By Sam Gutierrez
My first job after graduating college was at a church 30 minutes north of Sacramento. After a bit of time I made some friends in the area. One friend was a youth pastor who worked with high school students in a nearby Presbyterian church. I still remember the day we were sitting in a sandwich shop eating lunch, when he said to me, “I have no idea how to pray.” His confession made me glad for his honesty, and sad that someone raised in the church and now working for the church had no idea how to pray.
I don’t think he is alone. All of us at one time or another can honestly confess, “I don’t know how to pray.” Sometimes words escape us. We don’t know how to phrase things, or we don’t know what we should ask for (should we ask for complete healing or courage to endure the pain with patience–or both–or neither?).
The only way to grow in prayer is to pray.
So. We stumble around with words. Our feelings around prayer are jumbled and mixed at times. We know prayer is important, but we often feel guilty about not praying enough. We marvel at the miracle of an answered prayer and then feel completely perplexed when God seems silent or distant about a prayer request that seems so reasonable and straight forward. There are moments when we sense God’s presence when we pray, but too often we feel nothing. We try our best to express our needs and wants (trying not to mix up the two). Some of us feel nervous to pray out loud in a group setting for fear of saying something dumb or because we are afraid of being judged.
We gather for worship and pray prayers for people in the community–some we know well, others not so much. We pray the Lord’s prayer, we pray the prayer of Saint Francis, we pray the Psalms. We borrow words, and we constantly search to find the words that give voice to our deepest longings, suffering and pain. We pray prayers that seem rote at times. Sometimes we want to give up… and yet we can feel so encouraged when someone says to us, “I’ll pray about that.” And we know they will. Offering to pray for others is a very simple and powerful way to say, " I care about you and what is going on in your life."
Prayer is a central faith formation practice. However, it’s a practice that we never conquer or become experts in. We are always starting over, wandering in the dark, and finding old and new ways to let God know what is going on in our lives and the lives of those we love. As we pray again and again – imperfectly, God shapes us into the image of his Son.
Prayer is mysterious. Prayer is beautiful. Prayer is strange. Prayer is challenging. Prayer is all those things and more. We pray because Jesus taught us to and because praying is a part of what it means to answer the call of Jesus when he says, "Follow me."