It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth day of feeling deathly ill that I decided to pray. Deathly ill is a bit exaggerated, but I was sick for over a week with strep throat. “They” say it hits adults harder than children, and I believe that now. Alone in my apartment trying not to get anyone infected, I prayed. And I prayed hard.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the last time that I had prayed.
But I do remember the first time. I was an innocent eight year old girl, holding the Sunday School teacher’s hand as I “asked Jesus into my heart” – what the Baptists call being saved. Prayer became second nature to me and so did doing right.
Church and singing became my life. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night the doors opened, I was there along with my two sisters and faithful mother. Alone in my bedroom with my initialed Bible, I often prayed for my father who didn’t attend with us.
Over the short twenty-seven years of my life, my faith has evolved. It (faith) has always been a part of my life, not just a small part but a large part. Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, the issue of right and wrong was pounded heavily in my head. In high school, I attended a charismatic church and always was the lead star on the praise team. We were preached to about sin until our faces turned blue and slathered with oil at the altar when in time of prayer. They viewed prayer as powerful and life changing and so did I.
As a college student, I discovered a new found freedom, questioned my faith and rarely attended church. Along the way, God always pulled me into his arms whether through a friend or song heard on the radio. Often prayers were spoken in times of stress and guilt.
My eclectic background had me confused. My faith in God became more about appearance and doing right. How to overcome temptation and live in a real world was not something I had been equipped to do. But I knew the right words to say, the perfect flowery words to pray.
As the years have passed on, I have faced reality in more ways than one- through the loss of close loved ones, loss of jobs and the end of a marriage- my heart has been bumped, pushed, torn and broken and sometimes all at the same time.
Living for the Lord stopped being about what others expected of me. It stopped being about doing what others thought was right and stopped being about praying what the preacher taught me to pray.
Many times it feels like there is a label on my forehead that reads “failure.” I’m not the perfect example of Christian that I once claimed and others thought of me. I’ve made mistakes, big mistakes and often appeared as just another face in the crowd.
I’ve learned to pray differently — from a heart that knows I’m nothing without him. I’ve learned to pray without fancy words. I’m appreciative that I have a mother that made sure I was in church and a grandmother that prayed for me daily and often recited Psalm 23 as she drove me to daycare. I’m appreciative that I experienced eclectic styles of worship. But I have found what works for me.
I’m reminded of the song that I once sang as a child, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” My faith is simple and so is my prayer life. I know who He is based on my own experiences. From that I pray. It may not be a pretty prayer- just me, raw and transparent.
Photography credit: Ismael Burciaga