Welcome to Wednesday on CHONJ, where I attempt to best provide solutions to a challenge one of my dear reader friends is experiencing. I received the email below from Dale:
I didn't grow up with any religion and don't go to a church except for the occasional wedding or funeral. It's all very confusing to me. But as I've grown older I've been feeling that I should explore God a bit more and pray. But I don't know how to pray. Can you help?
One of the most elegant definitions of prayer I've heard is from Mahatma Gandhi, who called prayer "a longing of the soul." I believe that God put that desire inside us, to connect with a Higher Power and to believe in Something Grander than ourselves. Dale, and all other friends who are in a similar situation, you should be commended for listening to that longing.
In Judaism, the ancient word for prayer, tefillah, has two definitions. The first reveals that prayer is "pouring out our heart to God," and the second advises that prayer is "being present and having a connection with the One." Prayer is not just us connecting with God by our words, but becoming closer to Him in our hearts.
Prayer is both a very simple and very complex subject, but as an introduction to those who are just starting to pray here are three suggestions.
First, speak to God with respect, but as you would a friend. Reverend Billy Graham stated, "Prayer is simply a two-way conversation between you and God."
I said a prayer a few minutes ago, sitting in front of my laptop, and it began like this, "Dear God, please help me as I'm writing today. Please give me the wisdom I need to best answer Dale's question."
Second, during prayer make petitions for things you want or need, but only ask for them once. To ask for the same thing twice shows doubt that your prayer was heard the initial time.
For example, I always say a little prayer before I begin to write, asking God to guide me. But I don't repeat the prayer every five minutes requesting the same thing, because I know that He heard me the first time.
Third, thank God for all your blessings, and this can be repeated as often as you want. These prayers are the simplest, but can be the most beautiful.
I took a few minutes this morning to watch the sunrise over the mountains in back of our home, and afterward I prayed, "God, thank You for Your sunrises." A few hours later I was thinking of those glorious colors again, and I prayed a second time, "God, thank You for letting me see such a beautiful sunrise." We can never say thank you enough.
Praying does not need any formality or ritual around it; say whatever is in your heart to say. Prayers can also be as long or as short as you like, even a sentence or two.
A simple way to incorporate prayer into daily life is to express gratitude before meals. Here is one that I created: "Great Creator who loves us all, please bless this food and all who are gathered at this table. In Jesus' Name, Amen." (As a Christian, I pray using the name of Jesus, but for my non-Christian friends, please feel free to copy this mealtime prayer and edit as you wish!)
Below is one of my favorite teachings from the Buddhist faith tradition, and I hope that the light that is already inside you, Dale, will shine even brighter as you connect with God.
"May I be the medicine for those who are sick,
A partner for those who are lonely,
A bridge for those who need to cross over,
And a light for those who are blind."
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." -Matthew 7:7-8