Monday, June 11, 2012

Self-Deprecating Prayers—Let’s Keep It Simple


How do you pray?  Is it simply a blast toward the unknown in a time of distress?  Do you pray to the one you know loves you, hears you, and responds?  What does that prayer sound like?256px-Prayer

Sunday morning I was tired.  When I’m tired I seem to find fault with something I might let slide on another day.  On Sunday it was our worship leader’s prayers.  In truth, her prayers usually distress me.  Part of that is because I have spent years overcoming the feeling that I don’t belong, that I’m too different, that I don’t fit in with the stream, that I’m a fish out of water. 

I feel that I don’t belong because I only recently realized that my symptoms (see, I’m still treating it like a disease), my attributes as an introvert are OK, acceptable, and maybe even valuable.  Even while I mentally acknowledge this statement, I mentally search for ways to “fix” me.  Someday, I will have no doubts, but until that time, I teeter between the truth and the falsity I grew up with; sleep deprivation tends to swing me toward the dark side.

Jesus, taught us (introverts included) that we could approach God with confidence.  He taught his followers to communicate directly, no beating around the bush, no self-flagellation.   Here is what he said.  Read it out loud.  What do you hear?

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:7-13 NIV)

Notice, he said “how you should pray,” not what you should pray for.  It’s simple.  We can stand, sit, kneel, or assume any position we like.  We can speak words of our need:  Father I need you today.  Life isn’t working; open my eyes so I can see your kingdom and be part of it.  Keep me from hurting myself or others.  Forgive me for the harm I cause.  Nourish me with Yourself, Your word, your food.  We can approach God easily.

On Sunday morning, I hear something like: “We just want to praise You God.  We just want to be here with you.  Won’t you just come and be with us.”  I hear someone who doesn’t trust that God will provide.  I see her miserable on her bloodied knees just begging God for just some morsel.  Maybe it’s a sloppy speech habit.  Maybe she feels that she needs to pray between songs and doesn’t know what to say so she uses “just” as a filler word.  But what I hear is: I’m worthless, approaching God as a person without worth, even though he made me in his image.  I’ve spent years trying to overcome that feeling; I don’t need have it thrust at me at church.

My husband often accuses me of using words he doesn’t understand.  Self-deprecating means under-valuing ourselves, seeing ourselves as worthless worms.  (Although worms are useful:  they till and fertilize the soil and provide food for plants, fish and birds.)  It’s the opposite of the problem we have of over-valuing ourselves or our children and letting them believe that everything they do is amazing.   Here’s a more measured attitude from a Boston area high school graduation speech titled “You’re Not Special.”

So, extroverts and introverts and everyone, let’s be careful how we say things.  Let’s monitor our words so that when we’re leading a group in prayer we’ll follow the direction of Ecclesiastes 5:2 (NIV):   Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

If you need help making your words few, try writing your words.  Then rewrite and excise those words that add nothing or mean nothing and don’t belong.  Words aptly spoken will arise in beauty from simple thoughts and right use of language. (Pv. 25:11, NIV)

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