Don’t know about you, but I’ve needed a lot of help with prayer during the Coronavirus pandemic. Practices that used to draw me closer to God suddenly were flat at a time I felt I needed God the most! Many other people are having this same experience: more time on their hands to slow down and consider their contemplative life with God, yet not feeling able to. And there could be many factors making this the case. What I share with you below will not be true for everyone, but perhaps one point rings true for you. My hope is that you will not feel so alone or odd when you see various factors at play.
We haven’t been taught to be alone with God.
Many mainline Christian traditions, in an effort to counter an evangelical focus on “just me and Jesus,” failed to teach its people how to develop a personal prayer practice. I believe this is why so many older church members are clamoring to get back to regular in-person worship gatherings even though they are the most at-risk population for the deadly effects of COVID-19. Sadly, though, the evangelical focus on personal prayer and devotion time was one feature that needed to be retained.
You can interact personally with your favorite member of the Trinity without losing a more universal, communal understanding of Christianity. It’s a both-and situation. If you are unable to begin a devotion time even with time on your hands, I urge you to start simply. Read a spiritual book you’ve been putting off, and read it slowly, interacting with the concepts and stopping to pray for guidance. You can also take a walk where you are able to just be with God in nature. Learning to be alone with God can be likened to learning to drink more water; it may seem boring at first, but soon you will be thirsty for more — and then you realize why it is such an essential part of a healthy life!
We’re fearful of getting close to God.
I’ll admit, this is my situation. I know I’m angry right now — not at God, but at governmental mismanagement that has resulted in so many deaths. I’m angry that wearing a mask has become a political statement. I’m angry that other people who are angry are lashing out and hurting their neighbors. Anger is a natural response to what we experience as injustice and I have taken my anger to God and, guess what? God throws it back at me. I know if I get closer to God, I might have to take steps that lead to change. What if I’m not ready? What if it takes me too far out of my comfort zone?
The remedy for this is good, life-affirming theology and a more positive image of God. What has helped me tremendously is this passage from Richard Rohr’s small book, “What Do We Do With the Bible?”
“…listen for a deeper voice than your own, which you will know because it will never shame or frighten you, but rather strengthen you, even when it is challenging you. If it is God’s voice, it will take away your illusions and your violence so completely and naturally that you can barely identify with such previous feelings! I call this God’s replacement therapy. God does not ask and expect you to do anything new until God has first made it desirable and possible for you to do it. Grace cannot easily operate under coercion, duress, shame, or guilt. Please trust me on this.”i
We only know a few different prayer practicesGrowing up, I was taught the Lord’s Prayer, petitionary prayer (asking for things) and, being a Baptist, “the sinner’s prayer,” where you profess your faith in Jesus. It wasn’t until seminary that I discovered so many ways to be in communication and connection with God. Having that world open up to me was so exciting that when I graduated from seminary, I compiled all the handouts on “how to pray” and created the book “50 Ways to Pray.” I turn to it now and then for inspiration, as well as audio recordings on Insight Timer that lead me through a meditation or prayer. Other people I know really appreciate Pray as You Go or phone apps that lead them through the Book of Common Prayer.
It has helped me during the pandemic to try all of the above because right now, one practice does not meet my needs. For others, finding one practice, diving deeply into it and sticking with it regardless of mood or outcome meets their need.
I hope you find your rhythm and ways to unplug from whatever makes you anxious or keeps you from praying. You have the time and the tools, so put them to good use!
i Richard Rohr, What Do We Do With the Bible (Albuquerque: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2018) 65-66.
Want to learn more about spiritual direction? I have a new book “Spiritual Direction 101: The Basics of Spiritual Guidance“ by Apocryphile Press that addresses many aspects of this practice. It’s available on Amazon.