Why I Pray
A letter to my eldest daughter...
Today I sat around a table of pre-teens, you were one of them. As part of the lesson I asked the group 'why do we pray?'. There were a few reluctant answers offered, mostly because some voices got tired of the silence left in the wake of no responses. Then you my daughter, said with a lilt of laughter in your voice "because we've been told we should".
It struck me, but I didn't know at first exactly why, just a sense that I needed to hear that, and to come back to it. So, I thought about it and sat with it, and I realized that you are right. There is a lot of encouragement to pray and sense that it is important and instruction that you should pray. But then I realized what would MY answer be if that table were turned and the question looked more like:
"Mom, we've been told we should pray - why? Why do you pray?"
I decided in that moment that my next letter to you would be about prayer and why I pray. Then I felt challenged. Would my answers be the easy 'sounds good' responses, that although are truthful have no substance and do not do the gift and opportunity of prayer justice?
I thought back to when I first believed in Christ. I don't think I recall anyone teaching me how to pray, or telling me that I should. I simply saw other people do it, and I mimicked their expressions and formulas. I knew what it was...but to be honest in the beginning I did it, but I could not have told you exactly why beyond - 'because we should'.
Now decades later, at a place where prayer is more than a habit or a desire, but a need in my life. Where there are days were I believe my vertical prayers literally lift me up off the ground, I find myself trying to answer in words that would be understood - why?
I suppose the first and simple answer is that the Bible tells me to.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 says "pray continually" and that is only one of many references that tell us in whatever circumstance or situation I am in that I should pray. Also, Jesus who is the example of how we should live in all circumstances shows in His actions and choices the value and importance of prayer. So, for these reasons alone I would commit to prayer and deem it necessary for my life.
Beyond that though, I pray because I find the further I walk in my faith, the less answers I have. I realize more and more that I am incapable of understanding the incredibly brilliant and mysterious ways of God. I am left hit with the realty of how much I do not know about Him, and how much I so desperately want to.
I struggle with questions like this because the feelings and reasons why can almost not be packaged into my limited language. I think for all people, the desire to pray is written deep in our hearts, deep in our souls. It is that voice that longs to call to, cry out, all of our deepest thoughts, feelings and emotions. As a child, long before I discovered Jesus, whenever life was at its most difficult I would sit in my window and look out into the night's darkness and talk. I cried, laughed, shared and poured out all of the 'too much of everything' that was in my heart and mind that I couldn't manage or process. I just HAD to. I had to get it out for the fear that keeping it in might make me explode. I believe now looking back, I was praying, I had just yet to realize to whom I was praying.
Prayer allows me to acknowledge God in all of his awesome wonder, and to approach Him in such an undeservedly personal way. There are still many moments and days where there is so much, too much for me to feel, understand or process and the weight pushes and presses until I fear it might break me. In those moments I remember Matthew 11:28-29 where it says "Come onto me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls." I come to God and I pour - and I mean pour it out. It is often spoken, but sometimes my prayer pours out in unspoken groans as I simply open up my heart.
There is something tremendously personal and vulnerable about prayer - that is why I think many people don't like praying out loud. It is sharing your inner voice with the world. It is that personal and vulnerable relationship that I want to build with God, and I sincerely believe if I empty myself of everything to Him in prayer, He will fill me back up with what I need to accomplish His plan for my life...and that is what I really want.
I used to pray out of habit and because I thought I should. And that is OKAY...I am so glad I went through the motions even before I understood fully why. If that is where you are...that 's okay. Just don't stop...even when it is hard, even when you don't feel like you want to. Just don't stop . I will be honest, I don't know the theologically right reasons to tell you to why we should pray, and I don't know why other people pray (you should ask them though...) but I know this:
I pray because I breathe. Because I recognize that constant communication and openness, in humility and vulnerability to God is as important to me as air in my lungs. Without prayer I may still go about my days and months and years, but weighed heavily down in darkness that only the closeness with God can heal.
You may experience prayer altogether differently than me, and that is fine. As I said, it is extremely personal and so I think it seems likely for it to be different somehow for each of us. Also, I think you will find it changes, I know my prayer life is an ever-changing and evolving process.
I am not sure I have really answered the question, but hopefully have given you some insight into why I encourage you to pray.
And with that, I will leave you with this encouragement...
Pray. Pray in moments and in minutes and in hours and days. Pray in laughter and through your most painful tears. Pray in excitement when the words are pouring off your tongue and pray in silent groans of aching that you can not understand. Pray like you are talking to friend, and pray with all the respect that God deserves. However it works and whatever it looks like for you, pray. Not just because someone told you to, but because the King of Kings, the Creator of the universe and your Heavenly Father asks you to, and is waiting to hear your voice...and there is no reason I could offer that is better than that!