Why pray?

It’s a fair question: why pray? Is there a good reason? And if so, what is it?

A friend—I’ll call him Ed, since that’s his name—sent me this comment a few days ago on a social network:

I have a suggestion for your next post. I’m Catholic and went to Catholic schools up until [college]. I wasn’t taught to believe in the power of prayer—it’s just something that came with living in a house with a woman who has the faith to move mountains. And I do believe I’ve seen His power at work. A few years ago, someone told me she thought God was pretty hands-off. I scoffed at that then. But lately, I haven’t felt any intercession and have just started praying for the strength to get through whatever comes next. The younger me would be angry at God, and I’ll admit I’m questioning why it feels as though He’s turning his back on me (or at the very least, choosing not to intercede). In the back of my mind, there’s a little voice telling me that praying for strength is me lowering the bar. It could just be part of growing up. Always praying for miracles is kind of like asking Santa to get you something your parents can’t afford. I suppose that’s what makes them miracles. They’re not a given, but rather blessings.

Why do we pray (or why don’t we, for that matter)? We should start with a caution: There’s a danger here. Prayer is one of those things you should do more than you should talk about. It’s not something that can be fully explained, but is better experienced.

That having been said, it’s worth discussing, too. What we think about prayer affects how we pray. If we’re asking God for help, even for miracles, what does that mean? If we don’t get that help, does that mean God isn’t listening, doesn’t care, or doesn’t even exist? I think Ed has answered some of his own questions here. I don’t believe God responds directly or obviously to our requests, or at least not very often. I do pray to God, and I want my prayers to be answered. But the fact that my greatest wishes don’t instantly come true doesn’t mean I don’t think prayer is powerful.

Prayer is about relationship. It is about acknowledging that we are a part of something greater than ourselves. It is about acknowledging and expressing our gratitude, our needs, our hopes and desires. It is a conversation, even in those times it can be hard to hear the response. I pray to give thanks (often by singing a song), to express my hopes for the week, and to hold my own or others’ concerns up.

I pray because it seems like the only thing to do. If you’ve never tried it, do so. It works for some, it doesn’t for others. It takes as many forms as there are people. I find singing works for me often, praying with others works sometimes, and setting a time to sit and pray rarely works. I pray when the spirit moves me, and when I feel like things aren’t going very well. I pray most often in thanks and to contemplate all I have to be thankful for. I especially pray when my wife leads us in prayer before meals.

If I have one piece of advice, it’s to pray as you feel moved. If it’s not working, try it a different way or try again later. But it’s a thing that is best done, not analyzed. Praying is better the more you do it. And it is its own blessing.

For a different thought about prayer (and one more focused on the Unitarian Universalist tradition), check this out.

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