No Right Way to Pray: Letting Go of My Misconceptions About Prayer

If you had asked me in my 20s how important prayer was to me, I would have ranked it pretty low. I grew up understanding prayer was something you did at church, in times of hardship or thanksgiving. It started with a Hail Mary or an Our Father, followed by my requests, fears, and desires. I would end with words of thanks, lest I be thought of as ungrateful. 

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Today, however, you might find me sitting in an overstuffed chair, morning light streaming in, cup of coffee in hand, quietly meditating. I find such joy setting aside time in my day to slow down and simply be with God. By redefining prayer as being in company and conversation with God, I have shifted the way I pray in a truly transformative way. I have always considered myself a spiritual person, but I now feel more connected with my spirituality than ever before. 

I used to think that there was a certain way I had to pray, a script I had to follow in order to do it the right way. I needed to ask for help with certain things and ask forgiveness for others. By discarding those notions of the “right way” and “wrong way” to pray, my prayer life has become much more authentic and fruitful. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I do not have to say anything, I do not have to follow a script

Although familiar prayers like the Our Father or Hail Mary give me great comfort in times of overwhelming stress, that is not the only way I can pray. I can be with God and say nothing at all. Completely clearing my mind and choosing to be fully present in a moment is a gift. I bring my attention to my body, my surroundings, and my feelings. Giving myself permission to focus on my body and spirit has been deeply healing and allows me to be present in any moment with God.

I do not have to follow a formula to pray the “right” way

I can choose a phrase to meditate on, perhaps “Be with me, God.” I can repeat this in my mind as I slow my breathing and feel the stillness in my body, bringing my thoughts gently back to this simple phrase when they drift away. I feel so much closer to God when I pray this way. When I feel overwhelmed by life, one of the most comforting things I can do is ask those I love to be with me; this includes God. I may have something specific I want to focus my meditation on or I may just want to sit quietly. When I know I am worthy of my own time and attention, it reminds me of my value in this world. I am lovingly created and I deserve a relationship with God.

I do not have to balance my prayer with thanksgiving and requests

There are moments when I am in great need of God’s presence in my life. Moments I feel entirely and completely overwhelmed, when I need to ask God for the strength to get out of bed or the courage to have a hard conversation with my spouse. There are also moments when I feel his love acutely, times I look around at all I have been blessed with in this life, a warm home, a loving family, a dedicated partner. In pursuing my desire for an authentic relationship with God, I want to present God with my true self. I want to ask help when I need to and declare my thanks with just as much honesty.

I do not have to worry about perfection

It can be hard to navigate prayer in today’s perfection-obsessed world. If I sit down to pray or meditate and the moment is interrupted either by my wandering thoughts or by my children or spouse, it can easily feel like a failed attempt. But there is no such thing as a perfect prayer. I can accept this moment as it is whatever that means, I can accept myself without judgment, just as God does. 

I used to believe I couldn’t meditate because there was no way I could fully quiet my brain. I now understand that trying to be something I am not isn’t the point of meditation. Instead, I work on becoming comfortable with my thoughts and feelings, mindfully aware of what is going on inside my head and my body. I can be with myself and slow down and my mind will still wander off and that is OK. Whether I have five minutes to spare or 20, I benefit from mindful awareness. Prayer and meditation can be what I need them to be, even if this looks different from how others pray. 

By letting go of what I think prayer should look like, and leaning in to what I really need in any given moment, I have discovered a type of prayer that feels true to me. Prayer isn’t about following any rules or worrying about what God will think. Prayer is about bringing your true self to the table, simply showing up to be with God, and the rest will come on its own.

Originally published June 11, 2020.

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