If You’ve Been Having Trouble Praying, Too

It turns out I haven’t been taking very good care of myself. In what I’ve been eating, in how little I’ve been sleeping, in pent up stress, in how much I’ve been traveling, etc. My body rebelled, necessitating a sick day, and earning me a bit of a tongue lashing from my doctor at my annual physical. My numbers are all fine, but my headaches, migraines, poor sleep, and illness are most likely manifestations of not dealing with this month’s stress well. Plus, I kept writing. And though I’m relieved and proud that I can call myself a NaNoWriMo 2016 winner, it was its own brand of exhausting.

Lots of people in my feeds have been sharing lists of things to do to take better care of yourself, and I am reading them. But I don’t really want to make one. They’re already out there, and I haven’t been doing those things anyway. For me, I know my life is way out of balance (1) when I’m not praying, and (2) when I’m not writing. I need both, and I can do one without the other but I’m still not really healthy that way. And, for me, prayer is the most important of the two. My writing often comes out of prayer and Bible reading. So I’m going to recommend something that has helped me in the past.

If you are struggling and unable to put words to your prayers, remember that prayer, at its most basic, is a conversation. You don’t need to make up your own words to have a conversation. And God doesn’t need words to understand you (Romans 8:26).

Recently, I was sitting in a concert feeling incredibly wounded about a situation in my life. I also felt guilty because I was at something fun with great people but I felt so preoccupied and hurt. And so many other people have such worse hurts. I thought of praying to God but I didn’t know what to say. And I didn’t know what God might be trying to say to me, if anything.

So I tried not to stress about it. I wrapped a scarf around my shoulders (which helps me feel protected when I don’t need it to help me feel warm) and just listened to the music. When a melody touched me, I imagined God feeling it, too, through me. Like electricity. I opened feelings to God without words, letting those feelings ride the melodies I was already sending heavenward. And I kept sitting there, and I kept wanting, and I kept hurting. Performers were singing and dancing to “Upton Funk” and “Soul Man” and I was following along, even clapping, but my brain kept returning me to the hard place and the pain. I couldn’t stop thinking about this certain situation in my life. I couldn’t stop hurting.

And then there was a song that seemed to heal me. Not completely, let’s not be ridiculous, but it was the turning point. It wasn’t the lyrics. It wasn’t the tune. I’d heard the song before, even that day. But this time I had this open line to God, and I’d been sending things to God, and in this song I felt like God sent something back to me. Of course, I didn’t really notice until it was over. But when I did notice, I realized I hadn’t thought of the situation the entire time. I’d had three uninterrupted minutes of enjoying something beautiful.

What a great distraction! I thought. But when my mind touched the painful situation again, this time it didn’t stick me with its claws and drag me back into its darkness and pain. My thoughts brushed by it and just moved away. The tide had shifted. The current no longer pulled me to that pain. Now, the current led me away from the pain, even when I intentionally thought about the situation. And, I could choose not to think about the situation. That hadn’t been possible four minutes earlier.

I felt like God had reached through that song, which was always on the set list, and used it to touch my heart and mind with peace. This wasn’t just distraction, like dinner had been earlier that evening. This was dealing, and a gift.

Prayer doesn’t change the situation but it does change me. And look! I’m writing.

Maybe you have been struggling to write but you aren’t quite as bad off as I’ve been. If so, trying praying a psalm. Psalms 103, 27, and 23 are good starting points. Say the lines aloud that resonate with you. Write them down. Or just underline or highlight them. If there’s something that isn’t true of you right now but that you wish were true, say it out loud. Mark it. Maybe write down the date next to the psalm number and, in six months or eight years, you’ll find that date again. You may not remember by then what you were going through, or you might remember exactly. Regardless, you’ll know and be grateful that you aren’t in the same place anymore.

If you don’t feel able to pray a psalm either, try praying a song. A year and a half ago, I had a playlist of three: Audrey Assad’s “Run Forward,” Gungor’s “Beautiful Things,” and Hillsong’s “Oceans” (I know, I know, but it helped me). Audrey Assad has a new album of hymns out. Or pick Hamilton songs and disco hits. A bouncy new acapella Christmas song. It doesn’t really matter. The concert I attended opened with “Uptown Funk,” remember? My goal was to gather songs with lyrics or melodies or something that spoke to all the turmoil inside me, or just that I wanted to be true. Open yourself up the song’s messages and, as you listen or sing along, release those inner feelings, frustrations, fears, and hopes heavenward.

The goal is to open the lock on your chest that keeps everything inside, and to release those things to God. I promise God can handle them. You may not, I may not, your family may not, the church may not, but God can. God created you. God knows what and who God made.

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