“Sometimes before I leave the driveway, I put up my car windows and let out a scream. How do you pray?” That appeared in a little box on a random page in MS Magazine in the 1980’s. Someone else prayed in one of the ways I prayed, too. Wow! I had two sons under age five, worked full-time and was always exhausted. I loved my children, spouse, job, house, and life in general, but at that stage in life, exhaustion is constant. I’d scream in the car, take a deep breath, say, “Okay, God, let’s keep going,” and pull out of the driveway. Sure, I prayed in other ways than just screaming in my car, but screaming alone in the car while gripping the steering wheel worked.
It still does. My sons are adults now but I still pray this way. I figure if my voice echoes off the car windows, it can also reach the center of Heaven. This clears my head, centers me with God, and focuses me on how I need to be for whatever’s coming. After I’ve screamed, I feel God’s presence with me as I back out of the driveway. How do you pray?
Another short prayer, the most common prayer of my daily life, is just one sentence: “Help me, God.” I bet I say this dozens of time each day because I don’t know where my life’s going or how I’m going to get there. It wells up from inside when I’m fixing breakfast, when I’m standing in the middle of the bedroom trying to remember why I walked upstairs in the first place, when I’m driving down the street, when I’m walking into the grocery, when I’m trying to stay focused in a meeting. It rises up when I’m just standing somewhere and trying to figure out how to keep going. What am I supposed do? How am I going to create this new life? Like the many faithful Jews who say a prayer each time they walk through a doorway, I say many time each day, “Help me, God, please.” Often I add two more sentences: “I know you already have, or I wouldn’t have come this far. Please help me now.”
I also have longer prayers. Often I speak to God as to a friend or a wise mentor–as I’m sitting on my patio or driving on the freeway. Sometimes I laugh with God and say, “Can you believe what just happened?” Sometimes I sit quietly, feeling my breath move in and out, and listen. I sit in the Holy Presence and let myself just be there.
Prayers are a lot like friendships. Friendships don’t deepen if limited to one sentence emails, texts or tweets, or even thoughtful cards with a line written inside. Friendships need time for conversation, for sharing, listening, and just being together. I don’t know how I would make it through everything these years have brought, let alone be able to find joy and a purpose for living, if it weren’t for my friendship with God.
Often when I talk to God, I only hear silence in return. But I still believe God is there, silently standing beside me, working through the people around me, speaking to me through what I read, what people say, or the insights that come to mind. I remember a grocery bagger, a huge guy who seemed mentally challenged, and with whom I always exchanged a few words of greeting each week back when the market was still in business. I’d been wondering that day how much longer I could keep working, and really wasn’t sure how I’d do it. The tall, muscle-bound, slow speaking man handed me my grocery bags. I smiled warmly (that comes naturally no matter how I feel) and thanked him. A smile filled his large, dark face and his teeth sparkled white. He looked me in the eyes, and said, “It’s a good day. Be glad you’re alive.” Then he cheerfully started bagging the next customer’s food. Walking to my car in the December air, I thanked God for the angel who had spoken to me, and headed home. The grocery worker’s life looked harder than mine and he could still thank God for life. So could I.
My friendship with God is like having someone with me all the time, with whom I sometimes share a sentence or two, sometimes have a long conversation, and sometimes am just quiet. Spouses and partners don’t need to talk to each other every minute of every day, nor do family members, or friends, yet we still feel each other’s presence and count on one another’s support. That’s how my friendship with God is.
God’s with me in my determination to find a way forward that brings good into the world. God’s there when my dog comes from the next room to lick tears off my cheeks and rest her head on my chest without my even saying a word. God was there when I walked down the driveway in the drizzle this morning to get the newspaper and stood in awe at the beauty of grey clouds nestled low around the mountains, with wispy edged views of green slopes visible here and there. As the plaque says outside our front door: “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” It’s a good day. I’m glad I’m alive. Help me, God, to bring good from this day.
Learning: Prayer comes in many forms. Use that which works in the moment and be glad you’re alive.