I don’t really pray anymore. At least not in the way that is currently considered prayer.
In my former life, when I did pray, I offered God lists of things that I wanted to see changed—circumstances in my life and the lives of others that I wanted set right. On the rare occasion when things went the way I expected, I felt as though God heard my prayers, and those of others, and granted our request. When things didn’t go right, I felt I was the one to blame. I didn’t have enough faith, I had some unseen sin, or enough people hadn’t prayed along with me.
It was quite a setup. Never was the system itself considered at fault, probably because it was good and holy and right. And if anything was to blame, it was us for our lack of faith or purity or stamina or conviction, or any other fault.
Could God be so fickle and cruel as not to grant a request for someone else because I was somehow lacking? Too often, people had been lost regardless of my most fervent prayers.
I got to the point where I had no real will to pray. It seemed that if I asked for something and it happened, it was random coincidence. My prayer life became another ritual of repetition—a requirement to be filled, a box to be checked—to ensure my salvation was really intact.
I think most people have had these same questions and concerns before at one time or another if they’re honest—if their religion allows them to be honest. Many tend to suppress these nuisances and just continue in the same format they’ve been taught and have used for years. Others suffer fatal tragedy and can no longer cope with an unresponsive god. The question from both sides of the table tends to be, whether we can admit it or not—How do we really know our prayers are even being heard, much less answered?
Did God hear when my uncle was cured of cancer a few years ago, then relapsed and died?
Did God hear when my mom survived cancer twice in two years, then died after another relapse a little over a year ago?
At this point, we can quote scripture or offer kind words, or just state that we don’t know and that no one does. All too often, for far too many people, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the pain.
So why even pray?
I quit praying several years ago—or I should say, I stopped getting down on my knees and asking God for stuff. I quit scheduling regular prayer time. I quit making lists of the people and circumstances I should pray for. I quit with it all.
This was never intentional though. I didn’t quit because I felt it wasn’t working. Had something else not happened, I would still be spinning my spiritual wheels in the same manner and reaping the same results. I would still be looking for the latest and greatest “How to have an abundant prayer life” multi-step, preformatted for the masses, program that always failed before.
So what happened?
I mean, I really prayed—for the second time in my life. I prayed a fairly simple prayer and meant it from the depths of my spirit. It wasn’t on my knees. It wasn’t at an altar. It was sitting in a church pew one Sunday morning feeling completely spiritually stagnant, though I was one of the more active members in the congregation.
The prayer?—“No matter the cost, God, I want a real relationship with you.”
And I got it.
And it cost….
….did it ever cost….
The flood that resulted from that spiritual dam bursting washed away everything I knew, or though I knew, about God and religion and prayer….and yes…even about church. Caught in that cascade was also people I knew my entire life that I saw in a completely new light. Those I though were religious pillars were only holding up a house of cards, and were adamant about it remaining intact. Like Atlas, they couldn’t let their duty lapse for a moment, at least not publicly, lest they let their entire world slip into hell.
What that spiritual flood revealed was something I was missing my entire life. The rituals I participated in were just hiding the problem. The Christian acquaintances were just surface level, never daring to go deeper into the mysteries of God. The money I gave was only trying to buy what was missing.
What I never had, what I’d always longed for, what we were all made for became blatantly obvious.
What was missing in all this Christianity I had been working vehemently to maintain was simply—an actual relationship with God.
I could fake it. I could wear the mask and pretend. I could uphold all the outward mandates well enough in public to pass for a religious zealot. I could quote all the right scriptures to justify my bias. I could hate all the same things and all the same people as my Christian constituents. I could check all the right boxes and maintain perfect attendance. I could calculate my 10% tithe and sign my name on the offering envelop. I could passively pressure those non-believers into guilt and shame, and manipulate them into feeling worthless in the light of my righteousness. I could chase the dangling carrot of “one day” and “do more” like everyone else.
Yet all that time I was missing that relationship, and I began to realize just how plastic my whole holy-sanitized Christian experience had been.
I felt broken…and yet, that was the best place to be.
On that day, and still even now, things began to change. Prayer wasn’t about groveling before a deity that was going to strike me dead eventually—it became about a conversation with the Creator who ever only wanted to walk this life with us. That conversation goes on at all times now, everyday. It isn’t just ritualized for morning, noon, and night. I don’t have to make a reservation to give my formal speech to Father. We talk all day, every day, without ever having to lose contact. And my mind is being renewed, rewritten, reformatted by the Holy Spirit and out of my old patterns of conformance to worldly pursuits of religion.
How is it that we’re missing that relationship? When and why did we replace God with “church.” Why do we continue to try to fill that void with ritual and ceremony when we are free to have an abundant relationship with our Creator…the Creator of the universe?
For me, these prayers, these conversations with God, are about changing me—not getting God to act in the way and timing and manner that I insist he should. This ever-going conversation has helped me to grow exponentially deeper in understanding the Bible and God’s plan for all of us than all the years of religious performance and indoctrination combined.
But all of this goes much deeper than can be put into words. How do I explain a constant conversation that I’ve had for the past three years? Where do I even begin? How did I even take a step before without this ever prevalent, ever world-expanding, life giving, beautiful, extravagant relationship with Father?
Maybe we all just need to first be broken by our own willful beliefs, and then our ears will be open to hear Father’s reply to all our prayers.
And my mom. I never prayed for her—as in I never got down on my knees and begged God to let her have a longer life. I was already resting firmly in his love. I already knew his arms were wide open, ready to receive her. And when she took her last painful breath, I felt her spirit fully awaken in the Kingdom—and there’s no more beautiful thing I could wish for my mom, or anyone else, than to be fully alive there with God.
Rant and rave and even curse to God if you must. He’s big enough to handle it. Then allow yourself to be broken in his presence. May we all be broken so we can fully embrace an extravagant, beautiful, overwhelming relationship with Father, where we can pray without ceasing.