My very earliest memories of prayer are of lying on my bed, eyes closed with the little lights that dance across like my own personal night sky. And I would talk to Jesus, imagining him taking me by the hand past galaxies to heaven, like he would—I was convinced—when I would die. My sweet Grandma Irma, who had no particular professed faith, later told me that as a three year old I had many imaginary friends I would tell her about, imaginary children that I had with Jesus, my imaginary husband. My childhood seemed saturated with Jesus.
My mother, a few weeks before my fourth birthday, sat me down to ask if I wanted to invite Jesus into my heart. She said that it was something that I had to choose, and she couldn’t force me. And I thought about it at that tiny kitchen table in the 5th wheel trailer, and said after a moment simply: “no.” I was amazed that my mom really wanted me to do something but I didn’t have to, I could say no. So I did.
And my mother, to her immense credit, smiled and said “ok.” Then the next day she asked if I had thought about it more, and I told her I still did not want to. And again she just nodded and said nothing more about it. But that evening, as I was being tucked in with the nightly song and prayer, I asked if I could do the prayer. I remember my heart raced. I knew that I had said no for long enough. I plunged in and asked Jesus into my heart, using the words that my mother had told me about earlier: that I was sorry for my sins and I believed Jesus died for me, and I wanted him to come and live in my heart. It was November 15, 1988 and it happened to be my Godmother Heidi’s birthday. I remember how my parents called her with a happy shout to tell her the good news.
A few years later when my brother was then three, I knew that my parents hoped Jon and I could be baptized together. While we were coloring at the kitchen table in house my parents built in the California mountains, I asked if Jon if he had Jesus in his heart. He said “no.” And while my mom silently cooked dinner in the background listening to our exchange, I told Jon I thought he should have Jesus in his heart, so we could be baptized together. I told him that he should pray and ask Jesus to come live in his heart, and Jon, much faster than I had, said “ok.” I told him to repeat after me. It is the only time I have had the privilege of leading someone in that sweet prayer.
Two decades later, my whole family is significantly more liturgical and sacramental. The rhetoric and timing of prayers and baptisms is different, earlier and more process oriented. But as much as I have grown, as my faith is anchored by the traditions and history of the Church as well as stretched by complexities of experiences and relationships of nearly three decades, I think that my first prayers are much like my prayers now.
My prayers are still reluctant at times, something I know I should do but I put off. They are my words and yet also words I borrow. My prayers are rooted in relationship and a sense that Jesus is all around me.
My prayers are still reluctant at times, something I know I should do but I put off. I still struggle with guilt that I should be praying more. And sometimes that is because, well, I should be praying more, or at all. I have a lot of perfectionism with prayer, if I don’t pray all the hours, then why bother praying any of them. If I can’t get prayer “right” then why try and fail? I know that is a rather silly notion that God has some sort of chart and wants to see all the boxes checked in a neat pattern, and a day missed ruins it. I don’t know exactly what do about this except to pray what we pray every Sunday, “Almighty God we know not how to prayer, teach us to pray.”
My prayers are my words and yet also words I borrow. The liturgy is something that I came to love in high school. First as I worked at a Lutheran camp, then as my family started attending an Eastern Orthodox Church. It continued as I went to college and started to learn the Anglican service. It wasn’t really until my senior year of college that I learned to use a prayer book, as I met with two other women a few times a week to do Morning Prayer, and watched as they navigated picking canticles and collects. Just as borrowing my mom’s words for that first prayer helped me to articulate my own heart’s desire, so borrowing the words of the pious and poetic saints who have gone before me helps me to learn how to pray.
My prayers are rooted in relationship and a sense that Jesus is all around me. While I don’t have the same imaginary friends and games I did as a child, still Jesus is in my imaginings. He is with me during my walks as I daydream. He is with me when I sit down to write. I have a sense of his pleasure as I make connections between the ancient and the now. And that means that I often start my writing time with prayer, and that my writing itself can be prayer.
What helps you make time for prayer? What gets in the way of prayer?
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