“Prayer”, as a word by itself, seems to me to be as difficult and un-definable a word as “love”. Our experience of prayer is as wide as our experience of love, and like love it defies a tidy definition.
Is prayer just an answer to a plea to the Almighty for a parking spot, or is it something deeper, like the feeling we have when we gaze at a sleeping baby and are aware of a wordless appreciation of life and the Giver of it all? Do I need words to communicate with God, or does the relationship between God and myself hum along as a wordless background to my day? Or is prayer all of these?
Sounds like love, doesn’t it?
Like love, our prayer should grow and change as we mature. Children in a stable, loving family, have an expectation that their needs will be met, and that is how they pray. God is the great provider, a loving figure, that they see mirrored in family and caring adults. It’s a really comfortable prayer space, and sometimes, even when we are adult, we want to stay cosied up in it.
But as we mature into teenagers and adults, we learn by experience about relationships and that tricky world of love. It takes two. It gets tough. Love can lift us to the heights, drop us in the depths. Listen to any love song. Adult prayer, as an expression of our God relationship, is something the same.
The ability to sit in companionable silence with someone we love is one of the wonderful things about adult love. There’s a time for talking and a time for silence. When we pray God doesn’t require us to constantly fill the air waves with our words. That is not what to “pray continually” means.
Prayer puts us in relationship with God, and with ourselves. We all need some silence in our lives, minutes, or even hours, to look at the sea or the mountains, to listen to some music that touches us, to relish the spring sunshine. In those wordless moments we enable God to speak to us. God’s voice is intimate, gently getting us in touch with the person we are inside. We will know that we hear God because God always leaves us a gift-wrapped present of peace and strength to take with us into our everyday busy-ness.
The other half of that “pray continually” sentence urges us “never lose heart”. Sometimes it’s hard to be still and silent. There are days, weeks, sometimes longer, when we are not sure about God, when bad things happen and we wonder where God is, or boredom with all things religious threatens to overwhelm us.
I saw a cartoon once where a little girl was farewelling her mum and dad as they went away for a holiday, leaving her with grandparents. ” If I’m very, very, very, VERY good, will you bring me back a present?” And in thought bubbles above: I wonder if I said enough verys?
Sometimes we’re like that little girl, counting, measuring and weighing our prayer words and forgetting that God just needs us to love, and every thing we need will be ours.