This article is from the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Reflections magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.
by Diane Thrush
Prayer is a JOURNEY. As on any journey, there are many routes to take, many choices to be made. A really great journey means planning, doing one’s homework about what is available, and asking experienced travelers for guidance about what to do and see. The more we delve into our journey, the richer our experience will be.
So it is with prayer. Having a regular prayer life is not haphazard; it is worth every attention we can give to knowing what is right for us. It is so easy to read about a really great method of prayer, or to go to a great workshop and learn about a form of prayer, or read the latest book. But, what if it fizzles out for us as we put it into practice? Or, we have trouble sticking to it, or what once worked for us is no longer helpful. This is really common in spiritual practice as we grow and change and seek out and explore new ways to enrich our prayer life. Actually, a big pitfall in our spiritual journey is not understanding that our prayer lives have a lot to do with who we are and how we pray.
Our daily practices have to do with our identity. There is no “one size fits all” practice of spirituality. But that is often how we try to live out our lives. We look for the latest and greatest methods that are available. Or we seek to imitate someone we really care about and admire. As much as I may love and cherish my soul friend, her prayer life is not my prayer life. As much as I respect and admire my spiritual director, his prayer life is not my prayer life.
If we are to grow in grace, we need to be on a path of reflection about ourselves and our inner life.
One aspect is knowing whether we draw energy by being around others, or whether we draw energy from silence and being alone. Another aspect of ourselves that is helpful is whether we are more comfortable acting out of our feelings and emotions or out of our intellect – right brain or left brain. What about age? What works for someone in their 40s will be very different from someone in their 60s.
Life experience and occupation also factor in. Gender, too, plays a role somewhat, though not as much as some of the other factors.
The bottom line for us as we practice our faith is self-awareness: who am I today, where can I best find God in prayer today? Prayer is not static. Our prayer lives should grow, change, adapt and be flexible. The more we read, the more we learn about prayer; that helps to inform us of ways to pray. But there is no magic formula that works for all of us all of the time. If we avail ourselves of the resources on prayer, we will at least know our choices. Someone I knew once said that our shelf of books on prayer should grow and expand for the rest of our lives.
A spiritual director is always helpful in enabling us to discern where our prayer lives are centered. Trusted friends on the journey and wise teachers of the faith are other options to help us along. I wish there were a book, a resource, that had definitive answers such as “If you are this, then your prayers should be those . . .” I have read a lot of those type of books looking for one like that and have yet to find one. It seems as if we are instead called to make self-examination part of our journey, trusting God to inform us of where we need to be. A much more laborious process than reading a book, but much, much richer over time.
Perhaps the best way to engage in prayers that reflect your life is to try them on.
See how a particular way to pray feels to you; see if it opens up your conversation with God, for that is what prayer is all about. Throughout this issue, you will read many of the ways that others pray; borrow from these, adapt them to suit you, see what fits.
And enjoy the journey.
Diane Thrush is a chaplain at Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio and a member of St. Luke’s, San Antonio. Reach Diane at diane.thrush@MHShealth.com