I suck at prayer.
I know how to do it. Like many Christians, I know the Lord’s Prayer by heart—in both King James and New International Versions. I’m fluent in the evangelical, freestyle form of prayer, and I’m increasingly conversant in the more liturgical collects of my new(ish) spiritual home, the Anglican tradition.
But outside of church and putting my daughter to bed at night, I pray very little. And I’m not sure how much weight those bedtime prayers carry; most are little more than a laundry list of people and things we want God to bless.
Often when I tell someone I’ll keep them in my prayers, I whisper one under my breath right then and there—just so I (technically) haven’t broken my promise when I fail to pray for them later.
The older I get, the harder it is to pray—or maybe the easier it’s become not to pray.
Maybe as we get older—and as uncertainty mingles with our once-childlike faith—it becomes harder to pray to a God who might not even be there, as that voice in the back of our head reminds us.
Maybe all those self-absorbed prayers of my youth—God, help me find a spouse. Help me find a job. Help me do this. Give me that.—have lost whatever fleeting therapeutic power they once held.
For whatever reason, I don’t pray as much as I used to.
But lately, my daughter is helping me learn to pray again—by reminding me how very little control I actually have at any given moment.
Nothing dramatic has happened… well, not in the grand scheme of things. Like a million other kids, she started kindergarten this fall. That first day, we dressed her in her uniform (thank God for school uniforms—now there’s a genuine prayer), took the obligatory “first day of school” pictures, and sent her on her way.
Just like that.
For the first time in her young life, she spends most of her waking hours apart from us—beyond our ability to carefully orchestrate her life, to filter what she’s exposed to, to regulate how she spends her time.
To put it another way, we’ve lost the illusion of control.
Which is what got me praying again. Normally, I’m too busy trying to write the script to my own life. When I feel things slipping out of control, my first instinct is to tighten my grip, to maintain the illusion.
But there is no illusion to maintain this time. I’m not in control.
I can’t determine how my daughter turns out or what kind of experience she has at school. I can’t ensure she befriends the “right” people—the ones who treat her and others with kindness. I can’t protect her from every bad experience or influence.
I am so not in control.
So I find myself praying while she’s at school. Praying that God will go with her throughout the day. Praying that she will be unfailingly kind—especially to those on the margins. That she will be strong and outspoken. That she’ll be accepted for who she is and that she will accept others for who they are, too.
I find that our bedtime prayers are changing as well. We still ask God to bless the same laundry list of friends and loved ones each night. But we also pray about what kind of person she’ll become. We pray for refugees from Syria. We pray about things great and small.
Prayer is still a spiritual discipline I’m not very good at. Those lingering doubts in the corners of my mind still cause me to wonder if there’s anyone listening on the other end.
But the more I come to grips with my lack of control, the more inclined I am to pray. Prayer settles me, at least for a moment or two. I don’t get any of that illusory control back. But when I pray, I find it just a bit easier to live with my lack of control. I find it easier to let go—even if it’s just for a minute.
Image: Gadini on Pixabay / Public Domain