A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about why I don’t pray anymore. And then, you know, because life and people are funny that way, I was told to read this post by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary (which you should at least go skim before you read on). In her post, Jamie brings up some fantastic points that I’ve never heard anyone, let alone anyone in the church, voice before while still maintaining a positive attitude toward prayer. It was extremely refreshing, to be honest, and it got me thinking. Some of the points she made correlated strongly to my past experience with Christianity.
Initially, I was turned off by seeing so many flippant promises of prayer from people I knew wouldn’t actually follow though.
When I read this line, I just wanted to jump through my computer screen and find Jamie and look her in the eyes and say, “Yes.” Because this has been a source of discomfort for me ever since I got serious about Christianity in the 8th grade. Although in my experience, it hasn’t been promises from other people so much as it has been my own promises that were flippant. I have had and still have many, many friends who I know would actually, sincerely pray for any request on a regular basis if I asked. No, it has been me who has said, “I’ll be praying for you,” and then barely followed through. For a long time, praying for others was something I wanted to do, but it hardly ever felt sincere. Sometimes I didn’t know enough about the situation to pray effectively, and other times I grew tired of repeating the same prayers over and over without seeing any actual change. But telling others I was praying for them still felt like something I should do. If I didn’t pray for others, was I really a good Christian? So I would tell people I would pray for them in hopes that the verbal commitment would force me (read: guilt me) into actually praying for them. It, like the rest of my Christian experience, turned into a huge cycle of guilt.
I was told to bring all my cares to God, no matter how trivial or small, because He wants to hear all of it. Right? But it felt weird to pray to God for a sunny vacation and, also? War and famine and orphans.
Again, yes. This was another huge struggle for me. I had so many friends whose parents were divorcing, who had terminally ill family members, who had friends with mental disorders. I knew that there was poverty all around me and people who didn’t have heat in the winter and people who had to beg for food and shelter. It felt so much like I should be thankful for my own trivial problems that I felt like such an asshole praying for them. My prayers, many of which are saved forever in my journals, focused so much on myself and on my own struggles and that felt wrong. And then, if I mentioned it to anyone, I was “given perspective” and reminded of all the other, much bigger problems in the world.
I am not trying to sound like a bitch here. It was simply that this was another thing that made me feel guilty — I felt like I couldn’t pray for my own problems because they didn’t matter that much. I felt like I should be happy with my life at all times because it was (and is) so much better than the lives of others. And if I wasn’t happy, I was doing something wrong. Again, a cycle of guilt. Since I didn’t know how to pray for others, and I didn’t feel like I should pray for myself, I just quit.
We pray because the God who knows us and sees us also connects us.
My philosophy is that life is about people and relationships. I’m not a people person — given the choice between a good book and a crowd of people I’ll take the book any day. I’ve never been one to initiate friendships — all the close friendships I’ve ever had have been initiated by the other person. However, I dearly, dearly love those I’m close to. I really do get a lot from the times I do reach out to people, and I love to sit and discuss anything and everything with my friends. Humans thrive on love, and to me, prayer is a tool to bring us closer. I understand that the point is to bring us closer to God, but the few times that I have actively prayed with people, I have ended up feeling much closer to them than to Him. For some people, growing closer to God brings them closer to other people. For me, I think it’s the opposite way around.
As I’ve said before, I don’t know whether I’ll ever make my way back into the church, or what that will look like if I do. However, reading posts like Jamie’s and knowing that there are people in the church who aren’t completely satisfied with the “Christian” expectations makes me feel validated, and also like there’s hope. It makes me feel like me own viewpoint isn’t so very alien, and maybe there’s a place for me where I don’t have to hide how I truly feel. It makes me feel like I’ll actually find that place someday, rather than forever turning my back on the religion I grew up in like I thought I was going to have to do.
I remembered this song by Brandon Heath before I remembered that the Writing 101 prompt for today was “your three favorite songs.” I’m not a huge fan of contemporary Christian music anymore (that’s a post for another day), but this song fits perfectly with my thoughts today. I encourage you to listen through the chorus at least!
Disclaimer: I did not respond to every single point in Jamie’s post, just the ones that spoke to me specifically. I recommend reading her whole post even if you aren’t religious!