I was talking about prayer with a few friends earlier this week.
“How do you pray?” someone asked the group.
I sat in the corner, sipping my drink strategically, trying not to say anything.
Naturally, someone said, “Ben, what do you think?”
“I’m not an expert.” I said.
“Well, you learned a lot about the Bible and Christianity. We want to hear what you think.”
I thought about telling them that I wouldn’t be their pastor in about ten days and I needed practice at sitting in the corner while saying as little as possible.
Instead, I said, “I think prayer is like washing dishes.”
And, if it’s helpful for you, here’s my explanation, (with all the extra umm’s and superfluous words neatly excised.)
When people talk about prayer, it often sounds like something ripped from a movie on Lifetime: someone miraculously healed, someone’s longstanding addiction/anger/bad habit mysteriously taken away, someone saying, “Write a check to this stranger for $401.50 and lo and behold, that person had a child with a serious life illness and they needed exactly $401.50 to do their surgery! A miracle!”
Sometimes, prayer is Lifetime-movie amazing.
However, if you’re like me, prayer is often just like washing the dishes. I don’t get “anything” out of it, but I do it, because I don’t need a leaning tower of plates polluting my sink.
Prayer is about learning to communicate with God. As with all relationships, it takes practice, a lot of practice. Sometimes that practice is satisfying, even fun, and sometimes it just feels like a waste of time.
I’ve had dry periods of my life, months, even years, where I “felt” absolutely nothing whenever I prayed.
I’ve had other periods of my life where I had incredibly moving experiences almost every time I talked to God.
Now, when I look back at the seasons of my life where God did the deepest work in me, almost all of them coincide with the dry periods, where praying was as inspiring as washing dishes.
When we pray, even if when we don’t feel like we’re “getting” anything out of it, it helps us know how to talk with God, even when we’re too busy, stressed, or overwhelmed to think straight.
The best spiritual writers all speak of prayer in exactly this way. Beware, they say, of seeking the moments of consolation, where you feel the presence of God vividly and powerfully. They are not what prayer is all about. Instead, seek the moments of dryness, when praying feels like nothing more than washing dishes. Rejoice, they say, for in those moments God is working so deeply in you that you can’t even sense it.
So – if praying feels to you like washing dishes, keep at it, God’s probably doing more in you that you would expect.