Thursday, August 9, 2007

So, how's your prayer life?

Have you ever had anyone ask you that? If you did, did you know how to respond? It's not really an easy question to answer, especially if you're not sure what exactly it is that the person asking, is getting at. Do they want to know if you pray, what you pray for, how often you pray, or if prayer is a central part of your family time? What exactly does "prayer life" mean, anyway?

For some reason this popped into my head last night as I considered my own prayer life and how different it is, than it was the last time someone asked me that question (and it's been years).

I think it's safe to say that the most common understanding of "prayer life" is the role prayer plays in your life. If it's something you're neglecting then you're spiritually malnourished just as if you've been neglecting your physical body with food. If it's a discipline that is a part of what makes you you, and something you do every day, or througout the day - then you have an active prayer life.

My own prayer life now is indeed much different than it was the last time someone asked me that. It used to be that I would pray throughout the day, here or there. Simple, short prayers concerning people and things that I would just stop and take to the Lord. While there's nothing wrong with that of course, and I still do it, what was missing was a daily, dedicated time of uninterrupted prayer. I'm not sure why I didn't do that, but I didn't. Much has changed over the years.

The discipline of prayer (and make no mistake it certainly is a discipline in the sense that it is an activity that conforms and shapes who you are) is a little different for every believer. Some people have a set time of prayer early in the morning, while others have that special time alone with the Lord at the close of each day. Still others do both. Some people keep a literal or mental list of specific people and situations to pray for, and set aside a special time of prayer each day to do that. Some people can (and do) pray silently anywhere, any time, and not be the least bit distracted by what's going on around them. For the record, I'm not generally one of those people.

In thinking about my own prayer life last night, it occured to me how it still bothers me a great deal how easily distracted I am when I pray. For me, there are generally only two scenarios that work for me that allow me to pray uninterrupted. One is literally on my knees and focused on prayer, and the other is to stand at my bedroom window in complete darkness. Those are the only two ways I can pray and not be interrupted by kids, things or various thoughts that pop into my head and cause me to drift. I haven't really given it a lot of thought (until last night) but I can only assume part of the reason I'm so easily distracted is because for the last 25 years I've been in mother/keeper-at-home mode, always having a heightened sense of "where are the kids/what are they doing/why is it so quiet" even when they're sleeping and perfectly safe. Out of nowhere come thoughts like "did I put that laundry in the dryer?", "did I take that meat out of the freezer?", or "did I remember to add cat food and shampoo to the grocery list?". At the end of the day I think my brain simply shifts into daily assess mode and that's where these thoughts come from. As well, moms tend to have "kid on the brain" even when their kids aren't anywhere near them. A great example of a symptom of this is when you haven't taken your kid with you to the grocery store but while there you hear a kid say "mom" and you turn toward that kid. You know it's not your kid, but you have kid on the brain and that's just the way it works. One time, many years ago I took a trip to California to take care of some legal business and I was gone for about 10 days. On the trip home I lost count of how many times I turned around to the back seat to check on the girls... who of course were not there but at their aunt's house in Washington. I knew that, but it didn't prevent me from checking anyway.

Getting back to being distracted (see?) when you pray. It occured to me as well last night, that for me it's a matter of purposely putting myself in a particular physical position, that helps a great deal to avoid distraction. While there have certainly been times where on the spot prayer happens (accidents with kids, or someone asking for prayer right then and there) and I'm not distracted, most of the time I am. Another example of this is in church when the pastor is leading the congregation in prayer. I almost always have one eye closed and one eye open, and on the kids. Reminding them with a hand gesture to quit wiggling or to put the pen down they doodling with. Most of them are pretty good about stopping what they're doing to pray, but Ruth (4) and Samuel (6) are still in little-kid-wiggle-mode and have to be reminded. The same scenario applies at home when we have family prayer after nightly devotions. One eye closed, one eye on the kids, prepared to snap my fingers or make a hand gesture that means "stop and bow your head".

Prayer to a believer is like food & water to the body. You just cannot survive without it. If you were to go days on end without these things then just take a sip or a nibble here or there, you might live but you'd be doing so much damage to yourself and suffering as a result. You would literally be dried up inside and malnourished. The very same applies to your spiritual life when you neglect a set time of prayer each day. You dry yourself up and starve yourself of one of the most refreshing and fulfilling things you can possibly do in your ongoing walk with Christ.

While I certainly don't like being distracted when I pray, I am glad that it still bothers me when I am. When I'm spending time with the Lord in prayer, my desire is that it be time solely devoted to Him, without interruption. It's in those times, that I'm refreshed, find wisdom, direction, comfort and assurance. I couldn't live without that.