There are all kinds of lessons they teach you in church; the one I hear least often is prayer. How do you pray?
I suppose the reason for this is because it's supposed to be natural. What you say is between you and God--you’re not supposed to think about what you say, you’re just supposed to say it.
Growing up in a Methodist church, prayer had always been more of a ritual; people did not say, “Let me pray for you” and the church prayer chain was meant strictly for gossip. Prayer was strictly kept to the ones you could read off in the back of hymnals, and the Lord’s Prayer, which half the church never seemed to remember completely.
It wasn’t until college, when I joined a campus Bible study, that I saw the more charismatic side of prayer. I remember after the study the leader had everyone huddle around in a circle for what he called “prayer time.” He went around the circle and everyone said what they needed prayers for. It was a nice gesture, but when it came turn for me to say what I wanted people to pray for, I said, “I’m good.”
Next it was time to pray, “Everyone just take turns praying for someone.” The leader said. This can’t be good, I thought. As I closed my eyes to pray, all I could think was Okay, what person do I pray for, and what is their name, and when should I pray--if I pray now will someone else start to pray at the same time and then I'll interrupt them and we'll have to decide who to pray for. And what if my prayer isn't good enough? What if I pray to short or too long?
The prayer time was meant to be a personal experience—a way for everyone in the group to feel close to each other. It made me feel uncomfortable.
The problem was I was over thinking about the prayer time; but I don’t think I’m alone.
Perhaps I’m just being cynical here, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a small group study—maybe fifteen people—and during the prayer time there’s always some person who wants to be the prayer hero. Who is struggling to remember every single prayer request, and then adding to it—they’re praying for the economy, the President, for their parent's dog who might have a cold, and their Grandma who’s hoping to win big at bingo. And they appear to be doing the prayer in one giant single breath—and all I can think is “shut up with your prayer already!” It’s not communication with God—it’s a thesis on pointlessness.
Then there are the dinner table prayers--they start the same and end the same. How many different ways are there to pray for food? And if all you ever say is "Father, bless this food" how do you keep that prayer sincere? At some point prayer just seems to be more a ritualistic tradition then a prayer.
The prayers are valid, of course, and sincere. But still, I can't help but wonder if we'd all be just a little less tense praying—if we were thought more about what a prayer is and how to do it—how to free your mind of everything and just talk to God. Churches teach many things, but they often fail to teach the most simple: how to pray.