When I was a little girl I thought prayer necessitated folded hands and kneeling bedside. The problem is that I was smart enough to know that monsters live under the bed, so I knew that kneeling next to the bed was just asking for it; prayers or not! Not much later in life I imagined that prayer deserved gowns and candles and chanting. Actually that makes me wonder what ancient religion I was channeling. Plus, it seems wise to never mix fire with long gowns. Now I’m at a very different stage in my prayer life. I just sat here and wrote a beautiful account of how I’ve matured into a solemn and professional praying Christian. Then I laughed out loud and deleted that steaming pile of lies. The truth is that sometimes praying is emotional and powerful, but mostly it’s awkward and organic. I have proof.
The following is an (almost) unadulterated account of a recent prayer session of mine:
I was in the car stewing over a rough family situation and obsessing over how to handle this delicately festering relationship. I finally decided it was time to give it over to God and I began to pray out loud:
Sheesh, why’d I say that so stupidly formal.
Yo, Big G.
Oh that’s just wrong. Sorry.
Okay, God, here it is, I need to unload this…
** Suddenly a car cuts me off, causing me to spill my hot coffee on my lap**
OH FIRETRUCK! (except, I didn’t yell firetruck, because who says that when they scald their crotch during a near-death road rage incident?)
Oh great, I just said that during prayer. I’m sorry. Wow. Um, God? Did you hear that? Of course you did. Duh! Yeah, so, I’m a hot mess, obviously my problems are probably my fault. Throw a poor dog a bone? I may not be the most lost sheep in your herd. I’m just the one walking in circles and butting my head into the fence over and over…
Beautiful prayer time. Just precious.
The only reason I share this ridiculousness is because sometimes prayer seems like it’s supposed to be beautiful like a Norman Rockwell painting. It feels like it requires fancy clothes, gentle words, and pomp and circumstance. In reality, prayer can be as messy as life. Prayer is a conversation with God. Sometimes those conversations are thoughtful and eloquent, but more often they are sloppy and barely coherent. And that is okay. Better than okay: It’s important and necessary. If you wait until you think you are all put together, or until you have the perfect words, to take your needs to God you will rarely, if ever, get there.
My prayers are more like a slop bucket filled with life’s messy leftovers. That sometimes feels like a really unfortunate gift to offer God. If prayers were given line numbers according to their eloquence, I’d be waiting outside, in the cold and around the corner. But thankfully (and thank God) prayer is not like that. It is beautiful just to offer genuine prayers about genuine life, laid before our genuine God. I like to think it’s okay to get real and get messy. Prayer isn’t about coming to God once you feel worthy of being listened to. It’s about realizing that you have been listened to all along. And you have always been worthy.
And, don’t drink hot coffee and drive. Or at least be smart and use a travel mug with a lid. Better yet, maybe you should pray for me.