by Carla Dennis
Matthew 6:5: And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be temped to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense God’s grace.
First of all, let me apologize. If you have ever received one of my voicemail messages, they are absolutely the worst and I know it! Imagine the most rambling piece of audible nonsense you’ve ever had the (un)pleasure of hearing. Yep, that’s my voicemails. Unfortunately, this awkward communication style has spilled into other aspects of my life – storytelling, joke telling, and especially saying prayers aloud.
I think excellent prayers. When I pray in my head, I feel so connected to God. The prayers just flow from my heart and it’s not unusual I’m brought to tears. Everything just seems so organic and authentic. But when I need to pray out loud, my brain takes over control from my heart. I overthink words and phrasing. I babble and sometimes even smile mid-prayer at my inadequacy of voicing my petitions. I often wonder, have I yet to fully develop that part of my brain that can appropriately put my feelings into words? It’s not that I’m worried about how my prayers are being judged by others or whether I said the “right” words, it’s more that I can’t seem to honor the feelings I have in my heart with the words that come out of my mouth.
This Lenten season has brought listening to God as a focus for Oconee Street, and frequently that’s accomplished through meditation and prayer. So what’s wrong with praying internally? Absolutely nothing … as long as you’re not doing it because you’re embarrassed to be heard praying!
One of the strategies I’ve employed to help my external prayers be more meaningful is to write down what I want to pray about before I actually pray. The act of taking pen to paper allows my feelings to flow, and in fact, often generates additional reflections. Writing down simple concepts lets me look at the word and stirs up emotions and other thoughts. This concept works really well when praying out loud with kids as they, like us, are also uncertain about how to express their thoughts and feelings through prayer. Creating a prayer list helps prepare me to pray, but it also helps me hold myself accountable to truly pray for those who have asked for prayers in the last week.
Prayer is at the core of a relationship with Jesus, and as with any good relationship, regular communication is imperative in order to maintain it and grow from it. Therefore, if we want our kids to have a relationship with Jesus, we must look for opportunities to help them get comfortable with prayer aside from what they see and hear on Sundays. Whether it’s at mealtime, bedtime or anytime you see an emergency vehicle drive by, praying as a family is important.
This Lent, our family kept a routine of writing prayers using a Western Wall made of Legos. For those of you unfamiliar with the Western Wall, the Wall is a Jewish holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem. Each year, millions of people from all faiths and all countries journey to the wall to leave their prayers and petitions in the cracks and crevices of its massive limestone blocks. These written prayers are tucked in wherever space allows and represents voices of gratitude, adoration and desperation. The belief is that God’s divine presence filled the Temple built in the surrounding space many years ago and still rests upon the Western Wall. Once a year a local rabbi collects the notes and buries them in the nearby Mount of Olives.
Now while our Lego wall lacks the historic and divine presence of the Western Wall, it does provide a visual reminder that anytime can be prayer time. Life is so busy between work, school church and baseball that so much of our time is occupied. Rather than give something up for Lent, this is a way to support a more prayerful routine as a family – bringing ourselves as individuals and our family unit closer to God.
I’ll be honest – Matthew was a little confused at first and thought this was an opportunity to get ahead on his Christmas wishlist for Santa. But once we got past the whole praying-for-toys-petitions, I think everyone genuinely used it as a pause in their day to pray about what was on their heart. Of course, you can take written prayer beyond the world of Legos and consider the spiritual habit of journaling, but similar to the small written notes, don’t make it too complicated! Simply write down what you’re saying to God, and write down what God’s saying to you.
Prayer: Dear God, there are times when the words I speak do not match the profound feelings in my heart. Please help me grow in my prayer routine and to remember that it’s not about the grand things I wish I could say. Whether written, oral or in my head, God, help me keep my prayers honest and simple.