For April, I decided to take on a new spiritual practice: praying out loud. And so far, I must say, it has been equal parts frightening and rewarding.
Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem praying out loud in front of others. But on one condition: I have the opportunity to rehearse. I have done a few “impromptu” prayers and I get too wrapped up in trying to make them “pretty.” I worry about using the right words and terms, giving it a good flow, and offering the right balance of thanksgiving and request. In essence, I worry about doing the prayer justice. I’m sure the person I prayed with neither noticed, nor cared that the prayer was, in my words, shaky. And I doubt even more that God really cared – it was the act, not the words.
The decision to take on the new practice came after an uncomfortable moment this past Easter. As we sat down at the table, my sister pointed out that I should be leading the dinner prayer since I was the resident seminarian. Panic struck. How did I not see this coming? Why didn’t I prepare something beforehand? I quickly brushed it off with a nervous “isn’t that Dad’s role? I mean, let’s not break tradition here.” My dad, accustomed to praying at family gatherings, brought us into a beautiful prayer and said all the things I jealously wanted to say but did not have the confidence to do.
Confidence. That was exactly what I needed. Oh and practice! Yes, practice. Practice makes perfect, right? So I made the decision that starting in April, I was going to try and pray out loud every day.
Day one can be summed up in one word: struggle. I was not in a good place emotionally after a tough week of balancing school and personal life. Why today? Maybe it would be easier to pray for others instead of myself. So I reluctantly started my prayer, “Good and gracious God…” and began praying for everything else I could think of. But eventually, I realized how much I needed the prayerful help myself. I started putting into words, for myself to hear, the struggles I had been experiencing. I immediately began to cry. My voice shook and I thought “this is the worst prayer ever!” I quickly wrapped it up, wiped off the tears and tried to go about my day.
I have a small handwritten note in the back of my study bible about praying. It actually says: “Feel like you suck at praying? See Romans 8:26-27.” So there I turned for some solace and was reminded of this gem:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is it the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
And there it was – my release. I realized God isn’t looking for the perfect prayer. While I reflected on the ugliness of the prayer, I recognized that it had a quality my prayers rarely did: it was raw. It was genuine. It was, well, me. And that in itself is a beautiful thing.
No longer did I have to worry about the ability of my prayers to succinctly say exactly what I needed. God is searching our hearts, with the Spirit that intercedes when we have no words. This was my license to pray as I could. And it was freeing.
Now that I am three weeks in, it is interesting to see how my prayers have changed. My first prayer not only brought me to tears, but it was also one of the most formal things I had attempted to say out loud. My prayers have now turned a little more casual. “Good Morning, God” is a new opening. It reminds me that God accepts me for who I am and where I am at in life. And if the words don’t come, that’s okay too. Because God knows my heart and that is all that really matters.