by Rebecca Curtin
This Lenten season I have been thinking a lot about prayer, and mostly, I’ve been thinking that I’m not very good at it. Many people in my life have recently needed some good prayers, and I’ve found myself worrying that mine come up short. Praying doesn’t come easily for me, and not for lack of wishing it did. In fact, I freak myself out about it. Prayer often feels like something out of reach, foreign, even though, over the course of my life, I have spent many hours at church seemingly perfecting the practice of prayer. But, while praying I am often unable to focus, my mind wanders, I get frustrated, and sometimes, especially after a long day at work, I even fall asleep.
When I was a child I prayed every night. I made sure this happened by making up my own prayer, memorizing it, and reciting it right before bed. That prayer is burned into my brain, though now I rarely come back to it: “Dear God, I pray for everything I prayed for before [I always wanted to cover my bases in case I forgot anything]. I pray that I fall asleep right away and that I sleep all the way through the night [I was an insomniac]. I pray that my family, friends, relatives [separate from family, not sure why, again covering all the bases], and I stay safe during the night. That you watch over us and keep us safe.” This sequence was usually followed by particular petitions: please let my test go well tomorrow; please give me a little sister, etc.
After deciding (rightly or wrongly) that I was too old for that prayer, I spent years struggling with how to pray. I have a big old bloated idea in my head of what prayer should be, even though I realize that prayer probably shouldn’t be any particular thing. It’s occurring to me that as much as prayer is a practice, it also takes practice. And, sometimes prayer requires just starting to pray. Any person who has ever written a term paper can tell you that a blank piece of paper is intimidating (and, a blank “page” on a computer screen can be even scarier). Thinking about prayer for me is sometimes like staring at that blank page. I’ve been trying recently to remind myself that to write something good you have to start by getting just those first words out there, no matter their coherence. Ease and eloquence come can come later, if they come at all. Devotion comes from the doing, not the skill.
Rebecca Curtin lives in Cambridge, MA with two lovely roommates and a wonderful Chihuahua mix named Dylan who sleeps (and prays?) a lot.