It’s Ok If You Can’t Pray

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Matt finally dug up the hideous hostas yesterday. He insists it pained him to, but I know he is lying. How could he possibly like such enormous clunky rotund monstrosities? He only says he likes them, to irritate me.

Anyway, I’m so happy. I feel I can properly breathe now. I’m going to stuff the bed with bulbs, if the weather ever cools down, and then I’m going to think carefully about what would be required for an elegant late summer garden bower.

The lesson, of course, is that prayer is important. I occasionally have prayed for Matt to lay aside his opprobrious principles and get out there and dig up those hostas, even threatening to do it myself, and there you are. He finally did. God does answer prayer.

But, I would just like to point out, it is ok if you sometimes don’t pray. I know, I’m on the edge of committing heresy–May God prevent me.

What I mean is, praying is not a magical activity. You don’t pray with deep fervor and then necessarily and automatically receive the rewards of your work by God giving you the thing you want. It’s not a one to one correspondence. I pray for this, raising my hands just so, and then God will give it to me because what he’s looking for is me clocking in the prayer time, and also having the right thoughts and feelings.

I mean, I think many of us, even when we don’t mean to, approach prayer in a mechanistic sort of way. We know that prayer “works” and so we pray, because we desperately want God to do stuff. But then it doesn’t always “work” and so we are disappointed. Sometimes even angry. (Not that I would ever accuse you of being angry. I must be thinking of someone else.)

But God isn’t a mechanically oriented being who gives good things as long as you punch his buttons in the right way. Witness the reality that it’s sometimes ok if you can’t pray.

Out of self defense, I didn’t pray much before my recent foray in front of all those lovely college students. I couldn’t. I was too nervous. I couldn’t talk to almost Anyone, let alone God, with whom the stakes are too high. I am frequently in a spot of not being able to pray in the way that I want to, or in the way that I know I ought to. For so many reasons I can’t face the glory and goodness of God.

Which is why Christians are always saying to each other, as they should, ‘Please pray for me.’ You do it because I can’t. But even then, how often, when you are asked to pray, do you actually do it in the way that you wish you could? Those little ‘arrow’ prayers feel about as usefully as figuring out how to turn on the tv to watch the NFL. The thought goes by you and then you think, ‘Oh whatever, never mind, I’ll just keep scrolling through Twitter.’

And yet, whether I pray or not, God still goes on doing the things he is going to do–those miraculous small actions that make believers constantly take heart and have hope when, from all outward appearances, they should have given up long ago. You forget to pray or can’t, and yet God does something profound, but only visible to three people, and then you discover that someone a world away woke up and was praying in the middle of the night, because you couldn’t.

God is the actor in all the cases. He moves you to pray. He does the microscopic miracle. He brings you back round to pray after days or weeks of not being able to. He is always on the move, making Christians pray for each other, working out his painful will of suffering for all those who love him. ‘How can she endure one more thing?’ you ask God, looking in at the continual suffering of a friend. And then you discover that no only did she endure it, she’s strangely fine, she is buoyed up even, and yet still cast down.

But that’s not the miracle the world wants from the bother of addressing God. If you ask, he should give, because because. And so often I am allured by that mechanistic nonsense. It takes waking up and being overjoyed by a garden bed free of hostas to see that God hears everything, sees everything, knows everything, even the things you can’t put words around, the things you yourself can’t face.

On that note, pray for my dad, because I’m too anxious to, still, even though I’m trying very hard.

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