Do you pray?
Just to be clear, I’m not asking about those times in church when the pastor says “Let us pray” and we all bow our heads or kneel and share in a prayer made on our behalf. Nor am I talking about those times we share in the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught us, whether we understand it as an example of how to pray or “the” prayer to be shared.
I mean, do you pray? You. By yourself. With God. Or by whatever name you call God.
In the gospel of Luke, the author gives us one of the two stories of Jesus answering the disciples request to teach them to pray (Luke 11). His response includes a short version of what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. But Jesus goes on, first with a parable that reminds us to be persistent in prayer and second, a reminder that God answers with what God knows is appropriate. It seems a little like saying — and I’m paraphrasing Luke with some additions, here — “Ask, and it shall be given to you, though maybe not exactly what you were expecting; search, and you will find, though maybe not exactly what you thought you were looking for; knock, and the door will be opened to you, though it may be a little like playing The Price Is Right, ‘cause you might find something you weren’t expecting.” God knows what is best for you and will answer with what is best for you. Trust God.
That’s a good way of explaining that, I suppose. At least, we want it to be. Sometimes it’s hard to make that enough. Like when we pray that God will help someone with cancer get well and they don’t. Or we pray that God will protect us from abuse, but the abuse doesn’t stop. Or we pray that a loved one travels safely and they’re hurt in an accident. Or we pray that God will help us find a job so we can care for our family, and there’s no work to be found. Or we pray for good healthy crops and there’s a drought. Is it enough then?
I want to say it is. But if you’ve been in one of those situations when you appeal to God for help and it appears that the help isn’t coming, it seems harder to believe, doesn’t it? And not just in God, but in ourselves. After all, what if our prayers weren’t answered because we prayed wrong?
Maybe the key to understanding that better is in the examples Jesus gives, comparing prayer to persistently asking a friend for help, or comparing how God might answer to a parent’s response to a child. It seems, in Luke’s gospel, like Jesus is saying, “You must understand the relationship as if God were a friend or parent who knows us, who really knows us, not like some distant, all powerful entity.” God is not the Great Oz, but our dearest friend, a parent, a lover that knows us intimately, genuinely, uniquely. After all, if we come from God and return to God, how can God not know us so deeply?
I don’t have an answer for how God responds to each individual and unique prayer. I can’t imagine that anyone does. But I know this: Prayer is the voice of our relationship with God. God hears all that is said from our hearts and you can’t — you can’t! — pray wrong. God loves us for who we are and God loves us regardless of how we live. God answers all prayers with love, whatever that love may look like to us.
Talk regularly with God. Pray for needs, but pray with thanks also. Pray because God is listening like a best friend or a parent or a loved one. Pray however your heart needs to speak. But do pray.