Praying

After I left the Catholic faith at 16, I left it all, as I fully embraced the Southern Baptist way of life. I was completely blown away by how much I didn’t know about the Bible, how my life spent in church yielded nothing of substance – let alone relationship – and now that I had found Jesus, the Catholics seemed completely misinformed on nearly every level and there was nothing there for me in my walk with God.

Fast forward a few decades.

I slowly backed away from the SBC in recent years for a myriad of reasons: not having their worldview of a young earth meant I wasn’t welcome there (actual line in a sermon), I had trouble faking the smile of everything was fine, and bypassing my pain with “Jesus is good.” Everyone I encountered was happy, healthy, and lead perfect lives – or so that’s what they displayed at church. I wanted something real. I wanted a church that room for doubts, pain, and the understanding that sometimes life just isn’t fair and no amount of prayer is going to change God’s will. I was also completely disturbed by their blind embrace of partisan politics. But I digress.

I hit a low point a few years ago, where my anxiety was off the charts and my home life was in shambles. Even when I held out my hand to Jesus, I could feel His grip slipping. And that’s right about the time I embraced contemplative prayer. It’s usually what most associate with monks: praying with silence before God. It emphasized quiet medication on scripture combined with accessing emotions – something I’m terrible at. Instead of reading the bible in large passages, as I was taught, as if I were sitting down to a meal, what if I read the Bible like sipping high quality vodka? Small sips over a long period of time, carefully taking in every nuance of flavor rolling off my tongue.

The counselor I was seeing had credentials in the medical world, but was also a Christian. She encouraged me, when anxiety was spiraling, to have a rescue verse or memorize a passage of scripture in order to ground myself. I could never be an actor because I’m terrible at rote memorization (I can’t order through a drive thru without stage fright) but decided to take her up on that. I needed something short and to the point. I settled on the perfect passage for someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Psalm 130.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 130, ESV

Without pressuring myself, I memorized the first line. I wrote it down and said it to myself throughout the day. I switched it up by memorizing it German instead of English. I slowly added a verse. I would repeat what I memorized in those nights when I couldn’t sleep; I would say those precious words when everything was falling apart. Psalm 130 was the only thing holding me together some days.

And then, as if things couldn’t get worse, we decided to buy a house before selling our old one. With nearly unbearable anxiety over our finances, a friend online had mentioned praying The Offices, just like monks. Morning. Noon. Afternoon. Evening. Night. Monks would stop at certain times for prayers. They made room in their day for nothing but devotion to prayer. I decided to do the same. While I wasn’t about to get up at 0200, I cut the clock into four quarters, and if I was awake, I would make sure I stopped and prayed at some point in those three hour windows.

It made all the difference in the world. It didn’t change the situation, but it refocused my energy on Him.

My prayer life is still far from perfect. I stumble with simple words when praying over meals, while others seem to have such eloquent phrases. I use a contemplative app, Pray As You Go, fresh out of the Jesuit Society in the UK, a Catholic organization. I love how the meditation gives space for thoughts, a scripture passage, and then makes you reflect on the scripture in different ways. My favorite is when they ask you to be among the crowd as Jesus is speaking, observing the looks on peoples’ faces at His words. They read the scripture again, so you have another sip at it.

Even though my faith has mutated throughout the years, allegiance to His word is the foundation of my faith.

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