This is my first post in a series of interviews and discussions on the act of prayer and the role it plays in our lives. It was the inspiration behind the project and based on some journal notes I took during an overnight retreat at Sustainable Faith Indy. Please check out my original post to learn more about my vision for this blog series.
I have historically never been shy about my skepticisms with prayer.
I think part of it comes from my usually rational mind always grappling with the idea that I, somehow, believe in a being that controls the entire universe. Seriously, I’m someone that questions the existence of Nutella (but really how do they make it so delicious). How in the world I’ve managed to kindle a small candle of faith is beyond me, but I'm really glad I have.
Don’t worry, this gets more positive.
God’s Burn Book and Our Bargaining Chips of Faith
I grew up in a United Methodist church. In Sunday School, you were taught that proper prayer involved sitting on your knees with your hands clasped in front of you. You were supposed to picture a cross and ask God for forgiveness because you may or may not have cut the hair on your sister’s Barbie doll. And then, the God of literally the entire universe (the one who sent his Son to atone for every sin in the world) was going to cross that little bad thing off of his worldwide Burn Book. Okay, from now on I’m totally picturing God with his own Burn Book. Is that sacrilegious?
Anyway, due to some of my learnings as a kid, prayer just always felt so selfish and one sided. That doesn’t mean I never took advantage of the “bargaining chip with God” method of prayer. Let’s be honest - who hasn’t promised to improve their sin:grace ratio in exchange for avoiding their ex in public or being relieved of puking all night because the Starbucks barista accidentally put milk in your latte (also, is my latent bitterness showing)? And I’ve never been one to feel super comfortable praying out loud. This is one of my fiancé Jeffrey’s preferred forms of prayer. Whenever he wants to pray over something together, I always just feel like I’m using God as a mediator for things I should really just tell him to his face.
Prayer and Vanity
I’m learning more every day that prayer can be surprisingly simple and greatly humbling and indescribably overwhelming. But, like most awesome things, it can be easily manipulated. To some, prayer is still a justification for continuing to do those things you maybe aren’t so proud of (or a way of trying to suppress it). And as far as falsely empathetic statements go, prayer can even sometimes be up there with “our sympathies”.
There’s even some evidence that prayer can be harmful. In 2006, Harvard Medical School conducted a $2.4 million study where they compared recovery rates on two sets of over 1,800 heart surgery patients. One set of patients were delivered the news that they had people “praying for them” prior to their procedures. The other set was not given such information. Ultimately, the patients who were aware of their prayers did not achieve the same recovery rate.
Now obviously, this is one study. We’ve all heard of or known someone who was healed of a potentially deadly illness and attributed it to miracle. I know of a few people in my own life who I could confidently make that claim toward. But it does seem that prayer can sometimes stir an internal pressure to “get better” (whether physically or mentally) that might create more harm than good.
So why, despite all the ways prayer can be manhandled, do I still crave it so much?
Help. Thanks. Wow.
Whenever I need a good cry with God, I read Anne Lamott. If you’ve never read one of her books, please stop reading this and go download one from Amazon. Seriously, any one. She’ll speak right to your soul and you’ll be like “I’m not sure how you’re doing this to me, Anne, but I’m not mad about it.”
In her book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, she writes about how every innate prayer can really be boiled down to one of those three words. She also recommends the fourth greatest prayer to be “help me not be such an ass,” which is actually my new inside joke with the Lord because He knows that’s a really hard thing for me.
Anyway, all of these phrases are so simple, but they invoke such an organic feeling of surrender that they easily eliminate the need for anything more elaborate. And as I’ve become more comfortable with praying to my God, surrender is what turns your one-way call into a dialogue. Surrendering to the fact that you surprisingly can’t control everything, surrendering to the unknown, surrendering to your feelings of inadequacy or guilt. Realizing that we are, in my boo Anne Lamott’s words, “so ruined, so loved, and in charge of so little.”
Help. Thanks. Wow. (To You Guys.)
I had my first interview today with my incredible friend Morgan Evans, and she shared with me her perspectives on prayer and how they’ve been molded after six weeks of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) discipleship training in Mazatlan, Mexico. I can’t wait to share our conversation with you in a few days. One of my big takeaways from our discussion was listening and distinguishing the voice of God in our everyday lives, and I think simple phrases like the ones recommended by Anne Lamott are ways to invite that conversation.
I’ll continue to update you on any moments of faith I experience throughout this journey, but in the meantime please stay tuned for my interview recap with Morgan - I’ll hopefully be posting it within the next week.
I also want to say that I am incredibly grateful for the mega positive response I’ve received around this blog series. I’ve already had a humbling amount of people reach out wanting to get together and discuss their views on faith and prayer. Please keep it coming. This project series is something that has a lot of personal drive and meaning, and it would have been something I would have done regardless of interest from my online community. But knowing people actually want to read and follow along affirms my belief that this subject is one that can create a common ground of discussion and reflection, and I can’t wait to provide that for you.
Until next time, thanks again for reading (for reals!) and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
XOXO - Eva Christine