Lately I have found myself doing something new: praying with a soundtrack. I like to pray with music in the background because it gives me something that helps to drown out some of the noise that I find otherwise distracting. Here’s one of my favorite songs to pray to: Spoiler Alert: It’s just a dude screaming.
How can I feel comfortable praying to breakdowns and blast beats? I found it difficult to understand myself at first. Before I get to an explanation, let me back up a bit.
You see the first sentence in this post? Allow me to truncate it to an equally true statement:
“Lately I have found myself doing something new: praying.”
Prayer is new to me. Or at least it feels new. The truth is, I’ve always hated praying. It required me to slow my mind down to a submissive pace. I hate that. As such, I have grown to find prayer to be a nuisance to my otherwise busy and well-occupied spiritual life. I even began to feel quite bad for the people who brought their prayer requests to me, knowing that my “lifting them up in prayer” would probably be something along the lines of: “Dear God, please help __________ with _________. Amen.” (And I’d usually be saying this in my head as they were talking to me just to get it over with).
Dear God, please tell these people to stop asking me to pray for them.
Recently I was encouraged by a local sage [read, “woman who works in my office”] to probe the reasons behind my aversion to prayer. I had a long drive into LA recently, so I decided to dedicate that time to meeting her challenge by praying about…prayer.
My prayer began similarly to most prayers I’ve prayed in the past. Praying about prayer, (or as I like to call it, “metaprayer”) is an interesting thing in that there really isn’t a formula for it like there is for so many other kinds of prayer. And, as a subject that I rarely reflected on, it took a level of introspection on my part. Following the direction of my office mate/spiritual director, I began to explain to God why I don’t like praying. I tiptoed around the issue for a bit, still praying the way I’m used to, (i.e. “Dear Lord, I don’t understand why I don’t pray. Please help me pray better.”) But after a while I got frustrated. Actually, I got angry. After trying unsuccessfully to pray a proper prayer for a while, I just gave up. That’s when I heard these words come out of my mouth:
“You know why I don’t like prayer, God? Because I think it’s a huge waste of time!”
Suddenly, as if scales fell from my
eyes spirit, I was…you know…actually praying.
Now I’m sure I’ve prayed real prayers before. But this prayer seemed somehow different. It was as if all of a sudden God was actually listening to me. It was like the second I decided to take my “spiritual filter” off, God began to believe what I was saying. This was the first time I could ever remember “praying angry.”
Let me pause because I’m sure that there are some who could misconstrue my attempt at honesty as irreverence. In no way am I encouraging insolence or disrespect, especially to God. In fact, if there’s something I’ve learned quickly in my journey of prayer, it’s that each prayer ought to begin with a humble recognition of God’s holiness (i.e. “hallowed be thy name“). No, I feel quite strongly that I am endorsing exactly the opposite of irreverence. When we pray, I contend that we show a lack of respect for God’s omniscience by muting our emotions, language, ideas, frustrations, etc as if He weren’t already aware of them. When we run our lives through a filter before they reach God, we lose the ability to bring all things to God. And yet this is what we do so often; attempt purify our prayers before bringing them to the God who purifies. We scrub away any offensive ideas, harsh language, anger, bitterness, and then pray a spit-shined prayer, which, in my opinion, is no prayer at all. How can we possibly “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2. Cor. 10:5) if we can’t bring Christ every thought?
If anyone is having trouble embracing this idea, I encourage you to read the Psalms. You don’t have to look far to see people being brutally honest with God, even complaining (sometimes whining). Some decent examples would be: Psalm 13; Psalm 22; and Psalm 74.
Sometimes the Psalmists even ask for things that we would consider immoral to pray for today like asking Him to break people’s jaws or kill people. These are the “R Rated” uncensored prayers of imperfect people bringing themselves fully to God.
So why do we sanitize our prayers? Probably through years of learning to “pray proper,” we have lost the art of praying angry. But not just angry. Praying happy! Praying frustrated. Praying tired. Praying grumpy. Praying hopeful. Praying worshipfully. Praying delighted. Praying in anguish. Praying scared. Praying silly. Praying imperfectly. Praying clean. Praying dirty.
I’m not arguing against form. So if you pray with the “thees” and “thous”, by all means keep it up! As long as it’s real. As long as you mean what you say. As long as your prayers are uncensored. Let God censor your prayers. But if all of the dirty, grimy, day-to-day stuff that makes up our lives never makes it to God, then how can we expect Him to intervene? How can we expect to show God to our world, when we’re afraid to show our world to God?
So I listen to aggressive music sometimes when I pray because it reminds me to be real. It reminds me to be angry when I am angry, and to be at peace when I am at peace. It reminds me to let my words be few, but be weighted with meaning. And it reminds me to let God direct my words, thoughts, and emotions, but always as a result of bringing my words, thoughts, and emotions to God.