The search for an authentic way to talk to my God.
A number of years ago I had a spiritual mentor who asked me what my prayer discipline was. “I don’t really have one, I said. I just … pray.” I had not thought deeply about the idea that there were different ways to pray, different practices and different approaches to entering into conversation with God. I thought you just bowed your head and prayed in whatever way you were able.
My mentor asked a lot about my personality in those conversations. Was I introverted or extroverted? A morning person or an evening person? What interested me, what bored me? He kept trying to figure out how I was uniquely made, what traits and characteristics made me into me. All the while, he kept tying these insights back into the practice of prayer. You need to find a habit of prayer that works for you, that is well-fit to you, he said. Otherwise you’re not being as authentic as possible, and your practice will wither and weaken.
He’s right. During that phase in my life, when I was learning to really pray, I had very little imagination for what it meant to talk with God. I would sit quietly in a chair, cover my lap with a blanket and a Bible, and I would try to emulate the very fluent and beautiful prayers that I heard in church. This worked for a while, but if you know me very well, you know I’m not a sit-in-a-chair-and-whisper-quietly type of guy. As the novelty of my prayer practice wore off, it began to take more and more energy to force myself into this practice, to force myself into a time of reflection and prayer. To force myself into talking to God. Does this sound like the way it should be?
A number of years ago I made a decision. If I was going to be a Christian, I thought, I would do so in a way that was authentic. I wouldn’t fake it or just blend in like everybody else. I would be me. After all, if God made and loved me, wouldn’t this be what God wanted? This may be most alive in my practice of prayer. Sitting down, being quiet, and closing my eyes is not peaceful for me, it’s not centering, it’s not meditative. It’s distracting; I spend so much time trying to focus myself that I end up cheapening—and shortening!—my conversation with God. So I do as little of it as possible.
I’m an extrovert, I’m active, and I like to think out loud. So I came up with a practice of prayer that celebrated the authentic me. What that looks like now is something like this: at some time in the day, morning or evening, I put on a pair of shoes and a sweatshirt with a hood. I pull the hood over my head and I head out the door. I go for a walk in my neighborhood, hood drawn, eyes low, talking to the God who made me. I speak and I listen. I pray for myself and I pray for you. I pray for the world, and pray that our hearts would be open to whatever God has for us this day. I pray on the move not because it’s better but because it’s who God made me to be. That’s the real me, the authentic me, and when I come before God in that spirit, the conversation can finally get started.