Praying is like writing. The first rule of both is “A– in chair.”
Yet somehow, once I sit, there are still a thousand things that distract: A dangling piece of thread must be trimmed. A meeting email must be answered. My daughter wakes up and must be fed her breakfast.
“There’s nothing to writing,” runs a favorite writers’ quote from Red Smith. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Praying is like that, too. Daily it forces me to confront my expectations, my insecurities, my personality. To die to self. To bleed.
Growing up in my family, we prayed “evangelical,” which is to say extemporaneously and, in the case of my mother during family devotions, really long. Now as an adult, I realize that I often pray because it is part of my all-or-nothing personality to do so. I am either tasking at 120 percent or crashing. Prayer fits the demands of both scenarios: In my quest to listen continuously to the Holy Spirit, I often pervert prayer into a mere accomplishment on my obedience “to do” list. When I encounter the limits of my abilities to hear and obey, I turn to prayer as a last resort in the midst of my exhaustion.
What I need is something more balanced: to be still (Ps 46:10) so I can listen to God and to others, to find my center, and to be moved, not by my own frenetic physical or mental activity, but by the power of the resurrection (Phil 3:9–11).
So I attempt to sit and then to sit still, realizing that I can neither pray God into answering me, nor into answering me as I choose. I am obliged to acknowledge that God is Other; he transcends my understanding. What I know of him, I know because he has revealed himself to me. I want to learn to praise him as Other, rather than as an outgrowth of my thirst.
My tenth grade biology teacher posted this sign above her desk: “There is a God. You are not him.” I’m not sure if that was for her own notification, or ours. I now know it is the reality of writing and praying as well as biology.
As an author, I can easily dupe myself into thinking I’m in charge. The characters must behave as I write them. The words must flow as I choose them. I can add or subtract from them any time.
The process of producing this project has taught me otherwise. It started ten years ago in response to my sister’s need for Sunday School curriculum. I taught it myself. I foisted it on my mother and then my writers’ group—God bless them. I finished it just before my daughter was born. Nothing happened with the book while I nursed her constantly and attempted to remember my name. I lectured on prayer. I wrote the book proposal. That chewed up another year. I sent it to traditional publishers. I blogged on prayer. We moved across country.
Turns out, anybody can open a vein. Only God has the power to control the ensuing mess, much less apply it in a timely redemptive fashion. Just because I bleed doesn’t mean you feed. I am not him.
Yet, please God, here (finally) is Ten Ways to Pray. I hope it helps you enjoy praying more. I hope it supplies you with tips, steps, and encouragement. Because it won’t do a thing to help you with the first rule of prayer. You gotta put your own a– in chair.