I Was a Failure at Prayer

And what I learned because of it
I Was a Failure at Prayer

Ever since I became a Christian, I've worried about praying. Should I pray to God the Father? To Jesus? To the Comforter God sent to advocate for us after Jesus left our world? Should I favor unmistakably sacred topics—gratitude, praise, others' salvation—over my daily worries and complaints? And how, precisely, does one go about conversing with someone not physically present?

Expert advice on prayer abounds. At the Christian university where I teach, chapel speakers promote everything from praying directly from Scripture to "just being quiet and listening." Orthodox speakers recommend the "Jesus Prayer": "Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me, a sinner." Other speakers say prayer is simply a conversation with God, and I think, Simply?! Just a regular old conversation with someone I can't see, hear, or touch, and whose voice is so tricky to sort from others', especially from the voices of my own hopes and fears?

My measly prayers typically amount to internal gasps of Help! in a crisis or middle-of-the-night anxieties I call "pray-worrying." Occasionally I add a perfunctory—and usually long overdue—remembrance of someone else's problems. Or let out a "Wow!" in recognition of some dazzling evidence of God's creativity. Sometimes, though, I go whole days without conversing with God at all.

I'm especially ungifted in the area of public prayer. I covet others' ability not only to remember long lists of others' needs but to reformulate them into communiqués that don't sound, as mine do, wacky or false.

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May 25

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