Learned From My Mother, Ministry, Prayer, The Inner Landscape


Do you ever think about who taught you to pray?

I guess I learned from my mother, goodnight prayers taught and repeated over and over again. She liked prayers with a form. I think she found them reassuring. 

"God is my help in every need. God does my every hunger feed."

When she was dying, she avoided her own church and had a friend take her to the Unity church mid-week. In those last months of her life, those friends committed to pray for her each morning at the same time. I found it fascinating that they prayed separately, in the privacy of their own homes. 

The other thing she liked was quiet. She didn't like the hubbub of a busy church service, or the appraising looks of anyone not in her carefully chosen inner circle.

I am not like her. 

On the RevGalBlogPals cruise in April, Nanette Sawyer asked us to think of things that helped us find the feeling of God's presence in the core of our beings — or something very close to that, I may not be saying it right. And I remember jotting notes on a post-it, one of which was "Praying with others." 

It's not something we do a lot in Congregational UCC churches in Maine, at least not in my experience. As a little Baptist girl growing up in Virginia, I remember the whole Sunday School class praying, sentence prayers we called them. If you felt shy or didn't know what to say, you could squeeze the hand of the person next to you. So from Bernadette Lane, and other teachers, I learned to pray on my feet, to find something to say no matter what the situation, to be comfortable putting words on the murmurs of my heart that I could speak aloud in a room full of people.

I liked the way it felt, that we all prayed together.

As a pastor, I get to pray in worship almost every week. Sometimes I write a prayer, but often I bind up the themes of the day the way a florist wraps ribbon around the stems of flowers to make a bouquet. I hope the effect will be evocative, that people will hear something and feel something that brings them closer to God.

In my first church, I remember sitting in my little garret office with a woman who worked for a Nazarene congregation. She came to see me about starting an afterschool program, but somehow, most likely because of her kind pastoral presence, I told her about the job search I was in at the time. I remember that on a darkening autumn afternoon, she offered to pray for me. I remember feeling cared for, deeply, both by this person I hardly knew and by God. As she said "Amen," tears slipped down my cheeks.

I pray a lot with other people, prayers for and about them, their needs, their worries, their fears and hopes. I do it willingly, gladly, sincerely.

But when it comes to praying for myself, I find I am quite inarticulate. Many of my prayers are monosyllabic, consisting of "please" or "help!" 

It helps me understand my mother's love of that prayer already formed, meant to be repeated, comforting. I can pray those prayers. In the first months of being treated for Rheumatoid Arthritis, awake at night due to the prednisone that helped so much, but made life a little miserable at the same time, I dug from memory the Serenity Prayer, or something close enough to it that repeating it made me feel less alone.

But what I really love is to pray with others, and sometimes my desire for that and the lack of it means I don't pray as much as I might should.

In this phase of my life, as I try to discern what's next, taking into account the multiplicity of personal and professional factors involved, I find I am confused and changeable. Friends whose natures are more organized recommend lists and systems, but I live by intuition, and I also know how to "con" a list of factors, for and against. I know how to con myself. Robin recommended the Ignatian method, and since I am ignorant of it, I turned to Google for further information.

First on the list: Pray assiduously.

And I suspect that means some combination of all of the above: prayers with others and alone, prayers sitting still or walking the dog or driving the car (eyes open!), prayers sung and prayers written, prayers of one word and of many words and of no words at all.

One of the other things my mother taught me was that there was always a right way to do something, one right way. I'm not sure she was right about that. I suspect God could use me in more than one place or more than one way. But it's my hope that there is a better way than others, a place I can be fierce and fabulous for Jesus, a place I can honor as many aspects as possible of my call to be a minister and my call to be, well, Songbird.

So I will pray, assiduously. Feel free to join me, wherever you are.

10 thoughts on “Assiduously”

  1. I don’t remember ever being taught to pray. For me, prayer really is a discipline, in terms of remembering everyone I want to send up petitions for, and I find that if I pick a time and place, I am more likely to remember to pray. In my car on the way to work used to be my time. I could really focus on my intentions, but lately I’ve been throwing up prayers and intercessions just when I am thinking of them. Sigh. No perfect way to pray for sure, but I am sure they are lifted up just the same.

  2. The most practical method: Not so different ~ in fact, perhaps the source ~ of what other people recommended. When you are discerning between two different things, pro and con columns for each. You think they will mirror one another, but often they don’t. It’s especially helpful for clarifying issues of integrity, which I tend to weight when I use this process, because my natural inclination is to ignore them.
    Another suggestion made by the person who taught me to pray (and I was in my 50s! – you were so lucky to have a mother who prayed): Look closely at Jesus and at those times and places when you are most moved by him. This tends to be helpful for those huge, overarching decisions. For instance, someone who most identifies with him feeding the 5,000 is maybe headed for a job directing a soup kitchen; someone who is quite taken with those times he goes aside to pray is perhaps on her way to becoming a contemplative.
    And finally: In which circumstances do you feel yourself moving toward God, and in which away? Oh, yeah, intuition counts! But this is where a spiritual director helps ~ especially when you are moving away and have no idea. And no matter how easily you can see it in others, it’s almost always a surprise when someone else says to *you*, “You might want to pay attention to . . . “. At least it is to me LOL!
    Oh, and a couple of more thing Ignatius suggests, when you are struggling between two or more decisions:
    Try each one on for a day. Just pretend you’ve decided and there are no other options, and spend your day imagining that life. The switch to the other one the next day.
    Or ask yourself: What would you suggest to someone in your situation sitting across from you and presenting you with the same dilemma?
    Or: You are on your deathbed and looking back; what will you wish you had decided? That one sounds melodramatic, but it really does help with the big ones. For me, again, it helps where issues of integrity are involved, i.e. where I am reluctantly realizing I have to do the hard thing and give up something I want or else be forever unhappy with myself. You may have entirely different challenges, but I think it still works.
    These all constitute prayer, whether you do them alone or with others. And I’m praying with you for clarity and joy (and for myself as well).

  3. Joining you in prayer from my back porch this morning…and other places along the way!

  4. And remember the lovely thought from The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ending…….of how prayers around the earth are unceasing. As we sleep, others wake…. prayer whenever, however, matters. Every Blessing with your medication.

  5. Thanks to all of you. Robin, I feel better about how I’ve engaged the process after reading your list of suggestions. I feel like even though I don’t know the answer yet, I’m on the right path to finding it.

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