Wanted: Prayer for Dummies

I am not too good at prayer, in spite of the many things I have to be thankful for and the many times I have been delivered after being backed into a corner by a terrifying mess (usually of my own making). Of all things in my spiritual life, and my life in general, that I hope to change, this is the top dawg. I want to learn to pray. Not HOW to pray, but just to pray.

I scares me to admit that out loud, because God will surely bring it on, then. “Soooooo…you wanna learn to pray, huh? Let’s just allow mayhem and chaos into your life and see how fast your knees hit the ground.” Not that God is like that…I don’t think, anyway…but He does seem to like to pile it on and prove the “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” bit.

It is more like, the less I pray, or the less I actually put my heart into it, I draw myself away from His channels of grace.  He is probably just standing there tapping His foot, holding His hand out like any parent waiting on a clumsy, stubborn child, waiting to kiss my boo-boos and set me back on my feet.

I actually do pray every day, in some form or another, but usually it is a personal request (“God let there be no traffic so I can make it to work on time”), or an afterthought of thanks when something didn’t go wrong or I got my butt saved from something awful (“Whew! Thank you God for allowing that assignment to go to someone else!”), or a plea for salvation from something I didn’t get saved from (“Please, God, just this once, I swear I won’t do it again, just save me from this mess I made!”).

I talk to God, too, almost incessantly, like an ADHD stream-of-consciousness type ramble. Many times I am driving along like talking to myself, but I don’t want to appear TOO crazy, so I address it to God instead: “Dear God, So-and-so has really been annoying me lately and I am not sure how to handle her. Can you believe she did such-and-such today? I mean, really! Who does she think she is?…Do you think I should buy that dress I saw at the mall for my sister’s wedding? We have been trying to cut back lately and I do have lots of dresses already…I have been worried about Jack lately; he isn’t really ambitious and he doesn’t really like school–do you think you can help me help him with a little push?”

My problem is listening. Waiting. Hearing. Seeking. I just do my own thing and ramble on at God, but I don’t often ask his permission or guidance first.  I will jump headlong into a new project or make a decision in life and forget to give it to Him first and then WAIT for His response. I will assume because something is a good thing that it is the RIGHT thing for me or my family at the time. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not.

A few years ago my parish was starting a young adult program for adults between 18-45 years old. This is a group that is sadly lacking in zeal in my parish, despite the numerous activities we do promote or host. I was very enthusiastic and wanted to jump right in and help with this. I went on a little conference at the Swan and Dolphin at Disney (where, incidentally, my husband won an all-expenses-paid trip to Poland for World Youth Day next year), met all kinds of nice people, got all kinds of fresh ideas…and then…life got in the way. My marriage was very, very new still and we were adjusting to living within the same domain. My husband was finishing his degree,  my son was floundering with school a little, and my work became an all-consuming, many-headed beast that became a daily struggle to subdue. I suddenly understood why the young adults were lacking in zeal…you just cannot do it all.

I felt horribly guilty, like I let my parish and God down. How could He not want me to help with this group? Of COURSE, He wanted me to, I thought. I never really prayed about it, though. I never really asked Him. I just assumed. I have prayed about it since, and He quietly showed me that He does want me to help and use my talents, but He wants me to do it in HIS time…someone else was more qualified than I am to handle such a massive undertaking at that time. Since then, though, I learned to listen a little bit more, but I am no pro at it. It was one of my resolutions this year to pray and listen.

About a month ago, I participated in Christ Renews His Parish, which is a really lovely retreat and everyone should do it at least once. I really spent the whole weekend praying and listening rather than talking. God really put the burden in my heart to proceed with the “formation” part of this ministry, in which I get to help host the next retreat in six months. For the past four weeks I have been praying and asking what He wants me to do in this ministry–I did not want a repeat of the fiasco and guilt I felt in my last attempt at ministry. He kept telling me to help lead this group. I did NOT want to do this. I really, really, really have very little time to myself and there are several other very capable, lovely ladies who could perhaps do a better job. I am not terribly organized, and anyone close to me will attest that I NEVER have my phone with me or check my emails timely. He kept poking me in the back about it, though. The former lay director of the group told her story that was very similar and yet another reminded me how God “winks” at you to give you signs…and I glared and grimaced at God on the inside. “Yeah, I get it”, I told him, “I see what you are doing here.” But I was still digging in my heels. Our house is under massive renovations, my job has a strangle-hold on me, my son has mountains of homework and tae kwon do, my mother needs help with my Mamaw, and…and…and…

“You can do this. You should do this. I WANT you to do this.”

So I listened. I am doing it. I don’t know how I will accomplish it, except with a lot of prayer, which I am not too good at. God is making me learn. I know this will bring me closer to Him. I know I will learn so much and get so many blessings from this–I feel pretty sure about that. But the thing about blessings, though, sometimes, is that you don’t know what IS a blessing until much later. Sometimes you just think you are treading water, trying to keep your head up and you don’t see any blessings in sight, but then after you get out of the water, you look back and you see how strong you are and that is your blessing. Blessings are not always rewards in the way we think of them, I notice.

So, if I don’t want my hair to look like this

by the end of my CRHP weekend, I am going to have to learn to pray and listen to the answer. And recognize the blessings.

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