I grew up with the idea that if I wanted to "grow as a Christian" I needed to have a daily "Quiet Time". There were suggested formulas for this. One part Bible reading, one part praying (divided into praise, worship, interceding and requests to God) and maybe even one part "listening" for God to answer.
The formula, I'm sure, is only meant to be a bit of a guideline, and the whole "quiet time" idea is not necessarily a bad discipline, either - but it is very easy to get the message (which I most emphatically did) that if you fail to meet this expectation, to do it daily, or "the right way" that all would not be well, spiritually.
I don't feel that pressure anymore - but it literally took decades to shake that fear; that I wasn't "doing it right" and God wouldn't be pleased with me, and my "prayers" wouldn't be answered because I hadn't approached Him the right way. (Oh - and even if you happen to find a "quiet time" helpful, it really ISN'T a cement-clad criterion for "growing as a Christian". Whatever your chosen means of "mindful" spirituality, the only essential criterion that I believe stands up to scrutiny, is growing in love. Period.)
But... getting back to the "prayer thing"; What is it, anyway??
I mean, how many "prayer memes" have you seen on Facebook (or email, if you're not a fellow social media addict)? I especially "love" them, when they tell you that you have no heart if you don't "like" or "share"! The example pictured above may seem like a cheap shot - but how different is it, really, from the way that many people (self included) learn to pray?
When I was young, I felt that I had to suck up to God with "praise and worship" until the hard and angry deity was soothed sufficiently to hear my requests. But even in delivering those, I had to be careful to mention others before myself, and show myself sufficiently humble and pure to warrant a few little requests of my own. If those didn't get answered? Well, there were three answers, weren't there? "Yes", "No" and "Wait a while", and it was always possible I just hadn't done it right. Try again - and harder - tomorrow.
Of course, this is different to a facebook "click" (or touching a rosary bead... or going through a superstitious routine of some kind) because it's MUCH more detailed... oh wait, yeah - it's the same - only more - agonising!!
But hey, it wasn't all bad - and I'm not "throwing the baby out with the bathwater", here. (I hear a gentle exhalation - of disappointment from my more zealous atheist dear ones - and relief from the Christian camp). There were times in my very tortured "quiet times" when I think God really did speak to me. After all, if he isn't actually the angry tyrant so many of us subconsciously believe him to be - then why wouldn't he speak, when someone is very earnestly trying to hear Him? Funny thing is, the moments of insight and clarity that I look back on, as my most significant "hearing from God" didn't even happen when I was "praying". I'll say that again, in case you missed it: my most significant moments of "hearing from God" did not happen during prayer. Yep. That's what I said.
They happened, when I was still enough to hear. They happened, when I was ready for an important reality to sink in. They happened, sometimes, when I least expected it! How do I know it was God? Rationally, I don't. What I do know, is that they were moments of profound and life-changing insight; and nothing remained the same afterwards. Each time, there was a sense of deep understanding, of hope, of a "way forward". And each time, events unfolded in a way which affirmed that. Changes came about as a result of those "moments" that were healthy, and that enabled me to move forward into freedom of some kind. That is something I don't want to close myself off to.
At the moment, the only real "prayer" I participate in, is a kind of reflective and mindful participation in those things I know to be part of "the way". Forgiveness. "Being there" for those around me who need it. (I don't necessarily do this well - but each time I make a choice in that direction, I regard it as a kind of prayer). Will my prayer life involve more actual "conversation" (you know, the kind that uses actual words) in the future? Well, quite possibly. But my hope (or, prayer?) is that the inclusion of words will never be more than the inclusion of words in my "walk of life" with close family and friends. Just a part of "being" together; not something divorced from reality or my true heart.