Growing up I was involved in church a lot. My granddaddy was a preacher – not a minister mind you, but a preacher. Southern. Full Gospel. Meaning, loud, gregarious and energetic. Good people. Nothing weird. My dad was also a preacher. Maybe more on the minister side of things, but all the same, loved church and the Lord.
I was taught how to pray when I was a child. It went something like clasping your hands together, maybe involved saying your bedtime prayers on your knees, and starting with something like, “Dear God, Thank you for this and that. Bless him and her…” And maybe a special request in there as well.
That was praying.
So was this. “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
For years as a child, I would recite the Lord’s prayer and my personal prayer at bedtime, just before going to sleep.
Other prayers took place inside of church and were more formalized. I never questioned how to pray or why we pray. I just felt that it was important – my duty, my obligation to pray. Almost a way of acknowledging and respecting God.
Of course, as you grow up you begin to realize you can pray anywhere and at anytime. You can pray amidst traffic jams and before surgeries. You can pray before job interviews and even when you are sick from a hangover. You simply verbally, or mentally, begin talking to God.
There is a definite start and end point of a prayer. Dear God and Amen.
There – that should do it.
And when we go to prayer in desperation, we REALLY REALLY mean it.
How confused we are when our prayers aren’t answered.
Now, that confused me as a child, as well as an adult. But then, I suppose it confuses most of the world.
Why doesn’t God always answer prayer? Why does the world suffer?
While I don’t pretend to have the answer to why there is suffering in the world, I have come to a personal understanding of what it means to really pray to God. Why some prayers are answered and others are not. This is not an oversimplification by any means, and I’ll share some insights I’ve recently learned, about the bigger picture outside of our prayer requests. But here’s what I’m thinking…
We are in constant communion with God.
Prayer does not begin and end when we clasp our hands together. It doesn’t begin and end when we say, “Dear God” and “Amen”. It doesn’t begin and end when we are in church, or when we are concentrating really hard. It is always present.
God knows us, understands our thoughts, emotions, desires, wants and needs and we are continuous broadcasting this message to him. If God is omnipresent and omniscient, he is always aware of what we are saying, needing and wanting.
He is never at a place of ‘not knowing’ what it is we are thankful for, what it is we want to bless, what it is we need. Please understand my use of the word ‘he’ is used in a traditional sense. I’m not sure it’s entirely appropriate, but that’s a conversation for another day.
The following is a recent personal Facebook post I made, and I was pleasantly surprised to receive warm sentiments about this line of thinking…
“Pretend for a moment that God doesn’t speak English. He can only perceive emotion/thought/feeling.
So if you prayed in a state of fear, doubt, worry, God would, in his abundance, give you back all that you came to him with plus more. As you seek, so shall ye find.
If you prayed in a state of love, gratitude and appreciation, God would give you back all that you came to him with plus more.
Now imagine that prayer doesn’t just happen when you close your eyes and say ‘Dear God’.
Imagine that we are in a state of constant communication, constant communion or prayer with God.
So God is always providing. And you are always asking. But you are ‘asking’ based on how you are feeling, what you are thinking.”
This is what I have come to believe. And in doing so, it has really enhanced my life and my connection with the divine.
No, I don’t have the same belief system of the church I was raised in, but that’s not really the point. The idea is to enter this world daily with love, rather than with fear. Jim Carrey, (yes I was surprised at his deeper, metaphysical self) gave a speech in recent years that really speaks to this. It’s quite a beautiful speech about life and the nature of life. He says that about the best he can figure is that we can either go forward in this life with love or with fear.
That is what makes the difference.
Love being beautiful states of being: gratitude, appreciation, happiness, fulfillment, hope, kindness, optimism, faith, certainty, eagerness, excitement, adoration, generosity…
And fear being unharmonious states of being: doubt, worry, anxiousness, guilt, resentment, hostility, anger, blame, pessimism, frustration…
We are forever planting seeds. We are reaping what we are sowing. We are living the fruits of what we have labored.
Now, here’s the b-i-g thing.
And I say BIG because it is really something that affects our lives in tremendous ways and ties all of us up in knots physically and metaphysically. It can even make some renounce God or begin to live in a state of fear, blame or hatred.
Why, if we come to God with sincerity and pure desires, such as for the health of a loved one, do we experience the opposite of what we are asking for? Is God not answering our prayers? Or is he answering but giving us the response we don’t want?
Certainly God and prayer is not a method of wish-making. New cars, cures from diseases and world peace. But if we are in constant communion with God, and he is answering in abundance based on what we think and feel.. why would that not always work, if we have faith?
I was listening to Life Visioning recently by Michael Bernard Beckwith and I really loved what he had to say about this. He had received countless letters from people with heartbreaking situations.
They believed that their thoughts created their reality. And so, when something terrible happened, they blamed themselves. One example was a woman whose daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. The mother wrote to him asking if she made this happen somehow… if she had thought this into being, or if her daughter had.
Imagine living with that kind of guilt. And yet I could see how a person would arrive at such a conclusion, untrue as it might be. “If I can create my reality, why would this terrible thing happen to me?”
It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Do we revert back to agnosticism? Do we throw our hands up and say God isn’t listening, prayer doesn’t work or go back to victim mentality? “I can’t control anything in my life. Life is just a struggle. We are here to suffer and then die. Life is unfair, etc.” Do we give up our newfound power of actually being able to have a say in how our lives unfold?
Do we give up our vision boards and our affirmations?
Our meditations and our prayers? Our nature walks and our spiritual readings?
No. Here is what he said (paraphrasing broadly from memory here): There is something that is beyond our understanding at play here. There are things that transcend our ability to understand or change. When we blame our thoughts for helping to manifest something negative, we are again participating in victimhood thinking. We need not forgive ourselves, for there is nothing to forgive. We did not ‘do’ this terrible thing happening in our lives. There is a higher purpose, and we do not always have the ability to see that at the time.
While he spoke it much more eloquently than I’m able to write it, it was the first time I’ve really heard this addressed in this way. And it makes sense to me.
There are laws and forces of nature and energy and life that we can exact some power over. We can work with the power of our sub-conscious and create new neural pathways for change, success, new habits, self-development. We can learn NLP (neurolinguistic programming) and create habits that actually alter our bodies and brains.
We can affirm our goals and desires, create vision boards, do visualizations and see real results in our lives. From manifesting free coffees (one of the first things I tried and succeeded at) to creating celebrations for successes yet achieved – yet KNOWN to be true through sheer faith (my first financial success in business).
We can pray by the bed, in our heads or with congregations. We can keep a child-like faith.
We can broadcast our signal of gratitude and abundance, wealth and fulfillment out to the universe.
But when the worst happens, we have to let ourselves be free of it.