This is not going to be me explaining my conversion to Christianity, let me just get that disclaimer out of the way. I have THAT piece sitting in WordPress, but I’m not ready for it to be in the world just yet. Also, I’m getting baptized later this month, and there’s always the chance that God will say something to me, like This is my beloved daughter, Nicole, in whom I am well pleased, and then I would want to be able to incorporate that into the narrative.
No, I just thought it might be interesting to talk a little about what praying is like, for me, and if you pray, I would be fascinated to know what that looks like for you. If you don’t pray at all, or do not believe in God (the arguments for God are not that compelling, tbh, which is why I was an atheist my entire adult life), I do think that a large portion of what I get out of prayer would be present even if I didn’t think anyone was listening, so maybe give it a shot! Or don’t.
Prayer has been one of the pleasant surprises of becoming a person of faith. It’s something I truly enjoy, and has been weirdly transformational to my life, I guess? I wish neither to oversell nor undersell it to you as something to do (I’m not a particularly talented or motivated evangelist, you may have noticed.)
When I first became a Christian (July 7th, 2015, The Jesusversary), Mallory’s dad told me that he thinks God gives a spiritual starter pack to new converts, like how sometimes you can get a way better deal on your phone plan if you’re a new customer instead of an existing one. That there will be long seasons in your life where you feel like God is ghosting you, and you’re just plaintively texting into The Void. That you just won’t feel like there’s anyone on the other end of the line. And those times will come and go, in the average life of a believer, but for this first six months to a year, many people get to feel great nearness in their prayer life, and it’s a gift.
That, for what it’s worth, has definitely been my experience. Most days, I really look forward to my end-of-day prayers as a time when God and I get to have a conversation: I talk, and he talks back to me, in whatever form that takes (nagging, mainly, but we can get to that later.) I pray during the day as well, like sometimes I feel a stupid burst of love for the produce guy at the store, and I’ll pray for him, or I’ll stop what I’m doing (probably tweeting) and just want to express how grateful I am for my life and its goodness. Or I’ll be gripped by anxiety or fear or worry about one of my kids, and I’ll just toss out a oh, man, God, please be with me, today.
It’s the end-of-day prayers, though, that are the meat of my prayer life, and they follow a sort of general pattern. I start with the Lord’s Prayer, because it’s like a little incantation that places a barrier between me watching Brooklyn Nine Nine and me engaging in a searching moral inventory of my life, which, personally, I find is a big help. Then I go over my day, with God, and the things I did, and the things I wish I had done differently. Sometimes I’m just “yeah, that was not my best moment, there” and I move on and it doesn’t come up again, but if I find that I think about it during prayer TWO nights in a row, I probably need to do something about it. This usually means that I was a bitch to someone on Twitter who didn’t really deserve it (not, like, MRAs, or anything, but decent people I didn’t give the benefit of the doubt to) and I need to email them and say I’m sorry. I really hate doing that. I’ve had to do that with like three people I was mildly unkind to over a YEAR ago, which generally results in a confused, yet appreciative response. That is definitely something you can do without God in your life. I can recommend that one wholeheartedly to all.
Oh, man, while I was writing that paragraph, another name occured to me, and I had to grudgingly take a little break to email them. It was good, though.
The next thing I do is express gratitude. For my life, and what I have in it, and my job, and for individual people. It’s been really good for my marriage to express gratitude for my husband, I have to say. It is very meaningful to thank God or the universe or whatever that a person is in your life and a source of joy to you, and I have been nicer and more patient and more appreciative of him, and several other people, because I think of them as a gift to be grateful for. Some nights this is the longest part of my prayers, some nights I phone it in a bit (see also: the rest of my prayers.)
Now we get into the good stuff: asking for shit.
I ask for everything! Dallas Willard, whose books and life were a real gateway drug for me, once told a friend of his who was going through a just terrible, terrible thing, that you don’t really need to say I mean, God, ultimately I want your will to be done, so only do these things if it’s your will, because, duh, God already knows that his will is what’s going to happen. So go ahead and ask for what you truly want. Is it going to happen? I mean, maybe. The world is a really broken and tragic place. Why would God make my stupid redesign transition flawless because I asked him to, but allow horrible things to happen to innocent people constantly? I don’t know, I’ll ask him about it when I meet him. But I still ask for what I want. Big stuff, little stuff. And for me to be a better person, which is the main thing. I definitely said “I’m still the same person!” to a bunch of friends when I converted, but it’s not really true. I’m not that great, honestly, and I want to be better, so I ask for help with that. I think it’s working, but really slowly.
Next, and finally, comes my hands-down favourite part of prayer, and the part that I think is great REGARDLESS of your beliefs or lack thereof: praying for other people. I say this because it teaches you who you love, and who’s important to you. What problems facing others have you taken on as your own? Does this change how you deal with them in real life? Can YOU help answer these prayers with money or time or by listening, etc.? I pray for my family, and I pray for my friends, and I pray for Toasties who have said things in Open Threads that I think they could use some help with, and I pray for the people I make this site with, and I pray for people who are sick, or who have sick boyfriends, and I pray for bigger world stuff, and by the time I’m done, I’ve realized that I love all these people I’ve prayed for (you can throw up now), and that’s very meaningful to me.
One of the best things in my life is this sprawling email thread (we call it “God Thread”) that now has about twenty women on it, in which we talk about faith and what we’re reading, and our lives, and our struggles with homophobia and institutional sexism and racism within whatever denomination we’re a part of. We have Catholics and Protestants of all flavors, and we learn a lot from each other, and we speak really openly about what we’re having a hard time with, and we ask for specific prayers. Sometimes it’s much easier to pray for someone else than to ask them to pray for you. Especially if you’re someone like me, who’s really hung up on seeming like I have my shit together. I find it really hard to be vulnerable about things. And this is a great, semi-private way to do it, and I’m so grateful for the presence of these women in my life.
And then I fall asleep.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.