I realized something lately about why I am so resistant to making prayer a regular part of my life. I thought it was just that I feel awkward or stupid doing it, or that I fear being judged by people in my life and constantly having to explain why my non-religious forms of prayer are necessary for me. No, I’m hesitant to embrace prayer because the way I pray is limiting myself and my view of the future.
I pray to get through the day without doing the self-destructive things I must avoid–but I don’t always ask for the grace of not even wanting to do them. I pray for the strength to get essential things done, but I don’t pray for them to flow smoothly or go well. I pray for the grace not to fall to self-pity, or fear, or envy– but I’m not asking for their joyous opposites.
Actually, I don’t ask for much good stuff at all. When I do ask for any, it’s usually for someone else. I’ve taken lessons of humility so much to heart that I’ve forgotten about love. I’ve forgotten that, within the confines of my God’s unknowable will, there’s room for me to ask for mercy and joy and healing. The answer might have to be no–but I’m allowed to want it, ask for it, reach for it.
I’m short-changing myself. And I’m short-changing my conception of God.
A man I once knew, who had recently taken up a religion and was experiencing the zeal of a convert, used the phrase “monster prayers” one day. He said it was his practice to try asking his God for everything he wanted, no matter how far-fetched it might seem. He, as well, knew that the answer can be no; that prayer isn’t some kind of bargain of “I’ll keep believing in you or being good if you give me what I want.” But he asked for miracles, and childish desires, and wonderful things.
I loved that phrase “monster prayers.” I pictured the clumsy, endearing, brightly colored monsters from kid’s shows next to fierce dragons and Cthulhu-esque tentacled things. I loved the idea of sending out the monsters of my wishes and desires to dance in front of my deity, entertaining it and teaching it more about me.
So what would I ask for, understanding that just asking is part of the magic?
A night of deep, refreshing sleep?
A day without any thoughts of death?
An upturn in my health?
Some windfall to ease financial problems?
Finding a psychiatrist who takes insurance?
A burst of creativity and productivity, getting more writing done?
No, not enough. Those aren’t monsters, they’re no more than small dogs on the scale we are trying for. Think impossible. Think ridiculous. Think baby crying for the moon.
Having a book published.
Solving the mystery of my daughter’s chronic pain.
Being healthy and active, without needing to sabotage myself.
Great friends among whom I actually feel comfortable.
Being free of fear, really free.
The best sex of my life.
Seeing the Louvre.
The best sex of my life, in the Louvre.
Better. Still, all of those are technically possible…how about world peace, an intact ozone layer, the ability to teleport, and a love affair with the telepathic leader of a friendly alien species?
Now we’re talking. Let the monsters go…so I’ll be less intimidated by the smaller creatures of my longings.