I used to be a “prayer warrior.” One youth group leader in High School cried after I prayed one evening. “I wish I could pray like you,” she sobbed. I sure knew how to talk to the Lord and, alongside a small group of other students, we were sure we could “move the hand of God.” We prayed in churches (Evangelical, Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Campus Crusade, House Churches and more); we prayed at school, we prayed on the beach, prayed at home, prayed while we drove, prayed while we read our bibles and brushed our teeth. We “prayed in the Spirit,” “prayed in tongues,” sang and sat in circles of intercession and confession and praise and supplication. We did it all. And God spoke with us all the time. Oh yes He did!
Those prayer-saturated days are over now. I gave up prayer a number of years ago. It wasn’t that prayer didn’t “work,” because it did! Prayer always re-assured me that I had a Friend, a Protector, that was bigger and stronger than any force in the universe. Prayer was my security blanket, my shield, my storm shelter…until it didn’t work.
I gave up praying when I woke up to realize it was really “all about Me.” The conversation was all one-sided. Now wait. I always prayed for others. I constantly asked the Creator of the Universe to “help” and to “be present with” and to “protect” and to “guide” just about everyone I met. Even during the years I was an Interfaith Chaplain with people excluded from most communities and congregations (poor and mentally ill folk, prisoners and people of the street) I was continually asked to “pray for” someone, something, somewhere. I learned it was better to use less words, to breathe and to sit with people. That was “prayer enough.” But I had to be honest: prayer was really for me. Not for others, not for God. Prayer was once all about Me-and-God, then prayer was all about what Others needed. A noble progression, maybe. But finally I had to be honest: prayer, in whatever form, was about me.
Have you noticed that just about every time you hear someone talking about “talking with God” it’s pretty much all about them, about the pray-er? The Almighty Lord of All is listening to them and every little detail of their lives is of special concern to the Lord (Allah, Krishna, Buddha, Father, Goddess, any Lord will do). Except, isn’t it odd that they have to keep asking for help with ceaseless worshipping or praising or thanking? Prayer seems to be a perpetually spiraling twister that can cut lives and communities apart. Doesn’t anyone find it strange that someone has to ask for help or protection or healing from a Big Someone whose resume presumably includes a line about “loving, caring, all-present, all-powerful savior”? We once believed our prayerful devotions could “move the hands of God” but why did those heavenly hands wait for US to ask? (I know, some say it’s a test, or a lesson or about trust and letting go. . .I know, that just makes no sense to me anymore, especially when we’re talking about disease, death, destruction or disaster).
From what we hear, the people of Oklahoma (maybe a majority of inhabitants of the U.S. Southern states) are prayer warriors. Now, I mean no disrespect for how suffering people handle their suffering. But from what I’ve heard, the people of OK sure know how to pray. They know how to speak to God and “He listens.” They pray for rain and it rains. They pray for protection and they’re protected. Oh, sorry, am I’m missing something? I heard some say, “God protected me and mine; we prayed so hard and we were saved,” while just across what used to be a street, others say, “God took my child and my house; the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh.” Other, more liberal praying folk say things like “Storms are natural; we pray that people are safe.” The most liberal (I was one of these) can say, “Prayer is to stand with the people; to pray is to re-build.” I understand. I just don’t see the point anymore. If prayer is a “relationship” with the Great One Who Gives a Damn (and a Blessing), then it seems, I mean it really appears, that–and I’m sorry to say it–there seems to be only one person relating with themselves. I mean, “prayer works” for some sometimes but not always and “prayer doesn’t work” for others so it’s re-shaped into “Well, God’s ways are mysterious and His purposes are. . . we don’t know; but we love Him anyway because He loves us, even when we pray He protects children and a bunch of them die huddled in a school.” This makes me think of some teachers in that public school in Moore who said they had kids singing “Jesus loves me” while their world was crashing down on them. Some didn’t make it. Didn’t Jesus love them?
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