Updated: Jan 24, 2021
Do you ever start to pray and immediately stop because you have no clue what to say? Or you tell yourself you’re going to start praying more, but life just gets in the way and you simply forget? Or maybe you’ve just never really been the praying type.
What is it to you? Prayer, that is. Is it uber duber important? Is it a goal or a habit or not even a thought? Or maybe you feel it’s elusive, silly, intimidating, awkward, or possibly one-sided.
For me, prayer has become my Yeti cup. Something I never go anywhere without and always full to the brim.
But I wasn’t always like this. Before my twenties, my prayers were sporadic. I’d come and go in my belief and passion for prayer, as if it were a multivitamin—something I know is really good for me, but always forget about until I start feeling sick.
One day I’d passionately persist in conversing with Him. The next day it seemed like I focused on everything else but. Prayer quickly became empty and repetitive. Doubt slowly seeped in.
And now? Now, I’m building this relationship with God—and prayer is a means to maintain it, cultivate it, and strengthen it.
So, I’ve decided I need to share my journey. In this blog post I want to talk about how I got to this point of comfort and ease with prayer and with Him. If my own story could help at least one other person experiencing a time of uncertainty or doubt, then that’d be pretty damn sweet. Because, my mind hasn’t stopped getting filled with His words that I constantly feel the need to write down.
But prayer can be a tough subject for a lot of us. I rarely ever wanted to talk about it.
Which is why I want to talk about it.
To make light of a conversation that’s usually avoided. So, here’s a few questions that have caused me, and some others I’ve talked to, to distance ourselves from prayer and how I’m overcoming them:
1) “Is anyone listening?”
Well, I don’t think this life is ever going to be able to tell us that. It’s not a scientific fact. Nor is it something to be witnessed or perceived with our senses. We are literally goin’ off a hope and a prayer that He exists.
However, I believe the evidence is everywhere. I don’t think there’s anywhere I could look without seeing Him. I have my own personal proof of the power of prayer—and that’s enough for me.
I guess it’s more of a feeling than a fact for me. Some of you are probably laughing at that—and that’s fine. I get how it sounds. A bit magical, maybe. It used to get a giggle out of me, too.
But it’s because of this “magic” that I just can’t help but believe it all. Not the facts, or lack thereof—they aren’t why I believe God is on the other end of my incessant and borderline annoying prayers. Actually, facts have nothing to do with why I believe. I’m cool with not having a set of logical premises or a bunch of repeatable steps to follow in order to get to Him.
I think that kind of defeats the purpose of faith.
To me, faith is believing in the unseen in the hopes that I have the most powerful entity in the universe on my side. Shit, if I’m gonna go around hopin’, might as well make it something good.
And why not, ya know? Why not believe that I can reach out to this omnipotent God whenever I want—to talk to Him, vent to Him, praise Him, love Him, and reveal my heart and soul to Him.
So I do. I do all of these things. Way more than I used to, too. I used to just force myself to stay awake at night in an attempt to run through all my requests. And more often than not I’d fall asleep halfway through.
I still do, by the way. (But what better way to enter the sleep world than through prayer?)
My belief exists in spite of Fact, and because of Choice. I choose to believe He’s listening.
“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” -Voltaire
The next reason is:
2) “I don’t know what to say.”
I think we have all come across this issue at least once. I had to push past this barrier that blocked me from delving deep into my thoughts. Definitely easier said than done.
Are you stuck, too? Here’s one of my favorite quotes from my neighbor and good friend, Stephanie, that might help get you started: “God wants to know the details.”
Like, when I ask Conrad how work went—I don’t want him to just say “It was good.” I want to know everything. Because I care about him. Because I want to be there with him at work even when I can’t physically be with him. I want him to know he can talk to me. That he isn’t alone. But also, by him telling me about what was on his sandwich and the problems he had with the copy machine, I feel like he wants to share all of his moments with me. He wants me here, and that feels good.
I think that’s what God would want. Because it’s what we want. We want the people we love to want us. So I tell Him whatever is in my heart and mind. Even when I’m questioning Him.
Because, no relationship can stay afloat without the buoyancy of communication.
When we stop talking to those we love, we bore holes in our own ships. So long as we remain silent or not fully truthful (with them or ourselves), the water will continue to rush in.
Taking the time to honestly pray with God is how He knows we still love Him and think of Him. It lets Him know we are comfortable enough to just hang out in our sweats without any make-up, and stay up late talking about all that lies within us.
“Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.” -Saint Teresa of Avila
When we pour ourselves out—without being filtered or refined—we can begin our growth and improvement.
When communication is relayed with honesty and openness and accepted with humility, a relationship will never sink.
Okay, but HOW do I pray?
I’ve come across many people (including myself) who want to pray, but aren’t quite sure what to say or how to say it and how often.
**Before I offer my input, please know that I’ve never studied theology. I went to church growing up, but I currently don’t belong to one. Anything that I write about is strictly learned from The Bible, other authors, and my own experiences.**
Personally, I don’t believe there’s any one particular formula that you should robotically insert your prayers into. There is the Lord’s prayer, though, that Jesus gives in Matthew 6:9-13 to help us out—which I think is a great example of all the things we should include:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,[a] but deliver us from the evil one.”
As Mark Norton points out in his book, “In The Words of Jesus,” we can use this as a model or template for our own prayers by including: praising Him, asking for His will to be done, “pray[ing] for our daily needs” and His help, then forgiveness and repenting, and then asking for His presence [Norton 142]. These are great things to include, but by no means do I think prayer is limited to them.
I believe that prayer comes in all forms. Prayer demonstrates a part of yours and God’s relationship, which is going to be different than everyone else’s. Since our relationships differ, then so will our conversations with Him.
But, Lauren—HOW? How do I pray?
The best advice I have for people either beginning their prayer journey or getting back into it is: just start talking. As if He were your best friend or your mom listening in the chair next to you, just open your heart and empty its contents into His hands.
What are you feeling? Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t leave things out. What are you afraid of, what’s holding you back, what mistakes have you made? All of it—everything. Just unload.
“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” -Psalm 55:22
Or maybe you don’t feel like talking. You don’t have to come to Him with this eloquent, edited speech with pretty vocabulary. In fact, you don’t even need words. He welcomes our feelings no matter the form they arrive in: a sigh, a grunt, a cry, shouts, whispers, downward glances, or complete silence.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” -Romans 8:26
To me, as long as we are with Him. That’s prayer. Being with and wanting God. And believing He will answer our prayers in a way that is best for us. In a way that will bring us closer to Him.
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” -Mark 11:24
Maybe you don’t pray because you’re afraid that He’ll be mad you haven’t talked to Him in awhile (or ever). But just imagine Him as a parent whose runaway child walked through the front door after months of silence—He’s really just going to be glad you came home.
Maybe you feel awkward. I definitely did at first.
It’s kind of like the beginning of a Netflix show. Typically, in the first few episodes I’m not quite sold, because the actors haven’t really developed their chemistry and everything is just starting out—you don’t feel a connection to the show, yet. But then, for some reason, you power through that initial awkwardness and you end up getting so dang hooked that you give up sleep, showers, and just life to sit down and binge-watch the crap out of it.
Well, praying to God is kinda like that. At first I was a little shaky. I felt weird talking to myself—or that’s what I thought I was doing. I always imagined what people would think if they saw me in my car talking to no one or pacing my living room floor just grumbling and rambling.
I soon realized that I needed to stop looking at myself from other people’s perspectives, and just start being. Who cares what my praying looks like? Sure I might be laughing and then tearing up and then dancing all in the span of 4 minutes, but I will only define myself through His opinion and no one else’s.
So, I began to work on worrying less of how others saw me and started thinking more of how God saw me.
Man, I’m still working on it.
Instead of feeling like I was talking to myself or an empty room, I practiced imagining God in the room with me, silently nodding His head in rhythm to my long-winded soliloquies and rolling His giant, planet eyes at my lame Dad jokes.
So, with more conscious practice, I began to feel less and less awkward with each prayer. And now God is that addictive show that I don’t want to ever stop watching.
Once you get going, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is and how wonderful it feels to keep going. There more you do it the easier it becomes!
3) “I’m too busy or too tired. Maybe tomorrow.”
This was (and sometimes still is) another reason I’d put prayer on the back burner. I felt that my prayers needed to always be extensive and hit all the bases (gratitude, requests, repentance, praise, etc.).
This all changed recently when I heard a sermon on prayer. The pastor recalled an old friend who told him,
“I don’t pray longer than five minutes, but I don’t go more than five minutes without prayer.”
I LOVED this idea. I used to see prayer as something I had to assign to a certain time slot on my to-do list. But this new perspective completely reformed it into being a constant conversation with God throughout my day.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
But if you’re like, “Wait, hold up—this sounds like it takes way more time and energy than the other option.” That’s okay! We are all different, with different schedules, and different ways of speaking. I just think it’s important to note that there’s more than one way to talk to Him.
For example, I say a big morning prayer when I’m in the shower and getting ready. Not only do I not feel the need to rush (unless I hear a baby crying), but it’s also a super awesome way to start my day.
“If I can start my day out by saying my prayers and getting myself focused, then I know I'm doing the right thing. That 10 minutes helps me in every way throughout the day.” -Mark Wahlberg
God has become my spiritual espresso, jump-starting me into a positive, care-free state-of-mind to peacefully deal with whatever the day brings.
With my divinly-inspired jitters, I cling tightly to Him in the ensuing hours.
Now, I’m working on talking to him as much as I can. Even if it’s just a quick, “Hey thanks for all those green lights,” or “Whaaaaaat, I just finished a blog post right as both kids woke up—you are too good!”
I think He likes when we praise Him and when we soak up all He does for us. I mean, what father doesn’t love to hear his kids say how awesome he is?
Also, by giving Him thanks for everything in my life I’ve begun to see how many things I have to be grateful for.
After prayer, I feel lifted up by my blessings, rather than bogged down by my burdens.
I think one of the keys here is to really try to bring Him into as many moments as possible. The more moments I include Him in, the more I feel His presence. And the more I feel His presence, then the more I experience the fruit of His Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22-23
How beautiful is that? It’s through prayer that we have access to all of these things in each passing second. We just have to invite Him in. I think, like anyone else, God wants to know that we want Him. That we need Him.
My trouble is, I love inviting Him in, but I always end up talking to everyone else at the party. In other words—I get distracted like a mo-fo.
My mind is the definition of squirrel-brain. So now I’m also working on consciously recognizing distraction and how to recenter myself when it comes along.
When I used to be presented with a spare moment to pray, I’d almost always talk myself out of it. “I don’t have the energy,” or, “I’ll pray later,” or, “I really need to blah, blah, blah.” But I think it always came down to the biggest reason: it just took so much energy that I could give to other things happening in that moment.
Whenever this thought would come into my head, I practiced saying these things to myself:
“No, prayer isn’t wasting time, it’s teaching me to value it. It’s an investment that doesn’t always give instant results,” and,
“God never left—I was the one who moved far away and never returned His letters,” or,
“Prayer is only hard because Truth can be hard. Embrace the room to grow, rather than fearing the aftershock of change.”
Instead of seeing prayer as that multivitamin that I could live without, I now think of God as my only source of water. Even when I feel I have to hike mountains and traverse oceans to get to Him, I embark and I bring all the Hope I can carry.
“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” -Deuteronomy 4:29
But if you’re like, “Changing my thoughts isn’t going to change how busy I am,” Then here’s a little piece of advice my grandma gave me after I told her I didn’t have enough time for the guy I was seeing years ago:
“Honey, if you really loved him, you’d make time.”
The truth is, nobody has enough time.
“It takes deliberate and continuous effort to carve out time in our overfull schedules to listen to the voice of God.” - Sheila Walsh
We’re all busy. But it’s up to us how we choose to spend our time and who we want to give it to. I had to reexamine my values to see which things didn’t belong and which things were missing.
Instead of spending three hours a day on social media, I gave them to God, my family, and my dreams. I still feel busy as all heck, but at least now I don’t feel guilty about where my time is going.
Now, I try not to even debate beginning a prayer. Debating it wastes time and I always talk myself out of it (as I do with most things). I’ve learned that I am most hesitant of beginnings. So I don’t even give myself a chance to think about whether or not to start.
There’s always a reason not to.
So now, I just…start. Just start talking to Him or I just start doing the dishes or I just start a drawing. And then after that, it’s all momentum!
The next reason I hear quite a bit is,
4) “I don’t think it works or changes anything.”
I once believed this, too. There was a time in my life when I felt pretty alone. Looking back, though, I’m grateful for the hard years, because it’s in the darkest depths of myself where I found God.
I think what ends up happening—at least this is how it did for me—is we wander so far into the pitch-black caverns of life, we end up getting lost and we feel like there’s no way out. In a place where sunlight can’t reach, we can’t tell up from down. The exit might be steps away or miles. The darkness can be paralyzing. Frightened of the unseen, we crouch down feeling the need to give in. Why try to escape when I don’t even know which direction I’m facing?
That’s when I refused to stay down. I refused to let the darkness win. So I stood up, brushed the dirt off, and set out to find a light. I continued to stumble in my blindness but I had hope that I would one day find a way out.
That’s how I see my faith. I may not know if my next step will have ground beneath it, but I push forward. Why not live with Hope?
“Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.” -C.S. Lewis
As Pascal’s Wager famously asks, “Do we lose anything by believing in a God who might not exist?” and “What is there to gain if He’s real?” Which is of greater consequence? Worst case scenario you spent a huge part of your life talking to yourself and believing in something beautiful. Best case? you win a one-way trip to a never-ending, painless paradise filled with everyone your heart beats for.
You can have lunch with Socrates, sing the blues with Dylan, and drink a coffee with Jesus. Um, that only sounds like the coolest day ever. Yeah, I’ll take that one.
I mean, the days are going to pass anyway. So I might as well spend them believing that there IS a Light and it’s so, so close. In fact, it’s right here within me—within every single one of us.
So, I kept walking until I finally found Him. The more I wanted to find Him, the more often He showed up. As time went on, I realized He never really left. He was right here all along.
“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” -Lamentations 3:25
“The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.” -Psalms 145:18
Turns out, the unseen isn’t something to be feared, but embraced and even sought after—because God’s there, too. When we fully trust in Him and His will—that’s when fear and anxiety disappear.
“At some point you either live perpetually anxious or give in and embrace the fact that your life is now completely out of your control.” -Jennie Allen, “Anything,” Pg. 147
But also, I think He waits for us to ask Him for help. “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”-Matthew 6:8. I imagine He does what I would do as a parent. I know what Charlie needs, but I’m going to give her space to grow and act independently until she decides she needs my help.
Rather than butt in and do everything for her, I want her to ask me when she needs me. Not just because it feels good to hear that she wants my help, but because she needs room to learn how to live autonomously—how to become her own person.
I think God wants us to include Him before He intrudes and does everything for us.
And the last reason:
5) “If prayer is so awesome, why haven’t mine been answered?”
I’ve wondered this quite a bit actually.
If you’re wanting scientific data, mathematical proof, or a clear-cut cause and effect, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint.
Actually, wait—no. I do have one fact for you.
There are things that I (and a countless many) have prayed for that ended up working out in some strange and mysterious ways. And there’s also these everyday blessings that He bestows upon us.
“Every day I feel is a blessing from God. And I consider it a new beginning. Yeah, everything is beautiful.” -Prince
God is the reason behind my children sleeping safely at night. He’s the one who cured so many of my loved ones. He’s the reason friends have survived inch-from-death car accidents. Why I’ve made it out of so many situations I never thought I would. He’s put such significant people in my life so intricately and swiftly that I know He is the Author behind these stories. They are too ironically written to just be chance.
“We don’t follow God just because He is God, just because He is boss. We follow Him because He builds beautiful stories, even if they are not easy.” -Jennie Allen, “Anything,” Pg. 135
After so many coincidences and super cool happenings, I knew that there was something or someone out there orchestrating all of this.
How do I know it’s Him?
It’s not something my mind knows as an absolute, irrefutable fact. It is something my body knows. Like it’s being pulled towards Him. In the same way a baby turtle feels an inner calling to dive into the depths of the sea. I just know that this elaborately magnificent universe is all too precise to not have an all-knowing Creator.
I feel it in my bones.
So, before I talk about the prayers that we feel haven’t been addressed, I want to emphasize the many that have. Many prayers do get answered. Miracles do happen. And so do these amazing little miracles of just being alive in each second! Ahhhh, I really want to go off on a whole other tangent of life’s awesomeness—squirrel-brain at its finest!
But, yeah. So many good things happen every day that answer not just our prayers, but our needs. Amazing, beautiful, and seemingly impossible things.
“If you believe indeed in the Lord Jesus for the salvation of your soul, if you walk uprightly and do not regard iniquity in your heart, if you continue to wait patiently, and believingly upon God; then answers will surely be given to your prayers.” -George Muller
I think it’s crazy important to remember that even though Matthew tells us in 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” we don’t always get exactly what we want.
But, I believe we will receive what we need. And what we need might look a whole lot different than the dreamy images in our heads and prayer requests.
“He always gives us what we need to accomplish His purposes.” -Jennie Allen, “Anything,” Pg. 140
More often than not, His answers to our problems are not what we were ready for. There have been many times when I thought He didn’t hear me. When, really, I just overlooked the white life-ring He threw me, because I was too busy looking for an orange one.
“God answers prayers, but He doesn’t always answer them your way.” -Lou Holtz
Anyway, I think we begin to question the effectiveness of prayer when we feel certain ones are altogether unanswered. When our dream job is given to someone else. When we pray for a loved one’s healing that never comes. When a child loses an unfair battle with an illness. What about all those times when things didn’t work out—when it felt like God was silent or absent from our lives?
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.” -Mother Teresa
“Our lives are not our own. Therefore we must accept God’s will regardless of how it feels. If God is silent, there is a reason. If no signs from heaven are available, know and understand that there is a very good reason for this also.” -Kellie Lane, “When God Is Silent”
“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” -1 Kings 19:11-12
How many times did I miss His whispers because I was waiting for some kind of heavenly uproar?
I used to get impatient waiting for God to answer. Waiting for Him to give me what I thought I needed. But the question I should’ve been asking is, “How long has He been waiting for me?”
By no means am I trying to tell you I know the answer to why certain prayers get “answered” and why some don’t. I don’t believe it’s our time to know. I’m just going to repeat to you things I tell myself in order to keep and strengthen my faith and prayer game:
“Lauren, you prayed and you prayed hard, alongside many others who were praying their hardest. Yet life didn’t work out the way we had hoped. Although we feel crushed and lost and unheard, that doesn’t mean our prayers were ignored. It’s just that whatever we had wanted was not according to God’s will.”
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—