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Praying Wrong

August 3, 2022

By Jo Wiersema

Midweek Musings is a weekly Covenant blog with a variety of authors and a variety of topics.

It’s hard not to feel performative in public prayer.

As I bring our congregation to God, as we give thanks before a meal, as I sit with the little ones in church and pray for our time together, it sometimes feels like a performance. There’s language associated with public prayer that it feels like we must stick to. To stray from the liturgy, to stray from the formal address to God, is to break the unspoken rules of the worship service.

I’m stuck at a standstill while I’m trying to write a formal letter to God on personal stationary, making sure I add the right number of stamps so it will get there in time.

I’m stuck with a list of questions in prayer:

Will I say the right words?

Will God listen?

If I ask for prayers for myself, will that even do anything, or will it just lead to church gossip about my own doubts?

I much prefer to sit alone with a cup of coffee and God. Unlike the personalized stationery, I’m writing streams of consciousness on the back of an envelope I should have recycled months ago.

I say the wrong words.

I sometimes slip up and cuss.

I don’t have to be strong.

I’ve fought with prayer so much in the last year. I’ve tried to use the acronyms, the checklists, the prayer lists from church, but I end up back in the same place. I keep stumbling back to the old, stained couch with my cup of coffee and Bible and just whisper “God, please help”.

I pray to God in the same way that I call on an old friend.

I want to hear their voice, I want to bring my concerns, my excitement, my fear, to a safe place to process it all.

The letter doesn’t have to be perfect. If I waited until I had the right words, God would feel so far away from the everyday pain and frustration. I’d never find the perfect stationery, I’d never find the right stamp to communicate what exactly I’m feeling, and I’d spend all day stumbling over words.

Sometimes I’m looking for advice or guidance on the next step in the process, but sometimes I just need someone to listen. Like a good friend when I release the piles of confusion and frustration, there isn’t a solution, the next step is to breathe and to live in the moment.

At the end of Kaleidoscope Kids, we pass around a small stone with the word “Grace” engraved on it. Each person takes the stone and they can say a prayer out loud or to themselves. The older kids hold the stone close to their heart, you might see their lips moving silently, eyes squinted closed. As the rock passes hand to hand, grace moves along to each little heart.

The rock came to our two youngest attendees on Sunday, after the preceding moments of silence from the older children, they held the rock together and giggled. Prayer is sometimes beyond words, it’s overflowing joy in a room of creativity and Godly Play.

Prayer is for the many,

for the tears without words,

for the giggles and held hands,

for the rage at the unspeakable and giddy hope.

I pray because it’s so much easier when you don’t have the right words.

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