I don’t do much praying these days.
There was a time when I kept a long list of people and circumstances for which to pray every day, as well as a rigid prayer schedule. I was known for being contemplative and disciplined in this, even as a teenager — rarely missing my morning “devotions,” complete with Bible reading, journaling, and memory verses.
But, at some crucial points in my life, prayer (and praying people) became a source of immense pain. So I let prayer — as a practice — go.
In allowing myself freedom and space from the guilt-driven obligation of prayer (and daily devotions), I discovered that I don’t encounter Jesus in my head, anyway. Rather, I encounter Jesus in vivid, lifelike clarity when I try to imitate him.
I encounter Jesus in the doing. The action. The practice.
Even though I don’t do much planned-praying these days, the action of following Jesus does sometimes draw desperate prayers out of me.
“Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” is a prayer I find myself praying on repeat.
I pray it when I am disturbed, infuriated, enraged at whoever “they” are that day — raising my voice on a walk in the woods, where only the trees and earth beneath my feet can absorb my fury!
I pray it out loud on an otherwise silent drive to the grocery store – white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel and hot, frustration-tears pouring down my face.
I pray it when I come to the end of myself — the end of my knowledge and abilities — and need help from beyond, from outside of myself, to keep going.
If I’m honest, I pray it NOT so my enemy may be forgiven, but for ME.
So that I may be able to see through their words and deeds to
I pray it so that I may love them, or try.
“Father forgive them; for they know not what they do,” Jesus cried for his crucifiers. And I pray it with him — not understanding how he could pray it, but praying it anyway, that one day I might understand.
I pray it to remember there is light, even when there is darkness. And there is hope, even when there is hopelessness. I pray it to remember that I believe in the resurrection of dead things.
I pray it for ME.
I’ve seen prayer in this light for quite some time: a thing I do more to ground myself, to center myself on Jesus, than to implore God to change someone else or the world.
More times than not, I think God uses ordinary, less than supernatural, people to do the world-changing. So, I pray another prayer too:
To those who would ask, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” I pray, “Here I am, send me.”
I am not special, significant, or any sort of savior — I know this now, though I didn’t always. Neither am I a mystic or a missionary. (I’ve tried those identities on and they don’t fit.) But I know something else, too: Jesus becomes more real to me when I act like him — when I love the people he loves. So I keep trying to do so.
I keep trying and failing and trying again.
And it’s in this practicing that I sometimes catch myself praying.
Perhaps, for some, prayer leads to practice — though this was not the case for me. Instead, I’ve found that my PRACTICE leads to prayer.
Maybe it is the prayer?
…a small reversal, but an enormous difference.