My friend, @SgBz, posts on twitter: “Whatever else prayer may or may not do, the 1st thing it changes is the one praying.”
I reply: I agree.
I’m not quite as eloquent in 140 characters as I hope to be in this essay, but I truly believe what he wrote.
Let me take you back some years…
I am pretty desperate because that’s what it takes for me to think that I cannot solve all my problems ALL BY MYSELF thankyouverymuch. A friend suggests that I pray everyday about my situation. She says that I don’t even need to believe in God or understand why I am praying. She suggests that I get on my knees and talk.
That evening, I look right and left. I creep quietly up the stairs and walk nonchalantly into my bedroom. When I confirm no one is following me, I quickly close and lock the door. I walk to the other side of the bed as far away from the windows as possible.
I crouch down on my knees and bring my hands in front of me ready to jump up at any time and say NOT PRAYING!. My breath is rushing in and out because I’m pretty sure I’m going to get caught. Haven’t you heard of the roving bands of intelligent atheist looking to point and laugh at the crazy praying people?
I pause for a moment and say: Hi God. It’s me, Alex. Yes, like the book, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but with the wrong title because it’s a darn good book with a title that I always mess up. I mumble, I don’t know what I’m doing here, but thanks. Okay bye.
The next day I pray again. Same routine. Same fear of being caught. Slightly longer conversation.
I pretty much repeat this until I begin to realize that something is happening. At first, I think that everyone else is changing. Wow. This prayer thing ROCKS. But I am assured, by people smarter than I, that my prayers are not that powerful. My prayers are not mystical spells and magic wands. In fact, it is pointed out that my situation has not changed much at all. It is my perspective that is shifting. I carried a bit more peace and joy into my daily living. Perhaps, daily prayer is changing me.
Now given my track record, this should be the point where I say: Thank you very much for all your help. Now I’ll stop doing what is working so well and go back to my old ways. Followed by a big ol’ high-five to God and prayer as I walk out the door.
But even that is different. Slightly. But enough that I continue to chat with God to this day. I don’t even need to be in a locked room anymore. I pray in the car after that jerk cuts me off because maybe he’s rushing to hospital to see a loved one. I pray in line while the store clerk figures out how to process the check of the woman in front of me (because WHO STILL USES CHECKS?) because really I could use more practice in patience anyway. I pray when good things happen. And bad things. And no things. I even pray WITH OTHER PEOPLE. Like holding hands. And, eventually, I pray FOR other people. But not in a SMITE THEM kind of way. More in a Thy will be done kind of way. I pray they have the strength and acceptance to go through whatever they need to go through, and I pray to get out of my own way so I can be helpful in the ways they need — not how I want to be useful. Because maybe I don’t know all the answers so I should not pray for my answer to come true and I should not force my way upon the world or my friends.
Because when I think that it’s you who needs to change and it’s you who needs to pray, I stop and pray on it. And eventually, you get to be exactly who you are. Because I’ve changed. Because I am forever changed. By the simple and powerful act of prayer.
A version of this post first appeared on LateEnough.com in April 2010, but I’ve seen so much backlash against praying that I thought it could use a revised second showing.
About the writer: Alex Iwashyna went from an undergraduate degree in political philosophy to a medical doctor to a stay-at-home mom, writer and Christian by 30. Four years later, she spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog, except when it’s serious, about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity.