“Did you learn to pray growing up? I did. I learned to fold my hands, close my eyes, and bow my head. When it was time to say some words, I’d either recite a prayer I was taught, or go through my list of joys and concerns. Maybe you experienced something similar?
When I decided to practice my faith more intentionally as an adult, I assumed that meant way more time spent with my head bowed and eyes closed.
After all, that was the “right” way to pray.
I made plans to pray before every meal, and at the beginning and end of each day. And in the beginning, it worked! I bowed my head every morning, and before every meal. However, as time passed, I found myself forgetting to pray as I was taught. I felt so guilty.
“Why couldn’t I remember to do this basic Christian practice??”
“Why couldn’t I get it right?”
No matter how many times I’d promise to pray as I was taught, I’d still forget. I’d set out seeking a deeper relationship with God and I’d only find guilt.
Know this: God has no desire for your guilt. Guilt is a form of pain that hinders us from discovering meaning. Prayer shouldn’t leave us feeling guilty – after all, God has no desire for that – it should feel authentic and life-giving. Sure, spiritual practices take discipline, but not necessarily the discipline of forcing ourselves to be inauthentic, but rather the discipline of finding the prayerful nature within our authentic encounters with God.
When many of us decide to live into our baptismal vows, as we say in church-speak, we often try the “round peg in square hole” approach to journeying in faith, and this can be especially true for prayer. Instead of discovering how God might be attempting to meet us in our unique adult ways, we rely on what others tell us, or what we see everyone else doing. While I often still need to bow my head in prayer, I also seek the prayerful presence of God when I sit with music or take a quiet walk. Have you ever thought of prayer as something you do while listening to your favorite genre of music or staring out into a sunset? Have you felt the prayerful presence of God caroling during Advent or knitting a shawl? Maybe closing your eyes and bowing your head is the best way for you to encounter God in prayer, but if it isn’t, how might an expanded understanding of prayer draw you closer to God than you ever imagined possible?