On Prayer, Pt. I
A man and his grandson were walking along the beach one evening as the Sun was setting. The man was enjoying the breeze, the smell of the ocean, the colors of the sunset, when he realized that his grandson was mumbling something. As he listened closely, he realized his grandson was saying the alphabet over and over again. When he asked his grandson what he was doing, the young boy told him, “I was just praying.” The grandfather, obviously confused, asked how that was praying. The grandson replied, “God can hear the prayers in my heart. He can hear the letters I’m saying, and the Spirit makes sense of it.”
I often wonder what God hears when I pray. I say my prayers as I’m falling asleep, and as I do, my mind wanders. Quite frankly, I don’t even know if I ever get to the end of my prayers before I fall asleep. Then again, I’ve no doubt that God has probably gotten a laugh or two from some of my prayers. There was a night in seminary where, after a night of Sean Connery and Scottish impressions in general with my best friend, I couldn’t turn the Scottish accent off. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get back to my regular voice. So, I said my nightly prayers with a Scottish accent (and probably not a very good one at that). I’ve no doubt, though, that, despite my bad impression of a Scotsman, God heard my prayers loud and true.
This is true for all of us. Fearful of being too selfish, we consciously pray for the needs of others, when in fact our heart cries out for our needs to be met. We pray for peace on Earth, when in fact, our heart is supplicating for peace in our times of transitions, peace between family or friends with whom we’ve quarreled, peace and acceptance of who we are. In the same way, we pray to be able to forgive others of their transgressions against us, but in fact, our heart knows that we are the one in need of forgiveness, whether from others or forgiveness of ourselves.
In short, the prayers of our conscious thoughts, our mouths, are not always the prayers of our hearts. Like the grandson in the story I started with, we might be saying one thing, but our heart is crying out something else entirely. Then again, maybe you can relate to my problems with prayers at night. Your mind is going a hundred different ways, worried about this, that, and the other thing. Your mind may not be entirely in to the whole praying thing one night because of overwhelming emotions of fear, sadness, anger, or something else. Regardless of where your mind is at, what your mouth is saying, one truth we can hold onto is that presented by the grandson: God can hear our hearts, which cry out and pray for things of which we may not think, for which we’re afraid to pray, or for which we feel would be improper to pray. At the same time, what comes to mind and what we say can be a jumbled mess sometimes and in need of unscrambling. That’s where the Spirit comes in. Not only does it give us the words to say, but it makes sense of the words we say when they don’t come out quite right. Therein, we can find peace that our prayers are heard, even when we don’t know we are praying.