Prayer might not be what you think it is.
You may have heard stories of people who prayed for something, maybe for a loved one to be freed from cancer, and it didn’t happen. You may also have heard similar stories of people who prayed the same prayer and their loved one did heal from cancer. You may have heard stories about people praising God for sparing their home in the aftermath of a tornado while the house down the street is ripped to shreds.
Hearing these stories and considering my own often gets me thinking about prayer.
The idea of Santa Clause isn’t all that far-fetched when you think about it. Ask the guy up north and make your requests. If you’re good he’ll give you what you asked for, if you’re not, well, try again next year.
Prayer is often approached in the same way. Pray to the guy upstairs and make your requests known. If you’re good he’ll give you what you asked for. Unless of course he doesn’t. If you’re not good he won’t listen. Unless of course he does.
Prayer is quite arbitrary if it’s just about the answer because the answers to your prayers are quite random. It’s like a roll of the dice. Some heal and some don’t. Your house is left standing but not the other. There is no answer. It is what it is. Maybe it’s all part of a bigger plan, maybe it isn’t. It certainly feels nice to believe there is a God in control. I’m not suggesting there isn’t but rather proposing that our understanding of “control” may not be accurate.
Regardless, on the ground it doesn’t make much of a difference. You may or may not heal. You may or may not get the job. Things may or may not go your way. Whether or not they do is perhaps not the point.
Think about it. If prayer is about the answer, we’re constantly left scrambling, trying to understand and making up explanations to make sense of things. God answered because of this or he didn’t answer because of that. The gymnastics involved can be quite exhausting and ridiculous.
Why pray? It must be about more than just answers.
Perhaps prayer makes more sense if it’s about your disposition. Prayer, if anything, is about positioning yourself in awe and wonder or maybe in anger and confusion. It’s an acknowledgment that most things, if not all, are out of your control, arbitrary and chaotic.
Prayer, then, is preparation for what is coming. It is to say, “while I do not have control I choose to remain in the moment and roll with the punches. I will not give up and surrender. I will not lose hope. I acknowledge how easily I can become angry, jaded, self-centred and cynical. I don’t want that.”
Prayer, not unlike other approaches to meditation, is about zoning in on your heart, your soul and your attitude vis-à-vis the variety of things going on in and around you. If you believe in God, your prayer is addressed to that God whom you believe is in control and working to make all things good. Others will find their center within themselves, something or someone else. The purpose is the same. To be whole. To live well. To make sense of things. Opening yourself up to listen, observe and hear.
The thing is, prayer might not be what you think it is. What if it’s not only about what you ask for and not only about whether you get the answer you’re looking for?