity — Where did I “sin”? Where did I betray myself or God? Where did I turn away from any invitations to grow in love?
Forgiveness — ask for God’s pardon. Ask for help in pardoning others. Ask for help in knowing where I might need to seek a pardon from someone I may have injured.
Grace/Resolve — ask for God’s grace to help me as I move forward.
I actually add a sixth step, which I call “Silence”. I sit silently for a bit, giving God the chance to enter into the conversation a bit more. More often than not, this ends up being super beneficial.
I think the bottom line is that prayer is a way of seeking God. And I encourage anyone who feels stuck in their prayer life to be bold and search out new ways to enhance your prayer life. Don’t let the fundamentalist voices in your head tell you that their way to do it is the only way. There is more than one way to connect with our Divine Creator.wrote a beautiful essay recently that touched me. It is titled “Someone else’s deconversion” One of the quotes from that essay is this:
“I’m not afraid for you. If you’re honestly seeking God, I believe you will find what you’re looking for even if it looks different than what I have found.” - S. Bessey
So don’t be afraid, dear ones. God is yearning to be found by you, and in his graciousness he has not only made one path to get there. I believe there is an infinite number of ways to connect with our God. To spend time with the Divine. To be intertwined with the Spirit.
How about you? Do you have a prayer practice that you love?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Love ya’ll… Marcia
This is what I love to listen to during my morning prayer/meditation time these days It is music by William Augusto. He has several albums out of instrumental worship music. I like this project because each track is about 17 mins long. I have these in a morning playlist on my phone with a worship song in between in each track. That way I can start with one of my favorite worship songs and then settle in for a 17 min reflection time. The music helps me also keep track of time so I don’t accidentally get caught up in my prayers and end up late for work or to a morning appointment. Click here or on the image below to link to his music!
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