Prayer Stomp

What should I do when prayer doesn’t work?

I get frustrated when I try to use the tool of prayer and I end up feeling the same way afterward. Whatever anxiety, frustration, fear or resentment I’ve been trying to pray away still seems to be right in my face.

It makes me think I was doing it wrong–prayer often feels awkward to me, with my limited experience. Whether I call it conscious intention, asking for help from my higher Self, or surrendering a feeling or situation to the universe, it tends to feel stilted and forced. My best moments of connection with my spirituality tend to come on their own, like gifts, and I haven’t yet become comfortable with the idea that grace can be intentionally and specifically sought and found.

It would seem I have a lot to learn. Yesterday, I found myself praying about some feelings that have thoroughly overstayed their welcome–my regrets and self-castigation about leaving our old house. No matter how often I go over the fact that I made a well-meaning decision with the information I had at the time, I continue to be worried, envious, resentful, and regretful. My daughter’s recent change in diagnosis has stirred these feelings up to a new intensity, bringing a hot anger over the fact that the old place would have been in so much better a location for everything from getting treatment to helping her develop a healthy social life.

Damn it, I really have been over this ad nauseam. It’s over. If it was a mistake, the mistake is made. Driving myself crazy with regrets helps nobody. It’s Gazpacho syndrome to the max. But knowing that isn’t enough to get it out of my emotions, and that’s why I need my God’s help with it.

When I was praying about it, for what seemed like the thousandth time, it felt like saying the same old things. It felt like self-talk, which isn’t a bad thing but has done all it can for me on this subject long ago. What was I doing wrong? Later in the day, I found myself with a couple of free hours until I needed to pick up my daughter. I’d parked in the shopping center near where her class was, and was feeling lackluster about trying to get step writing done with this crap whirling in my head.

It occurred to me that I was only a couple of miles from the old house. Before I could change my mind, I locked the car, threw my backpack on and started walking. I walked angrily, as if I’d just left an argument. I walked with a purpose. What purpose? What was I going to do when I got to the house? I didn’t really know; I just knew that I needed a destination and an action to take.

I was sick of talking to my God about this; sick of trying to change the way I felt with words. With my fierce steps I wanted to show how I was feeling, not tell. As I walked along those familiar streets, I let the envy and regret be manifested in my stride, going faster every time a strong wave of feelings hit.

After I reached the house, I sat down on the curb across the street and wrote random things for a while. Good and bad memories, messages, more requests for help with the feelings. No grand insights were achieved. In a while, I got up and began the long walk back to my car.

So, did adding action to prayer work for me? I still don’t know. I still didn’t get instant gratification in the form of relief from my thoughts and emotions. My God isn’t removing these feelings on request; perhaps there is more I have to do with them first. More that I need to learn from them–they’ve already taught me so much about myself, even though I hate it.

What I do know is this: I’m a recovering addict, and my go-to response to distress is to act out in ways that can harm me. My appeals for help lately have produced the following results: by articulating my emotions, I am being honest about them. By admitting that I don’t know what to do with them, I’m experiencing humility. By acting them out with my impromptu pilgrimage, I responded to stress with a four-mile walk instead of with food or drugs.

So what was I saying about prayer not working? It just doesn’t work the way I want it to. I’m trying to use it like I used my drugs–to get relief from pain, anxiety or other distress. But the real purpose of prayer, in terms of my recovery, is supposed to be seeking my God’s will for me and the strength to carry it out. That means I can’t control what I will get when I pray. Damn.

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