Practicing Parents

Prayer: Bridging the Chasm between Distractions and the Divine

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I have been thinking a lot about prayer lately. I had my bi-weekly appointment scheduled with my spiritual director this week, and I wanted to talk to her about my thoughts on prayer, but she was sick, so I have been hashing this one out on my own.

So, let’s pretend that you are all my spiritual directors. If you were my spiritual director, you would offer me a steaming cup of coffee in a bright Fiesta mug, and you would be warm and lovely and wise. You would also attentively listen to my rambling and then pull something spiritually significant out of my scattered thoughts.

Good luck. 😉

I started mulling (obsessing) about prayer when I was preparing a sermon a few weeks ago. I had never preached before in my life, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was terrified I was going to make an idiot of myself in front of a slew of intelligent, highly educated Mennonites. It was during that sermon prep period that I understood why preachers seem to have such a handle on prayer. Maybe it’s not so much that they are super spiritual—maybe it’s just that they pray desperately to God every week that He would help them not to make an idiot of themselves. At least, that’s what I prayed for. I can’t speak for the real pastors among us, but my prayers went something like this: “Dear God, I have no idea what I am doing. Please help the congregation to hear something meaningful, even if you have to muffle their hearing in order to do so. Please help them not to think I am stupid. Oh, and please show me the words to say as I dig into this scripture passage I am supposed to discuss that, as of right this second, means nothing to me. Just…help. Thanks.” Poor God. He heard so much whining out of me that He finally gave me something to say, just to shut me up. If he ever actually had me on his “call to be a pastor” list, I’m pretty sure He has since erased my name.

My thoughts on prayer continued to tumble over themselves after my sweet aunt died. She was 101. I couldn’t go to her funeral, but I heard that one thing her son said at the funeral was that his mom had continually bathed him and his family in prayer. She prayed. A lot. I know she prayed for me.

My grandparents are the same way. They pray. A lot. I know they pray for me every day, probably multiple times a day. There is something about that generation. They value the discipline—and the gift—of prayer in a way that I don’t think my generation does. They are not as distracted as we are. My grandparents don’t do Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Every time my grandma calls my cell phone and leaves a message she says, “Hello? Jill?” Like I might hear her voice and decide to pick up. My grandpa has a computer, but it was built in approximately 1492, and I’m pretty sure Juno is his internet provider. Minus watching the news and the Gaither’s, they aren’t distracted by much. So they pray.

I worry, a little (a lot) about what will happen when they aren’t around anymore to pray for me. It’s not that I think their prayers are like magic dust floating through the air, but I do think they are kind of like a blanket over me. I feel safe under the loving blanket of their prayers. They gently—invisibly—link me to God, even when I think I am too busy to stop and to pray. I absolutely adore my grandparents. When they die, I am going to completely fall apart. Completely. At some point, my brain is going to clear a little, and I’m going to panic, because that blanket of prayer will be gone. Maybe that sounds silly, but for some reason I feel more secure walking through my days knowing that I am soaked in loving, fervent prayers.

Following the example of my aunt and my grandparents, I feel challenged and called to pray in a new way, a disciplined way, a way that delves a bit deeper than something like, “Please help me find my keys in the next forty-five seconds so that Jack isn’t late for school.”

I do think my prayers might look different than theirs. I used to think I had to write out my prayers or keep a prayer list that I faithfully prayed through each day. I did that for many years, but I am OCD enough that it became a problem—did I pray for everyone? Did I follow the correct formula? What if I didn’t do it right?

So now, I pray whenever I catch a glimpse of God.

I find God in the quotidian. I love mundane tasks. I find God in the rhythm of chopping vegetables and clipping clothes on a clothesline and sweeping my floors.

I find God in nature. My heart opens up to God in an expansive way as I look out my window at our pond or as I greet my neighbor’s horses or as I watch a mama cow feed and protect her calf.

I find God in poetry and beautiful sentences.

I find God in my children’s hugs and in my husband’s crazy love for me.

But…but….

Those are the places that are easiest for me to find God, to breathe God, to talk to Him.

I sigh and shake my head as I sit here and write, because while all of those spaces to pray are good and beautiful and true, I think I also need to pray in a more intentional way. In a way that makes me stop. In a way that makes me a little uncomfortable. Maybe?

Maybe I need to pray instead of filling in any silent spaces with NPR.

Maybe I need to pray at stop lights rather than read texts.

Maybe I need to pray in the school pick-up line rather than catch up on Facebook.

Maybe I need to fill my empty spaces with God instead of distraction.

But, here’s the thing: I don’t know how to do that. I don’t think I know how to pray instead of listening to NPR or checking texts or reading Facebook status messages.

(How pitiful is that?)

I want to pray. I want to blanket my own children in the same prayers that have lovingly blanketed me.

(Do they even know I pray for them? Do I even pray for them—really pray for them?)

So, my spiritual directors, what do you think? Please sit down with me, offer me a steaming cup of coffee, be warm and loving and wise, and help me. How do you pray, especially for your children?  How do you and God bridge the chasm between distractions and the Divine?

Jill Clingan

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3 thoughts on “Prayer: Bridging the Chasm between Distractions and the Divine

  1. Jill, your pre-sermon prayer sounds very very familiar. I will say that I do not get internet on my phone–partly because I’m cheap and partly because I know I would be constantly checking FB and email. I do, however, listen to an inordinate amount of NPR. Which my spiritual director actually discussed with me . . .

  2. I offer you your java and I will have tea. I have been thinking about something like this quite a lot. I write my morning pages faithfully. I write again when I hear the message in my mind that doesn’t match what is good and true. I keep trying to go deeper and reach a quiet space of knowing and listening or maybe just listening. I read the most beautiful blog about marriage…so beautiful it made me cry. Some of what she said was that maybe what was needed was more communion and less communication – less words. I thought of that as I read what you wrote. What if it is more about showing up in each moment fully present and listening and loving and connecting than any words? I am working on that one. I think the noticing and connecting and living in a loving and grateful way is they way of listening most fully to Him.

  3. Find something spiritually meaningful in your ramblings? OK: the obvious is that you see the importance of prayer. It is a connection with God, and a connection with those you pray for and those who pray for you. You invite God into your daily life rhythms. This is so far from the simple rote recitals that pass for prayer among so many of us (including, at times, myself). Now, the tricky part, at least for me, is that when prayer is a natural thing, how do you also make it a discipline? How do you train yourself to pray instead of being distracted? I recently read Brother Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God” and he said that it took him 10 years to master that discipline.

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