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Adventures in Prayer: Praying Your Way to a God You Can Trustby Sharon Connors
Why Should I Pray?
Prayer makes one master in the realm of creative ideas.
Prayer helps us contact sources of inspiration and wisdom that transcend the rational, analytical side of the mind. Prayer provides a sense of hope and meaning--the certainty that we are a part of a pattern that is purposeful and intelligent.
Dear God, I give thanks today to remember that You have a plan for my life and it's a good one; and that you will give me everything I need to fulfill that plan. Gather me now to be with You as You are with me; soothe my mind and melt my stresses and quiet my fretfulness. Release me from any fears that grip tightly that I may be open to receive all that You so generously give.
The very first thing I remember saying as a child was a prayer. My parents taught me a bedtime prayer, repeating it a phrase at a time until I could say it on my own. I can't remember if I understood the words, but I do remember that saying the prayer made me feel safe and secure.
I also remember lying in bed as a young adolescent and praying, from the depths of my as-yet unrecognized isolation, for Jesus to show up in my room. I imagined Jesus as a light being. Were He to appear, I figured, it would be a sign from God that I wasn't as alone as I felt, that I wasn't as doomed and helpless as I believed. In those days, I was scared to live and scared to die.
My yearning for this indescribable relationship with God even brought me to pray that I would receive the stigmata, which our religion books said were a sign of God's special favor and special power. Looking back, I can see that mine was a beseeching desire for a relationship with God that would give my life meaning and purpose and a sense of belonging to something greater than myself. I wanted to experience a sense of oneness with God. I wanted to feel loved and lovable. I wanted to know that my existence mattered and that my life had meaning.
As I matured, my prayers matured in content but not in motivation. I still grappled with issues of trusting God. Along the way there were many sublime moments when I felt complete trust, when my life held great meaning, when I felt a great sense of efficacy and purpose. But I couldn't seem to sustain that trust until I began to pray to a different kind of God, a God of unconditional love, a God whose purpose was to plumb my depths with goodness and reveal the riches of the kingdom of heaven within me that I might do my part in enriching everything put into my hands and path.
In all my slipping and sliding on the ice rink of faith, I have come to believe that God seeks us way more than we seek God and that our yearning for belonging and efficacy and meaning and purpose is actually God's yearning for us. It is this mutual attraction that is met and actualized in prayer.
In the last year I started doing an informal survey of friends, colleagues, and groups I work with, asking them simply: Why do you pray? The overwhelming response was that people pray because prayer works. It gives them a connection to the Divine that they experience as help, comfort, hope, peace, guidance, and love. Some said that it gets their minds right and helps them feel at one with God and all of life. One man called prayer his direct-dial 800 number to God. He was only half joking, adding that he's learned that turning to God is always the best first choice.
Many research studies have also shown that prayer has a powerful effect on the person praying. Something potently positive happens when one human heart reaches out to the divine heart, some sort of exchange of energy that enlivens and helps the one who reaches out in prayer. (You might say to yourself, "But that's not happening for me." Just try this for a while: When you pray, whether it is a one-sentence turning to God or a longer prayer for help, be totally present to how you feel when you say the prayer. See if you can't detect some perceptible, positive shift.)
The act of praying literally transforms our moods, our body chemistry, and our habits of thought. Prayer transforms because it is both creative and causative. As we pray, we imbibe divine energy. In the presence of such purified thought current, our whole being is affected in healing ways. Prayer actually takes us, like a plane, out of the smog and smoke-laden air into a cleaner, purer atmosphere. Because it accesses divine energy, it nourishes our whole being. And yet there is a beautiful mystery to this most intimate connection with the Divine. Like electricity, we come to know it by what it does.
We Feel Renewed Hope and Comfort
I prayed last night with my friend Lee, who feels helpless and hopeless in the midst of her daughter's ongoing, emphatically denied bulimia. My friend doesn't know what to do next; she is afraid to confront her daughter, Teresa, and afraid not to because Teresa's beautiful singing voice is being compromised by a raw, inflamed throat that will not heal.
We prayed, piercing through the difficult emotions and painful truth, to the light of God in Teresa and to the wisdom of God available to her mom. Our prayer engaged the invincible power of God with whom all things are possible. That prayer thought renewed my friend's hope and she felt comforted. And the thing is, in that consciousness, transformed from worry and desperation to hope and comfort, thinking is clarified and right action revealed. My friend Lee was then able to discern the next right steps to take with Teresa.
When you and I come to an all-good God in prayer, that goodness flows to us in comforting, hope-giving ways.
We Are Guided to Clarity and Right Action
Alisha had been on the verge of divorce for two years. This was her third marriage and she desperately wanted it to work but had been feeling a growing sense of discontent. She would say, "I love Tom but there is just something missing." And off she'd go on another trip--a drive to California, a visit to friends in Florida. Or she'd take up a new hobby. She went back to school, thinking maybe this would fix everything. She had even moved back to Florida where they had met and lived for the first few years of their marriage. Tom was to join her when their house was sold. She was half hoping that wouldn't happen.
One night at dinner, a good friend suggested she do some traveling on the inside and take a real look at herself. The friend asked, "Have you prayed about how you can love Tom and be grateful for all he's given you?" I could tell she really heard this. Her heart seemed to open. I received a beautiful card from her two weeks later saying that everything had changed. She said that she had prayed and had decided to commute back to New York on weekends until the house sold and Tom found a job in Florida.
In the wisdom of God is every right answer and right action. When we let go of all of our "right" answers and, in prayer, come willing to know the will of God, we are guided clearly and given the courage to take right action as guided. The priceless gift we receive is a stronger and deeper faith that grows each time we follow divine guidance. It is a faith not only in God but in ourselves and in others.
Peace Returns as Life's Storms are Calmed
Paula came in just as I was leaving the office for the day. She said that she came to pick up a book for her in-home study group that was meeting for the first time that evening. As we walked out together, she said that there was something she wanted to talk to me about. There was an unusual sense of urgency in her voice that stopped me in my tracks.
"What is going on?" I asked. As she answered her voice became shaky. "We may have to leave the church," she started. She began to explain the story, talking fast. She sounded panicky. It seems someone from her past had shown up--someone she had never wanted to see again. The texture of her emotional state was stormy. As she caught her breath for a moment, I asked if we could pray. I affirmed the presence and power of God strengthening and protecting her, the wisdom of God infallibly guiding her, and the love of God freeing her of all guilt, remorse, and unforgiveness. We were holding hands. At the end of the prayer, I could feel her hands go soft as I heard her breathe a sigh. When she spoke her voice was poised and peaceful.
God is the harmonizing energy of the universe and when you and I pray we access that harmonizing activity to minister to us in calming ways. We then can minister to the circumstance in calming ways.
We Relieve Stress by Expanding Time
Something else that prayer does so well is to relieve us, if only momentarily, of life's stresses. And of all the life stresses people complain about, the one I hear most often relates to time. No one seems to have enough of it. We feel anxious and frustrated because we don't have enough time to do all that is being asked of us by our jobs, families, and the demands of daily living, not to mention finding time for ourselves and the activities our hearts yearn to do. Yet at our fingertips we have the capacity to expand time.
I have gone into burnout more than once, feeling utterly exhausted, depleted, and running on empty. Many times I have found myself operating on automatic, driven by the demands of my job, without even thinking of praying for help.
Two years ago the pace of my life accelerated to the breaking point. I was sure I could not do all that was being asked of me. I had become chair of the board of trustees for our association of churches, an organization of over one thousand ministries. At the same time I took a new position as senior minister at the church at our world headquarters. I had to sell my home and leave my children, grandchildren, and friends to move across the country and begin again. The new ministry was significantly larger than my previous one and my responsibilities far greater. So often I thought, I can't do this. Sometimes I felt just plain empty.
My grand finale as chair of the board came when I had been in the new ministry just six months. I was scheduled to prepare and deliver the ordination ceremony for the graduating ministers in Kansas City, Missouri, then fly to Hawaii the next day to chair three days of business meetings followed by three days of board meetings, then give both a keynote and a farewell address as outgoing chair.
I began to feel a sense of panic at the thought of all I had to prepare in such a short time. There was no way I could get it all done. Until I remembered to pray.
Recalling all the ways prayer had helped me in the past, I decided to practice believing that God would help me with this too. Each time I sat down to prepare for a meeting or speech, I gave thanks to God for the miracle of expanded time. I also thanked God for the chance to do all these great things. I reminded myself that even if I didn't think I was up to accomplishing them, God surely was. I prayed for wisdom and guidance and creative ideas.
What happened next was extraordinary. All kinds of creative ideas started flowing through me. I was able to prepare everything I needed without struggling or working into the wee hours of the morning. Time just seemed to expand.
After the conference, many people thanked me for the way I guided the meetings and told me that they were blessed by my presentations. But I know it wasn't my own doing. It was a power much greater than myself working through me and for me.
This experience caused a quantum shift in my thinking, as I had actually experienced time expanding. The fear of failure that had for so long plagued me and stopped me from doing the things I longed to do all but dissolved. I came to believe that I could do more than I had ever thought possible. I could say yes to opportunities and still have balance in my life. What I discovered through prayer is that time is not the issue; it is only our beliefs about time and the source of creative energy that get in our way.
You see, prayer takes you into the realms of limitlessness in every arena of your life. Instead of saying "I can't because . . ." you will find yourself saying, "With God all things are possible."
Our Relationship with God, Ourselves, and Others Is Strengthened
I prayed my way to a God I could trust, something I had always wanted but never really had. It took time and experience in following the guidance I received in prayer; many times in praying for strength and courage to do something I was afraid to do, and then doing it; letting go of obsessing about and standing in the unknown, letting God be in charge of the way things went.
One of my spiritual teachers suggested, "Start trusting God in little things." I did. I asked for guidance in little decisions of the day. I asked for the right words to say in nonthreatening conversations first, then the more difficult ones. Along the way I began to notice that I not only came to trust God more, I actually began to trust myself more. And, because I trusted myself more, I discovered that I could be more trusting of others.
I have heard many recovering alcoholics say that, in the beginning, they didn't even want to hear the word God. Nevertheless, they followed the suggestion that they start their day in prayer, asking God to guide their day. Over time they noticed how much better their days went when they prayed. A deep trust began to develop, a trust so deep that they were given the power to clean up their past, heal broken relationships, and lead satisfying, productive lives.
In prayer, the confusion and lack of clarity that arise from the polarities of our humanness--right and wrong, kind and unkind, secure and insecure--are poured into the chalice of the Divine, where they are interpenetrated by divine energy. A kind of alchemy takes place in which the raw iron of our hearts is transformed into the gold of trust and radical optimism. We come to feel a sense of belonging and being at home in our own skin and in the universe. This relationship with the Divine is truly the marriage made in heaven and is the hope that gives us a reason to pray. When that relationship gets right, all other relationships begin to be righted.
From the Hardcover edition.Copyright © 2004 by Sharon Connors
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