The graduate just can’t live without prayer, says Rick Hamlin, executive editor of Guideposts magazine and author of 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without. But sometimes, we find ourselves feeling as if we don’t know how.
“To try to pray is to pray,” he advises. “You can’t fail at it. Nobody can. Open your heart, open your mouth, say something, say nothing. Shout if you must. Raise your hands, clasp them in your lap. Sing if you please. You can start with a ‘Dear Lord’ and end with an ‘Amen,’ or you can dive right in. You can close your eyes, get on your knees, use whatever language you like or no language at all. You can pray when you’re walking, running, driving to work, setting the table for dinner, lying in bed before you turn the light out.
“To try it is to do it,” writes Hamlin in 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without. “It’s the only human endeavor I can think of where trying is doing. Reaching out is holding on. Joining in is letting go. Prayer is as natural as breathing. It’s fun. It’s a relief. It’s comforting. It’s a solace. You can tell yourself it’s an obligation or that it’s a terrific waste of time, but how often do you get to waste time with a purpose? If you’re like me and think every minute of your day has to be accounted for, you really do need prayer. You’ll run out of steam without it.”
“You can do it in private. You can do it with a friend at your kitchen table or in a church pew or with your family at dinner. You can do it in a windowless basement with a twelve-step group or out under the stars on a summer night. You can practice it all you like, but the practice itself is perfect. No need for a dress rehearsal. All your false attempts, your back-up-and-try-again efforts—they’re it.”
“You will wonder if you’re doing it right,” writes Hamlin. “You will want a little more guidance. You’ll want to hear from others who take it seriously and learn from their example. Even the finest cooks look for inspiration in a new cookbook. But the masters will affirm that prayer is a school for amateurs because doing it from the heart is all that matters. That’s the only expertise you need.”
“For thirty years I’ve made a conscious effort to work on my prayer life,” Hamlin writes. ”I do it religiously, faithfully, absentmindedly. I often forget to pray, but I don’t forget how. I don’t think you really can. A need, a friend, a worry, a piece of bad news or a cause for celebration pulls me back. Returning is part of the process. So is waiting. Besides, being critical of your prayers defeats the whole purpose.
Prayer is a school for amateurs because doing it from the heart is all that matters. That’s the only expertise you need. Pick a time and place for prayer and try to do it every day. Familiarity does not breed contempt in the spiritual life. Familiarity makes it all the easier.
A spontaneous conversation with God, one where you say what’s really on your mind, is more likely to lead to a satisfying conclusion than anything you could have planned. The truth of the matter is that when you pray for someone else, you’re helping yourself. Love is disinterested but love has this side effect of making you bigger, stronger, less selfish, more interesting – in a word, lovelier.
“Give us this day our daily bread” is a reminder not to worry about what will happen in the future. All we need to ask for is what we need today. The Lord’s Prayer is so simple you can memorize the words in an hour. And you can spend the rest of your life learning how to live it.
When you can’t find words to help you pray, reach for a song.
Be thankful in all things. Write them down. Even if you don’t feel grateful, even if you can’t pray. What you write will be your prayer. All it takes is a pen or pencil and scrap of paper. “Courage is fear that has said its prayers,” goes an old saying. It is not that the courageous have fewer fears than the rest of us but that they move beyond them.
“Be bold,” advises Hamlin in 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without, “be playful, be quick, be patient, be thoughtful and then forget all the words and thoughts. Just be. Complain all you want about how hard it is but don’t say, ‘I don’t know how to pray.’ Of course you know how. You were made to pray.”
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