We’ve all heard about how important prayer is to growing in your relationship with God, but there’s something about talking to God that just feels so complicated. It makes me a little shy.
I’ve often heard stories of other people having these beautiful, back-and-forth discourses with God in prayer. Usually, these stories include them embarking on some kind of gorgeous soliloquy with God, calling Him all the right names and addressing Him with beautiful prose. It’s like they’ve learned some special language for relating to God, and their words come out perfectly formed. The praying person pours his or her heart out to God, speaks to Him on a personal and deeply sentimental level.
I bristle a little bit every time I hear one of these stories.
It’s not that I don’t believe the story happened the way the speaker says it did. I believe them entirely — and that’s the problem.
I’ve never had such a transformative, deeply emotional experience with God, myself. I haven’t experienced that depth of surrender — that beautiful give and take where He invites me into prayer, I speak my heart in beautiful words perfectly expressed, and He responds in kind.
And it’s really easy to feel like that’s my fault.
I’m not an overly emotional person to begin with. I don’t really like talking about my feelings, and I’d just as soon be a little flippant and shrug off what I’m feeling than be vulnerable. So when I hear these great, transformative stories of an emotional bond with God, I get a little jealous — but I also get worried that I’m not the person God wants me to be. That I’m not emotional enough, that I am too robotic, and that I can’t have that kind of relationship with Him. That I don’t deserve that kind of relationship with him.
For a long time, I thought this was something I needed to fix. I thought I wasn’t having emotional moments with God because I just wasn’t doing it right, so I took a “fake it ‘til you make it” approach. I’d heard enough retreat talks to know the script, to know what my role was meant to be. So I’d pull out a journal and write something perfectly crafted. Or I’d force myself to be emotional — to go over-the-top, listening to dramatic music or otherwise manipulating myself into feeling a certain way.
And when I was asked to pray aloud with others, I’d fake it, too. I’d either put together a beautiful string of words or, more likely, throw something nonsensical together that almost always mentioned “grace” and “fill us with your love” and other things I’d probably heard in a song.
I was saying a lot of words — but really, I wasn’t saying anything at all.
Eventually, I realized that in trying to become something I wasn’t and mimic what I perceived as a perfect relationship with God in those around me, I was losing what made me who I am. I wasn’t expressing that same openness, honesty, and vulnerability that made those stories so beautiful in the first place.
I wasn’t having meaningful conversations in prayer because I wasn’t bringing myself to prayer.
So I decided to try out just being me. I sat down with just myself and my thoughts, ready to have a real conversation with God. Awkward, simple, honest. It went a little something like this:
“Hey, God. What’s up? Um, I’m good. You know. I mean, obviously, you literally know, you’re God. Anyway…”
And then I just said what was on my mind. I was there. It was super weird, it felt really uncomfortable — if I bristled at other people’s emotional stories, imagine how I felt becoming totally bare before God in my own insecure way. But it was real. And I was open.
Talking to God as myself didn’t lead me to some mountaintop-encounter experience. But it did make me a lot more vulnerable, a lot more open, and a lot more willing to invite God into my everyday life. Prayer was no longer a big, scary thing that I had to do perfectly. I could talk to God whenever He came into my mind — just chat, tell Him what I was thinking, make a weird joke if that felt right. I was fully in His presence, and I was the me He had created me to be.
In a way, letting go of these expectations for graceful and gorgeous prayer made my own broken prayer more beautiful. I was honest, real, unashamedly who I am — and God saw that, and He loved me for it.
And I think maybe that’s why we have so many different descriptions of prayer — and why there are so many forms of prayer to try. It’s not that each person’s story is a lesson, an admonition, or a formula to be followed. My prayer life will never be that of someone else’s — because I am me. I am who God created me to be, and He wishes to know me as that person — not as the speaker at a retreat or a character in the Bible.