by Pastor Rebecca Shjerven
Like many, I came to prayer as a young child, as my parents knelt by my bedside each night. They taught me a pattern of prayer that was focused on the people whom I loved—grandmas and grandpas, sisters and brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.
To that list we added the needs of the world. We prayed for children who didn’t have a warm bed like mine in which to fall asleep. We prayed for hungry people in Biafra, though I didn’t know exactly where that was. We prayed that Neil Armstrong and the other astronauts would make it home safely, and that the faraway war I watched on the television news each night would end.
The world of my prayers was much larger than the world of my everyday activity.
As I grew into a young woman, all the concerns of creating a life beyond the one my parents created for me moved to the forefront, and this was reflected in my prayers.
I prayed for a good job and that I would be successful and useful in my work. I prayed to find rich friendships and a partner with whom to share my life. I prayed that I would be a mother someday. I continued to pray for loved ones and for some of the global needs I was aware of.
Even so, the world of my prayers grew smaller, just about the size of my everyday worries and preoccupations.
Henri Nouwen’s words in, “With Open Hands” remind me of my journey with prayer. He wrote, “When we live with hope we do not get tangled up with concerns for how our wishes will be fulfilled. So, too, our prayers are not directed toward the gift, but toward the one who gives it. Our prayers might still contain just as many desires, but ultimately it is not a question of having wish come true but of expressing an unlimited faith in the giver of all good things” (p. 73)
This describes the movement of my adult prayer life. I find that when my prayers express gratitude for God’s character—God’s trustworthiness and creativity and love—I am connected, once again, to a larger world, a world in which God is very much alive and active and holding everything and everyone whom God has created.
Whatever my desires or wishes, I know that our future is bound to God’s Love and God’s Life. This calms anxiety and brings a comfort and a hope that a recitation of my desires cannot bring. I still tell God what is on my mind (though I suspect God already has that information!). I pray for the needs of those in my care, and for the groaning of the world. But my greatest peace comes from simply remembering who God is, and thanking God for being God.