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We all have our ideas about what it means to pray.
When I was growing up I watched my family individually spend time in prayer throughout various times of day. My mother enjoys praying in the morning. My grandmother did as well. My grandfather spent a few moments in prayer each morning, but most of his praying was done while working in the garden or carpentry shop.
Prayer really wasn’t my thing for most of my life until my teens. While I was a missionary I was given the topic of prayer to speak on during our many visits at different churches and with different youth groups. I learned the “proper” form of prayer based on the Lord’s Prayer found in the Gospels. The steps were simple – remind God how wonderful He is, ask him to work things out for his glory, ask for what we need, ask for forgiveness, help us to avoid sins, remind him again how great he is and say thank you.
I prayed like this for YEARS. YEARS. Then I just stopped. It got me no where. I was left feeling resentful, angry, and like I was sending off letters to Santa Clause at the North Pole with no hope of ever hearing a reply. I was a ministerial major and I had stopped praying.
I didn’t pick up prayer again for years. I figured there was no point. I got so sick of hearing “prayer changes you”. “Yeah, for the worse”, was my silent reply. I was angry, resentful, and out of faith. Not praying was my dirty little secret. My view of faith changed from an awe filled, childlike wonder to viewing God as a narcissistic concept bent on dominance and control. To me Nietzsche was right. To me, God was dead.
You see, I had fallen into the trap so many people fall into when it comes to prayer and faith. I had seen Spirit not as a being, but as a concept to serve my desires. I was doing allot of talking and not listening. Those constant repetitions of desire and neediness created a victimhood paradigm in my inner mind.
So what changed? Well, first I had gone off to live with the Black Hats (Chassidic Jews). Prayer is pretty important in that world. I was using a prayer book. The prayers are beautiful. I saw a faith in those prayers that was tangible and living centuries after they were written. It was there while learning in the Synagogue that I discovered prayer as a service of the heart, not of the mind, and not of desire. My favorite prayer quickly became “Hear Oh Israel, the Lord Your God, The Lord is One.” One as in Oneness.
I had always been told that one needs a relationship with the Divine. But no one had ever taught me to really speak with the Divine. Or to listen. I will never forget the day I was with a friend cleaning the kitchens and I asked her how do we experience Oneness, how do we have a service of the heart in prayer. Her reply, “We stop talking with our minds and our mouth. We stop telling God what He needs to do. We can tell Him all day long how wonderful He is. That’s not your heart. That’s not a conversation. Be still. Be quiet. Then, you don’t have to believe. Then you will Know. Be still and Know. Then you will know Hashem (Jewish word for God) and you will know HIM. You don’t have to believe in your head anymore after that. You’ll KNOW.” After she dropped that little nugget we went back to cleaning and discussing rather mundane things.
I had heard that scripture. I had quoted that scripture. I had USED that scripture to counsel others. Yet I had never really applied it fully to my life. Be still and know. Listen.
Prayer isn’t about a list of requests. It isn’t about the correct words or form. It is a quiet conversation, a service of the heart. That service doesn’t require anything more than a moment or two. It just requires to be still and to know the Oneness that is the Divine.
My prayer life is so different now. I pray all the time. But I don’t just talk. I take the time to be still, to know. And you know what? Prayer changes me and it changes me for the better.
I hope you, too, will take the time to Be Still and to Know.
Be Well and In Peace,
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