What Was I Praying…?

I wrote this back in 2013 as part of a longer series on prayer. I’ve reworked it a bit to to make it a stand alone piece and also have it on the Pondering Platypus Resources site. I hope you find it helpful:

Let’s be honest – we all find prayer difficult at some point in our lives, and for many different reasons.

If you were like me, you were brought up in a church where great value was placed on how long you prayed for in a morning – to rise early and spend at least 30 minutes with God. (Subtext to that – “but an hour makes you a better Christian”)

Little barefoot angel in white dress and feathered wings with hands together in quiet prayer

To summarise, I was brought up with the notion that prayer was a chore, not a joy. The emphasis was always on the ‘must do this’ rather than a vibrant two way conversation.

Prayer meetings all had a similar flavour, where ancient worthies would pray for over 10 minutes using beautiful language – but some of which I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t listen/concentrate for that long and I couldn’t live up to this expectation.

I did pray out loud once as a younger teenager: A bunch of us who played badminton on a friday night with our church youth group would take ourselves off for half an hour to pray for our “non Christian friends”. I prayed for a guy I’d met through my Saturday job – apparently my prayer didn’t quite hit the mark, I was subjected to mockery during the prayer and after. It took a very long time to pluck up the courage to pray out loud again – and I still struggle with it! No one seemed to place any worth on the fact I valued prayer enough to actually be there rather than stay and play an extra game of badminton!

It wasn’t until I moved churches when I was 17 that I realised how much more prayer could be. I went to a youth meeting and heard someone pray in a normal voice using normal language, as though Jesus was sitting right next to him. It sounded as natural as breathing to him. I’d never heard anything like it and it bowled me over.

That was nearly 40 years ago.

For over 26 of those years I’ve been in full time kids work and I’ve been determined to give kids a much better experience of prayer than I got – getting them excited about praying, but also facilitating kids with additional needs who find the whole traditional approach to prayer almost impossible.

Three pictures of scrabble blocks being used for praying and on of a larger puppet platypus holding a smaller platypus toy

With the onset of disability in my own life, I’ve had to work through a lot when it comes to prayer. It’s given me a whole new perspective when it comes to cognitive and concentration ability and the process of prayer.

To be honest, many of us probably don’t have the concentration to cope with praying long public prayers or trying to pray for 30 minutes at a time (especially in the morning). And it’s not just those with Attention Deficit Disorders!

There are some who can concentrate and pray for that hour long time – but I suspect that this is often more down to personality than it is to being an uber-amazing Christian.

It’s at this point I usually get shouts of ‘Heretic – burn her’! (Or the modern-day evangelical equivalent)

I totally agree that without prayer and without time to study God’s word our faith would just sink. It is vital to our survival. There needs to be a place for dedicated God and us time. But if you have one of many chronic illnesses, it can be quite hard to do what well meaning Christian teachers tell us we should do.

There are many conditions that make early in the morning the worst time to pray and read and there are some conditions that also make concentration hard at any time of day.

For example, one of the conditions I have has an associated problem that can often affect concentration, memory, the ability to put sentences together and being able to remember exactly what you were saying by halfway through that sentence. You can blank out very quickly too!

Chronic pain can remove the words from your mind too.

I’ve chatted to others with similar issues who not only struggle with quiet times/prayer, but also the guilt laid on them because they can’t “do prayer like they’re supposed to”.

The truth is, over many years the ‘church’ has added to the rules of praying. We’ve put these rules on to new Christians for all the best intentions – we want to make sure the habit of prayer is formed early.

It’s a great aspiration!

But we forget the God has made us all with different personalities, and not all of us can follow this prescribed way of praying.

I was really helped by a comment by a friend in my home group. He said “Prayer is about my relationship with God, not what I ask for”.

If we pray, and our relationship with God grows, does it really matter how we get there, as long as we’re talking and listening to God?

There are great apps out there to help with our praying – personally I use Prayer Mate (which responds well to my large font settings), and on those days where it’s a struggle to find words I swap between a couple of ebooks full of ancient prayers. The old language often forces me to translate the words, which makes me think and flow into in my own words. But having been brought up on the King James version, I can just read and let the words become my own prayer. There are other great apps out there that may work better for you. Some have background mood music – which I find extremely distracting, hence I don’t use those.

Sometimes, having our hands busy helps – when I was growing up, I was told to put my hands together so I could resist fidgeting(!) Although the intention was a worthy one, how wrong that thinking was. Now, I actively encourage people to have something in their hand or do something when they pray, and the prayer activities I create encourage being active using all forms of communicating – only one of which is actually talking.

This idea of being creative is based on the fact that if you are listening to something whilst doing something creative, next time you pick it up you will remember what you were listening to.
With still having to access church online, you can often find me doing some mindless yarn craft of some sort as I listen. Next time I pick it up, I find myself pondering what I heard and praying about it.

But in my time of learning about prayer, I’ve learnt many things:

  • I learnt that it’s ok to be busy with my hands – it helps my concentration, so crocheting or knitting is a huge help.
  • I’ve learnt that I can shout at God – but still worship.
  • I’ve learnt that it’s ok to say “it’s not fair” – but still trust His wisdom.
  • I’ve learnt that He understands when I’m bone tired and soul weary and struggle to find the words to speak to Him – and yet on those days found I’ve had the best wordless conversations with Him.
  • I’ve also found out that God doesn’t mind if I sometimes read my prayers rather than relying on memory.
  • I found keeping a thankful journal is a good memory aid for praising God – try it! (This simple piece on being thankful is over on the Platypus resources site).

What tips do you have? Leave a comment below and start a discussion!

Meanwhile, also on the Platypus resources site I gave some VERY short prayer ideas for foggy brains

I love this little video clip I came across on Facebook – I shared it in the Additional Needs Alliance Group, where it was a huge encouragement.

I hope it encourages you too.

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