The Gift of Terrible Prayer: For Such a Time as This

Praying terrible prayer is a forgotten art form. We’ve been taught how to pray good ones. Sometimes I think that’s a great tragedy. We know the words to say, the names to invoke, the caveats that holy-erize our bumbling wish want wails. We even know the tone of voice to wrap around our words to make them Prayer Words instead of just Word Words. And when all else fails we know that we can sum it all up with “in the name of Jesus” and at least it will be nicely concluded. P.S. When in doubt, the more adjectives, the better: “In Jesus’ precious, holy, all-powerful, loving, holy name. Amen.” (Shit, I used holy twice. Ugh. Prayer fail.)

But prayers without bows of resolution… Awkward prayers… Raw blathering… Prayers when all we know what to say is one simple thing over and over like breathing… Selfish prayers… Angry prayers… Insulting prayers when we ask God what the heck is wrong with him? Doesn’t he know! Doesn’t he see!? … And terrible, truly terrible conclusions. Endings like, “Ok. I don’t even know. That’s all I got. Bye.”

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I love those prayers. Love ‘em so hard. Those prayers are exquisite to me. Like raw crystals clamoring over some damp rock in a holy hollow of sacred space. They are beautiful by accident. They are beautiful in the midst of mess and decay.

Aren’t those prayers a bit more reflective of our true place? Our true circumstances.

David prayed those prayers. “Oh Lord I love you… now kill that guy! He totally pisses me off!” Oh yes. He went there.

Don’t those prayers echo a music that is more honest? A song about the limbo space we so often find ourselves in. Without beginnings and endings and conclusions and clarity.

Messy prayers are the “Working it out with Jesus” prayers instead of the “Worked it out already, now I’ll tell Jesus what he needs to do” prayers. They are the Walking Together Through Mess Prayers instead of Traveling Alone and Calling Home For Money Prayers. They are Heart Prayers instead of Head Prayers. They are Relationship Prayers.

Uhhg, they’re so messy and beautiful I can’t stand it.

This year, for the first time, I started praying in public. For years and years, I wouldn’t do it. When I opened my mouth to pray I sounded like some weird cocktail of Christian-Illiterate, Fumbling, and Profoundly Irreverent. I’m allergic to catch phrases. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I have a strong sense of privacy about my intimate love of Jesus. So I just couldn’t bring myself to wear the polished forms of prayer when my heart was a rugged sea grappling with a Seeing Savior. For me, that felt tantamount to lying. Can we agree that lying to Jesus is bad. Or at least a waste of time? Ok? Ok!

But this year… this year, friends… Oh boy. My people have gotten to hear me pray. My children have heard the worst prayers you can imagine. Side note: They are going to grow up thinking that Jesus has quite a sense of humor. Only someone with a sense of humor could tolerate and make sense of my terrible prayers.

I’m inching toward 30. I’ve accepted all kinds of weird things about myself. Like my tummy roll, my depressive tendencies, my poor armpit shaving technique (why am I always missing one?), my caffeine addiction… and the fact that I say prayers to Jesus that come from my heart space. And my heart space is rugged. Rugged, rugged, rugged.

Sometimes I don’t “say” prayers at all. I pinch them between my teeth and scrunch my face and give Jesus “the look” with my ferocious inner turmoil. Then I just know he knows.

Sometimes I exhale them. Like a lion with my tongue out. Just Bleeeeh. Letting it go.

Sometimes, when I’m really empty, I hold my breath and let the wind do the praying. Wind prayers have become a favorite of mine in really rocky seasons.

I let the wind just push me and lift up the whatever. The wordless. The deeply felt but not yet understood. The “yes ok” surrender to the “this right now” of God’s sovereign love. His eternal with-us-ness. Sometimes only the wind can say these prayers for us.

I have a feeling we all might need some wind prayers right now. We might need to make a little sacred space in our damp, rocky world and let the wind lift the true things we feel off of us while we listen to the way the earth keeps moving no matter what.

He has given us that: That the earth keeps moving.

He has given us this: That we seekers are deeply seen through all the stages. Seen in the sorting out seasons. Accepted in the mess. Sometimes it just requires that we stop reaching to receive. That we stop performing and just pray.

I hope you pray bad prayers today. Messy, muddling prayers without conclusions. Because we aren’t there yet. We’re still walking home. And we can’t walk home alone.

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