I pray, but I don’t go to church to do it, nor do I use any “standard” prayers. For example, I don’t ever recite the Our Father (Catholic), Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra (Hindu), the Obligatory Prayers (Baha’i), or any other standard prayer. I consider prayer more of a conversation between myself and god, or even a meditation on god. Although my conception of prayer is based on a Christian upbringing, and that’s the context in which I first learned to pray, prayer itself has evolved significantly for me since I was a child.
Prayers started out as something I felt I had to do, not because I had anything I wanted to say to god, but because I felt I should, either because my parents wanted me to (at the dinner table, perhaps?) or because the church expected me to (hold hands and say the Our Father. Sigh… if you say so…). Those prayers were meaningless to me:
OurFatherwhoartinHeavenhallowedbethynamethyKingdomcomethywillbedoneonEarth asitisinHeavengiveusthisdayourdailybreadandforgiveusourtrespassesasweforgivethosewho trespassagainstusleadusnotintotemptationbutdeliverusfromevilfortheKingdomthepower andthegloryareyoursnowandforeverAmen.
What does that even mean? I understand heaven, I suppose. Kingdom — yeah, I kind of get that one — referencing the kingdom of god I guess. Something about displaying heavenly behaviors here on earth. Then something about bread and trespassing and then — OH — forgiveness. That one I think I get. Temptation — but some temptations are OK, right? And then a bunch of things that are ultimately the Lord’s. Right. Amen. Whew, I made it.
Obviously I am aware that this is an extreme oversimplification of this prayer, and I understand that for Catholics, and many others, there is a much deeper meaning in this prayer. However, it drives nothing home for me personally, and does nothing to help me feel closer to god.
At my Grandmother’s Catholic church, they do a prayer each Sunday for the sick, and those who have passed before us, and you can pay — yes, pay — the church to mention someone who has passed, but you can only have so many days because everyone else has to have a chance, too. Wait, what?? How about instead, I pray for my Grandfather, thank god for taking care of him, and then ask god to help him watch over the rest of us here on earth? I know my Grandfather, and I guarantee you every moment his spirit isn’t with my Grandmother, he is making sure the rest of the family is safe, healthy, and happy to the best of his ability. That seems a lot better, and a lot more personal to me than hoping like heck that everyone in the church at that moment is using the 5 seconds of silence to pray for my Grandfather — rather than thinking about the fact that they see the person’s buttcrack in front of them, or that their football team’s game will be starting soon, or any number of other fleeting thoughts passing through at the moment.
(I am not saying my Grandmother shouldn’t continue paying for the service by any means. It helps her, it makes her happy, and it keeps my Grandfather in the thoughts of other parish members who knew my Grandfather. I am merely pointing out the fundamental problems with this system, and why I prefer personal prayer over this particular method. I also know my Grandmother prays for him outside of church all the time.)
My prayers aren’t perfect. Believe me, they are a jumbled mess most of the time, and a lot of times I fall asleep in the middle of them. But even if god can’t hear them because they are usually in my head, they help me to figure some things out, and sometimes, that’s all I really need. I don’t always need divine intervention to help me with something. I learned from a woman I worked with a long time ago that you can’t always ask god for things — you have to thank him, too. That comment, more than anything else I’ve ever been told about prayer, stuck with me. It was like a slap in the face at the time. Wow, no wonder god never “answers” my prayers. I used to ask him for such silly, mundane things. “Lord, please, please, please help me pass this test,” “Lord, I really need this job,” “Lord, that boy who sits across from me in Biology… just give me a sign if he likes me… just one little sign…”
Looking back, those types of prayers were completely inappropriate. Almost every time I pray now, it goes something like this:
Lord, thank you for everything you have given me in my life. Thank you for all the opportunities and hardships, thank you for my wonderful husband, my amazing puppies, my family and friends. Thank you for watching over all of them. I know you can’t always give us all what we want, and I know humans aren’t perfect by a long shot, but thank you for giving us the ability to work toward our goals to make our dreams come true. Thank you for watching over those who are struggling. Please watch over my Grandmother, who hasn’t been feeling well and is very worried. You are amazing, and every day I continue to be amazed by your ability to give us such wonderful things in this world. Amen.
Sometimes these are spontaneous. For instance, maybe I’m walking my dogs and glance to the left as I’m walking around the lake and just catch the last of the sunset behind the mountains. Lord, thank you for that beautiful sight, and for reminding me that you are all around us. Amen.
There is no reason prayer should be anything but personal. I try to make these genuine when I do it, and I don’t do it every day. I am sure I don’t do it as often as I should. Even if there isn’t a god and no other being on this earth hears these prayers, it allows me a moment, even if just a moment, to really focus on what’s important in life. And sometimes, that’s all I need to refresh and energize myself and my life.