how I don’t know how to pray

Often, I sit down at my desk and wonder what I am supposed to be doing. I stare at the computer screen, the stacks of stuff on my desk (it’s always out of control), and feel helpless to consider what from my post-it notes of reminders gets my attention first. Usually that ends up in me organizing the stacks or creating stacks out of the mess of my desk. While it is helpful in the short-term, it does little for me in the no-beginning and no-ending work called ministry. I know that what grounds me in this work is prayer.

I’m a task-oriented pray-er. It has to do with my task-oriented brain. Even in that orientation is the constant tempter that functions like a pinball wherein I become easily distracted and bounce from one project to another without even knowing it. If you’ve ever engaged me in conversation, you’ve experienced this as well. I get diverted with a separate thought, blurt it out and then return to whatever we were talking about as quickly as I can. It’s desperately rude and I try really hard not to do it, but like the way I pray and the way I work…it happens over and over again.

Back to prayer. Above the screen on my laptop is a note that says, “Did you start with prayer?” I look at it, and usually proclaim, “o yeah, let’s do that.” I say a quick prayer and then move into the tasks at hand. Or, I make a list, pray for said items and feel in one way that I have done what I needed to do. But a list of prayer requests just doesn’t always bring about the peace of God. I’ll pull out another post-it note and write down the things creeping up into my prayer that are really to-dos. Sure, I know how to pray with other people, in the midst of worship, by a person’s hospital bed, but all by my lonesome, in my closet, like Jesus said? It is chall-en-ging.

I try mighty hard to focus those moments into quiet, reflective prayer. For many years a recurrent theme has taunted my distractible heart: prayer as being rather than prayer as a doing. What ends up happening is that I feel frustration and shame that I can’t just spend hours resting in God’s presence with prayer, silently reflecting and emptying myself to be filled up with God. It’s kind of impossible for me. I could give you example after example of my attempts, but I really don’t want to go down that road.

For me, prayer is doing and I’m learning to be ok with that. Prayer is singing the hymns for next week’s service, hoping people experience the string that weaves them together whether they see it or not. Prayer is walking the rows of chairs in the sanctuary so long that I forget how many times I’ve passed through them asking that God make a place for all people who walk in the doors. Prayer is watching as people come up to Nick after worship as he holds our daughter and giving thanks for each person who looks her in the eyes and smiles. Yes, prayer is being. Being in the presence of God and knowing it so much that everything else fades away. For many this comes in meditative prayer. For me, I can’t know it without some sort of embodiment, without the reclaiming of action as the method that speaks for me.

So, excuse me; I have something to do. I need to pray.

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