Prayer Stage Fright

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I panic every time, without fail.

The question, “Who wants to pray?” gives me cold sweats.

This question inevitably leads to me avoiding eye contact and paying minute attention to whatever I have in front of me, hoping that someone else steps in. Up until recently, this tactic has worked wonders for me.

Then I joined an Evangelical/Mormon dialogue group and they keep insisting that I pray. It’s awful.

My name is Stephanie and I’m a horrible public prayer-er-er.

Mind you, I have no excuse. I’m a pastor’s kid who is himself and pastor’s kid, coming from a large, charismatic extended family. We pray and give blessings ALL of the time. We sing prayers in the round. We lay on hands/pray before big car trips. We pray in the mother tongues of German or Swedish. We use the phrasing “prayer warrior” more often than you would expect. When someone in my family says they are praying for you – they really, really mean it.

So what’s wrong with me? Here I am raised in a world of prayer and I become a hot mess whenever I have to utter a word in front of others.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I have come up with two potential roots to my “problem”:

(1) Being raised around, going to school around, and working around the religious has allowed a crutch.

My whole life has basically been spent around religious people. In the “real” world, I am probably seen as pretty “qualified” to give the dreaded prayer before a meal. However, 9 times out of 10, if someone actually wants a public prayer (this never happens with my non-seminary friends), there is usually a pastor in the room with me. Pastor trumps religious scholar. Get out of jail free. Do not pass Go. This has worked wonders for 32 years.

(2) That’s not how I pray.

Only recently did I realize that it isn’t just that I don’t know how to pray publicly (because I really don’t – I have even Googled “how to pray” and “good prayers” numerous times). It’s that I don’t pray like other people do. I have tried. Believe me. Before bed, or a meal, or while I’m in the car – I have tried numerous times over the years.

“Dear God…[enter prayer here]” does nothing for me. I feel nothing. It feels like a bear riding a tricycle – awkward and unnatural. For me, it seems like I’m playing the part of a religious person for others, which I inevitably fail at because my public prayers are full of sweat and a shaky voice and odd sentences.

Don’t get me wrong, I talk to God all the time and I search for God’s answers to my questions and observations in my everyday life. But my “conversations” are never at set times or in a set pattern. I don’t even start any thought or idea with a designated recipient. They aren’t even consistently nice. I get pissed at God all the time. I guess I just assume that God knows which thoughts belong to God. Maybe I should put the extra effort into highlighting which thoughts belong where and to whom. Wait. Is that even prayer? Maybe I’m not praying. Maybe that’s something else.

I digress.

As you can imagine, my method doesn’t translate well to public prayer, hence my predicament. But I can’t not be curious about prayer and what it means to me and to those around me. How do you pray? How did you break the public prayer code? What do you feel when you pray? How do you know you’ve gotten an answer?

I’m genuinely curious. This is a conversation I have always wanted to have, but have never had the guts to bring up because it would mean admitting that I have no idea what I’m doing.

Tell me the secret to an awesome prayer life.

 

In My Sights This Week:

  • We’re making our way through the new season of, “Orange is the New Black”. I was  warned it is going to be brutal so I cheated on spoilers to see if I wanted to be put through it and l stumbled on this awesome article criticizing the show. I was amazed how little I picked up as I’ve been watching it, but I welcome people pointing out how prevalent my lens of white privilege is. This is an every day struggle.
  • Another article that points out how we need to be more conscious of what we’re writing about on Facebook and how it might hurt others. I had heard this criticism before from friends who felt shame about their friends’ travel, but it’s a great reminder.
  • This article on the beginner’s guide to meditation is what sparked this week’s blog.

The Paradox of Servant-Hood

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When I got home from the hospital after giving birth, my bedside table had a brand new daily devotions book written just for mothers.

I love it. I try to read it every day and it brings me immense peace and joy.

However, I’ve been having problems letting go of one particular devotion. Here’s a snippet:

“Most moms take on the brunt of household duties…It’s an exhausting, and often thankless, job. This is why we need to be extra careful not to let bitterness creep into our hearts. We serve our families because we love them, but it’s easy to forget that day after day without hands in dirty dishwater. In those times we need to remember Jesus, who humbly knelt before his disciples to wash their feet…

“What is the condition of your heart when you serve your family and household? What can you do to guard yourself against bitterness?…”

In many ways this is in line with what Luther taught about the holiness of everyday people (at least how I read Luther). It wasn’t about feeling bad that I don’t read my Bible every day any more or that I’m not praying The Hours. These are all great things, but not really what God wants from us. Instead, Luther taught that the best way for me as a mother and wife to really please God is to be in the trenches of life and be the best mother and wife that I can be. Luther really thought that God gets far more pleasure from my changing Bennett’s endless diapers and being a partner to Jeff, than from studying devotions for an hour every night or keeping a tally of my sins so that I can confess on Sundays.

However, where’s the line between being affirmed about the realities of life and being expected to be misused and abused?

The first time I read this devotion I immediately bristled.

It felt like the church was telling me to be alright with being mistreated not only by others, but specifically by my family. I don’t like women to be told to be quiet and not complain. I also want to know if they had written that in the daily devotions for fathers? Do they tell dads to be silently thankful with being neck deep in laundry, dishes, cooking, and ingratitude?

I would be surprised if they had. This seems like a special brand of spiritual advice just for women.

How often are fathers told to be the silent suffering servant? How often are fathers told to embrace the daily rejection of their love – and see it as Jesus-like?

But….is this devotion wrong?

I think what kills me is that I know that the life they paint is true for so many women.

When I think about the way I treated my mom and her unrelenting love growing up, I am ashamed. I expected her to give and give and give of herself – and I rarely showed gratitude for her unconditional love and work. And yet, I can probably count on one hand the times I was aware that I had hurt her or that she was angry at her circumstances.

Again, there would be holidays when I would watch my Oma cooking and cleaning and breaking her back while any number of her children, grandchildren, family members, etc. continued to lazily watch television and talk. She insisted that she loved to do this. She told me she loved to create these environments where her family could be together – but it wasn’t right. She wasn’t being loved as she loved. When did she get her feet washed as she did for others every single day of her life?!

We all know that kids can be selfish. They can be incredibly ungrateful. To be reminded that this is reality and to not let anger or hatred creep in to poison your heart against your children and family is admirable and very Christian. But, on the other hand, to have a special message just for women telling them to not only not feel the very real feelings of hurt, pain, mistreatment, and disappointment, but instead to swallow this and tell ourselves it is all fine because it’s Jesus-like seems ripe for abuse (Whew! That was a complicated sentence!).

I have no conclusion or answer. Maybe you all have something to add that will help bring clarity to me and this uncomfortable place I have found myself before I step further into a life where I will inevitably feel hurt and misused by my children.

What do I do? Where’s the right way? Do I continue to religiously embrace the roll of mother/wife as that of a silent servant like all of the women before me? Do I fight expectations even among a broken reality?

In My Sights This Week (Things I Read & Watched):

I watched two documentaries that really have me rethinking food, capitalism, corruption, and our futures:

(1) “Soul Food Junkies” – about soul food within the black community in the United States and its dangerous and complicated history.

(2) “Sugar Coated” – about the insane increase of sugar consumption in North America (and the world) and how lobbying by those who sold (and currently sell) sugar had us redirecting our health concerns elsewhere.

I’m also currently watching ESPN’s multi-part series on OJ Simpson. It is so well done and gives incredible contextual history to help tell his story.

To be honest, most of the things that I read this past week had to do with the Orlando shooting. I’m still wrapping my head around it all and get increasingly depressed about the constant fear and danger LGBTQ+ people have to live with every second of their days and nights all over the world.

My Sort of Maybe Miracle

My son’s name is Bennett. This is short for Benedictus or Benediction (which means “a blessing” for those of you who don’t church nerd out like a normal person). He is a blessing to me in many ways, but there is one particular reason why I felt called to name him “blessing”.

I’ll get back to that.

Like I said earlier, I want to be a mystic really badly. I’m just not. I still hold out hope that all I need to do is crack that code, but for now I have to be content with other gifts. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by those who have mystical experiences with the divine (this is not just a Christian thing – I love to hear any mystical experience). When a person has a story about answered prayer, a “coincidence”, a vision, divine healing, etc., etc., etc. I’m in. I want to hear all about it in gory detail. Maybe one day it will happen to me through osmosis. That’s how it works, right?

It’s just that I have never experienced a miracle myself. At least I don’t think I have. Recently, I’ve been thinking that I may have – almost one year ago this summer.

Here’s the story of my sort of maybe miracle that I’ve never told anyone before. It will probably be clumsy and choppy, but my excuse is that I’m still trying to figure it out and put words to something special to me. Perhaps you can help me make some sense of this…

My husband and I decided to start a family after my comprehensive exams for my doctoral program were done. After a few months of trying we succeeded.

And then we lost the baby. I was devastated and hurt and emotional and distraught.

Of course, friends and family kept asking us when we were going to have a baby, or why it’s taking so long, or asking us what we’re waiting for…it was all with good intentions (they didn’t know), but it all inevitably reduced me to tears and made me feel like a failure. I started to feel like a science experiment with the details of temperature, tracking ovulation, recording signs – but after months of trying, the nurses at the OBGYN started to throw around words like “medical intervention” and “infertile”. I felt pretty horrid about myself.

Around this time I was attending a local Roman Catholic Church (of which I am still currently a member). Some of you might be a little confused. Let me explain. I am Lutheran born and raised – and I still consider myself very much Lutheran. However, a few years ago some of my church’s leadership hurt my family. As a result, my mom and I still can’t walk into a Lutheran Church without being reduced to tears. It’s too painful. Just like with most pain caused by family members, I hold great hope that one day we will be reunited and all of this will be a distant memory. But for right now I found a surrogate family that I love dearly and who have taken me in with open arms.

Anyway….back to the story…

So I’ve been attending this church for about 4 years and during this time I’ve fallen in love with many Roman Catholic traditions. Last summer, though, in the depths of my desperation something happened. I was walking up to receive my prayer (during the Eucharist I always go up for a prayer/laying on of hands and have made other “accommodations” since I’m not Catholic) from the priest when a little girl ran in front of me. My body ached a deep and desperate pain. I had heard other women mention this when it comes to children, but I had never experienced it. Basically, I hurt deeply for a child. My child.

Then something inside of me told me to take the Eucharist (I know this taboo and a big no no). I know very well the theology of the Eucharist for the Roman Catholic Church and in that moment I was in. I wanted God physically there – present – in what I perceived to be my broken body. So I took it, believed it, and prayed to a mother…God’s mother, Mary, to help me. She had lost a child once. She knew what it was like to be a woman. She would understand. I had faith that she would be a comforting ear.

I realize I’ve just made centuries of Lutherans and Protestants die a little. I get that. But if my calendar is correct, it worked for me.

Some of you might see the events unfolding as inevitable (I mean, I was taking temperatures and measuring all the things), but recently I have kind of sort of started to see it as my one miracle. My blessing from God, currently sleeping in his bassinet as I write about dark times exactly one year ago.

 

In My Sights This Week (Things I Read & Watched):

*An amazing article by Eboo Patel (my dream future boss) about making room for conservatives in the inter-religious space

*I watched the documentary “Awake: Life of Yogananda”, one of the first popular advocates of eastern religion in the United States (I’m pretty sure Swami Vivekananda was the first and Madame Blavatsky was about the same time decades earlier)

*A fascinating article with the argument that Romans 1 actually is NOT an attack on LGBTQ peoples

*An article with the view that kid’s sports have become the new idolatry for Christian families