When I started working as a parish nurse, visiting people in their homes, at the hospital or rehab, I would typically end our visit with prayer. I was always at bit nervous about this. Will I say the right thing? Will it sounds stupid or will I ask for the wrong thing? Will it make sense to those I pray for? Will my words of prayer add to their comfort or
have i not identified what is really the cause of their distress and name it to God? Even the sound of my own voice praying was weird. My hands were sweaty from nervousness. I have prayed all my life, but rarely stopping to do it except in church or places where others lead prayer and not leading prayer out loud.
I have always been a walking or falling asleep prayer person…talking to God inside my head as i move through my day here and there, asking for help, guidance, wellness, protection for myself or others. I often pray as I fall into bed at night, and my brain quiets down and my world spins slow enough for things to stop whooshing by and allowing my worries to come forward. (As a child the picture above my bed was a hand stitched version of “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray…” With that as our cue, my mom prayed with me many nights when I was little and indicated that I should continue the habit on my own as i grew older). Now I will lay there with my eyes closed and pray, and if I am feeling more anxiety than normal I will crawl out of bed and get on my knees next to the bed to pray. This change of position feels like I am being more attentive to how I address God and help me to focus more deeply. If it is winter and the room is cold, I have even just closed my eyes and imagined myself in this position of prayer to heighten my focus. This does not happen every night. It happens when I am especially worried about something, or if I have actually stopped long enough to register my gratitude for a blessing(s) from that day. I have no dependable time or habit to my prayer life. I wish I did and it is often on my list of personal goals. I sustain for a while and then I let the world and life in it win every ounce of my attention and I forget.
My prayers are never poetic, or arranged in a prescribed way. Some are completely selfish, others are just plain lost in lack of discernment. I used to feel super bad about this and like a loser. Then I read a couple books on prayer. I knew prayer was talking to God. But I had not stopped to think about the connection between talking (and listening) to one another and relationship building in this context. If I want to be in relationship with God, and I know God created me and calls me His child…so clearly wants to be in relationship with me….we need to talk and listen to one another. This is prayer’s purpose!
I have a close friend named Joanna. We are close and stay close because we talk and listen to each other, we challenge each other, we are at each other’s sides and care deeply what happens for the other and what each other thinks. I do not speak to her poetically or at the same time each day, sometimes I am sitting, standing, eating, walking, cooking, on the phone, etc. when we talk/listen to one another. We don’t always agree, but we figure it out. Sometimes there are gaps of days when we don’t connect and other times we talk several times a day. Sometimes our conversations are serious, other times funny, at time we cry or even complain together. Now I am not trying to compare my friend, Joanna, to God (that’s another story:). Why? Because as great as she is, she can’t always be with me, she can’t promise to never leave me, she is not the Savior of my sinfulness. But from my relationship with her and others I can understand some of what it takes for me to be in relationship with God through prayer.
Another common misconception about prayer is that its all about the asking. But as we all know, relationship if not just one sided, it takes two. This means pray is also about listening too. I was not always thankful for this part until I came to days in my life when I was not sure what to pray for or recognized I may not know what’s best (don’t tell that to my kids!:). Even when I think I know what I want, I need to listen as God may have a perspective I need to consider. I heard someone say recently that we tend to make God small. God is huge, everywhere and all knowing. God has a bigger view of the future. It makes sense to hear God out.
As I respond to my young adult kids, listening to their fears, anxiety, seeing how small they are in a big world I know the best tool I can give them as early as possible is prayer, remind them often and let them know you are praying. Encourage free flowing, their own style and words, heart words and heart listening prayer with their Savior, the one who called them His child first and forever, and marked them at baptism.
As I continue to visit people and pray with them I have gotten increasing more comfortable. The turning point of this was when I realize I needed to let God in to direct my words when praying for others, I needed to let Him work through me. So please don’t fear prayer, don’t judge yourself harshly for how you pray. Start with easy conversations, have little or no rules, don’t make God small and remember you can never make Him leave. Your conversations with God are the safest ones you will ever have. And last, don’t forget to listen.
Kaye Wothe, parish nurse