Structured Prayer

16 Apr

Prayer was such a hard thing for me as a Protestant. I wanted to pray…but the churches I attended believed that a good prayer was very long and that if you didn’t make it up yourself it wasn’t genuine. Those were the only guidelines, created so that supposedly anyone would be able to pray according to them – yet they were so hard to follow.

I’d lay awake at night wanting to talk with God, but for some reason it was hard for me to make my prayers last longer than a minute or two. Surely that wasn’t an appropriate amount of time. And then I’d realize that I had borrowed some of the words and phrases I used. Well…I guess that prayer wasn’t genuine.

For years I tried and failed to create ten to fifteen minute prayers that I truly meant.

Do you know how hard that is? I always wonder if my pastors and teachers realized the chain they added to my life with their teachings on prayer.

Eventually I could manage to make my prayers long and meaningful enough – after all, I am pretty decent at throwing words around. Everyone would always ask me to pray before meals or at events or at church because my prayers were very beautiful and everyone thought they sounded very heart-felt.

I didn’t really pray that much on my own though – it was too exhausting to come up with all those words for just myself. Why not save them to share with others? Sometimes I would throw up a quick “Help me, Jesus,” but those only happened when I was desperate enough to not worry about the guilt associated with not devoting enough time to prayer.

But more often than not I would think, ” I don’t have the words (or time) to pray.”

And then a few years ago I picked up a Book of Common Prayer in a used bookshop. As I flipped through it I encountered prayers that weren’t nearly as long or original as I’d thought prayer had to be. I took that book home and I prayed through it.

The funny thing is that as I built my prayers around a structure they became longer and I even started to actually mean them the way I had wanted. But at that point length and meaningfulness weren’t my priorities anymore. My goal was simply to communicate with my God.

Yesterday as I watched the news about the awful things going on in Boston. I found myself wanting to do something – to fix the situation. A few years ago I would have just sat and watched the news all night. But instead I pulled out my rosary, walked outside into the beautiful sunshine, sat on the grass, and prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on the people of Boston.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on those injured in Boston today.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on all emergency workers.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion have mercy on us and on our government leaders.


4 Responses to “Structured Prayer”

  1. Connie Rossini April 16, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    I’m so glad you’ve discovered the treasury of vocal prayers! Funny, it’s one of the things Protestants tend to criticize about Catholics. Have you looked into the Catholic ideal of mental prayer as well? Praying from the heart doesn’t have to be a struggle to find the right words. Introduction the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales is the classic book of the spiritual life and has a huge section (about a third of the book) on mental prayer. I blog on mental prayer A LOT too. (Not like you don’t have enough to read right now! 🙂 )

    • elliejaneohara April 16, 2013 at 11:11 am #

      The concept of mentally praying is actually something I looked into a few months after I began praying through the Book of Common Prayer. It’s funny because it was actually something I already kind of did – researching it just put a name with a face, so to speak!

  2. exreligiouschristian April 17, 2013 at 6:41 am #

    I know exactly how you feel! In my old church I was always made to feel that if I didn’t say long prayers I was not connected to God, but like you said it’s very hard to do long prayers when they’re disingenuous. However, when I left my church and started to connect with God for myself I didn’t feel the need to impress anyone and my prayers became longer as well! Not because I was being influenced by people but because I just wanted to talk to God.

    • elliejaneohara April 17, 2013 at 7:29 am #

      It’s amazing how once there’s no longer pressure to create good prayers, all of a sudden prayer came to us easier and more readily! It seems so contradictory, but it makes sense at the same time.

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