For New Year’s this year, I made two resolutions.
One: Pray Morning and Evening Prayer every day. Two: Don’t do anything that I don’t want (except praying Morning and Evening Prayer every day).
Mind you, I would rather do nearly anything than pray. Here is a brief list:
- Read a novel.
- Copiously document the growth of my lettuce plant via Instagram.
- Rehearse the minutiae of my day to Josh in excruciating detail.
- Spend 10 minutes thinking of a witty Facebook status.
- Watch Parks and Rec.
- Watch 30 Rock.
- Watch Downton Abbey.
- Make an inventory of all the food in our pantry, fridge, and freezer.
- Run. (Now I’m getting desperate.)
- Read a book about prayer.
- Write–an email, a blog post, a to-do list, anything.
- Talk to my friends about how I don’t want to pray.
You get the idea.
Last week, I went about seven days without praying.
The first day, it just slipped my mind. The second day, I felt a twinge of guilt. After, I felt a bit unhinged, a bit homeless. Like I had wandered curious down a side street in my neighborhood, not quite sure where it went, and was not sure of my way home.
I would rather do almost anything than pray on most days. It’s probably bad for a would-be pastor to say, but it’s true. Speaking (thinking?) words that you don’t feel quite sure where they’re going. Testing whether this feeling you have is from God or a dream or the result of the strange lunch you had. Wondering whether you are, in fact, crazy to be sitting here talking to yourself. Sitting in the silence, the sometimes deafening silence, when all you want is a word, someone to speak back to you, someone that is real flesh and blood, not just spirit.
Yet I do pray, most days. I have found a home in the Book of Common Prayer and the words of the Psalms, the words that Christians have made a home in for ages.
Regardless of what I would rather do, I rise, and in the morning, I pray, “Open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” When I would rather go over the budget one more time or clip the coupons or sell something on Craigslist, I pray, “My hope is in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
When I would rather do anything than pray, my lips somehow find themselves saying, “We your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made.”
But still, sometimes I would rather not pray because my heart is not all in it. And it is better not to pray at all, I think, than to pray with half a heart.
But one of my theology professors said it this way: The things we do make us who we are. If our souls are a dust road, then when we drive on it over and over, we make a path that it’s near impossible not to drive on. Prayer, my professor said, wears a new groove in our souls. But the only way to be made new is to drive that same way, over and over.
The groove is not there yet. Even with my years of following, I would usually rather not pray, and it seems worse to pray with my unholy self than not to pray at all.
But I suspect that the saints have always known that the prayers we pray, half-hearted as they are, are better than the prayers we don’t. And that the praying is the only way to make our half heart whole.
The minister Renita Weems says, “Sometimes you have to pray the prayers you can before you can pray the prayer you want.” Sometimes, first, I have to pray the prayers I would rather not and trust that sometime, maybe sometime soon, I will pray the prayers I want.
And so, after seven days, I pick up the prayer book. I am tired of doing only what I would rather do.
And so I begin again.
“Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.”