No matter what the Great Professor says, prayer really can make you a better person. But not exactly the way they taught me when I was a kid. Kid Prayer was about reciting some words, earning little stars by my name, trying to be a good person, or seeking to get something.
Sorry. We both know that’s kid stuff.
As an adult, I know that
- Praying may not use words.
- It’s aim is not to please The Boss Out There.
- Most of all, it’s not about getting.
Grownup Prayer works, but it’s probably more about getting rid of.
Betsy is back to work, scanning my items at the grocery store. She was out for months with a mastectomy, radiation, and chemo. Her first days back, she wore a kind of turban, but didn’t pencil in her eyebrows; she just let them be gone. Everyone knew anyway.
When we first met, several years ago, she already knew the treatment that lay ahead, and even then, she seemed one of the most joyful people I’d ever met. My wife and I talked her into coming over for dinner. She wanted to talk about it, so I asked questions, some of them probing her fears, about dying and staying sick for months. She’d faced them all already; what she wanted to talk about was getting free from what she called, “false values.” When she left, we felt as though a saint had visited us, but we’d laughed too much, so we decided Betsy was a simply . . . a Grownup. We wanted to learn from her.
The Tale Wagged
Betsy has accepted cancer the way it is. She is like a clean window. Nothing is in the way, no anger, no resentment, and no comparison to others.
Much of my life, I’m not so clean. My upsets, fears, and concerns constantly muddy my view. Then I need to pray.
Praying is like keeping an eye on the wild puppies of my mind so they don’t chew up the furniture. It’s essential when something has begun to obscure, distort, or usurp Reality. When the breeze on my face and a thought about my own approaching death all flow seamlessly together, I feel satisfied, secure, connected to the “Good Stuff.”
Maybe we might say that prayer is about re‑union, connection. If I’m hooked up to the Reality going on around me, connected to the Reality going on within me, and unhooked by my deceptions – stories I’ve made up –, then connection sets me free.
The kind of praying that fits me like my favorite pair of old sneakers is any mental event that rescues me from the “false values.” (Hebrew and Christian scriptures call them “idols”.) Real Reality (“God,” is one of the labels some humans use) settles me down, brings me home inside my life.
Unhooking from deception is all prayer is. Betsy knows how to do it.
Yeah, but how do we put it into practice?
Pray, sure, but do it in your very own private way. If you’re stuck, try this experiment.
Bring to mind an endeavor or relationship that is not unfolding as you’d wish. See if you can imagine a desirable consequence from an outcome you dread. Or, see if you can imagine unpleasant consequences coming from an outcome you desperately desire.
Allow yourself to remain suspended in uncertainty, feeling vulnerable or helpless in the face of possibilities.
This little experiment may help you step out of Desired Outcomes. If an alternative outcome arises in your mind, see if you can view it as coming from God. This might be a happier, more restoring, version of praying. It’s a technique for Letting Go, which seems to me to be a big part of Grownup Praying.