‘I don’t know how to pray’
Originally appeared online in the teen series: Q&A - May 22, 2018
Q: I don’t know how to pray.
A: Fasten your seatbelts—prayer is the most wonderful adventure ever!
What prayer is: For me, prayer is drawing close to the creator of the universe. It means getting intimate with God. It is an ongoing exploration of infinite spiritual space and ideas.
The how-to: Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, devotes an entire chapter to the subject of prayer in her textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. There we read, “Desire is prayer; …” (p. 1). Mrs. Eddy isn’t talking about wanting things like boyfriends, cars, or good grades, but rather a heart’s desire to feel close to God. Prayer is a yearning thing. An openness to the divine source of all good. Once we’re in that place of genuine openness, there are many ways to continue with prayer. Here are a few.
The prayer of petition: The Lord’s Prayer is a great example. In this prayer, Jesus instructs us to ask—to ask for grace, for our daily bread, for forgiveness, and to not be led into temptation. Mrs. Eddy gives a wonderful spiritual translation of this prayer on pages 16 and 17 of Science and Health.
In addition to the Lord’s Prayer, my daily prayer also includes asking God to guide me, to open my eyes to more of His goodness, to show me what it is like to be Her daughter, to teach me how to love Him and His creation more, and so on.
The prayer of affirmation and denial: This can also be called the prayer of “argument.” It is affirming God’s presence and power and denying the reality of anything unlike God, good. It might sound something like this: “God is all good, filling all space. Therefore ________ (fill in the blank with whatever may be causing a problem) can’t exist.” This prayer is helpful when we’re struggling with something we don’t want in our lives—like fear or not feeling well, for example.
The prayer of gratitude: Sometimes just being grateful puts us in rapport with the Divine, or at least begins to. Gratitude tends to shift our attention away from whatever problems we’re facing toward an awareness, and even a conviction, of the allness of God. Being grateful for little things as well as the big ones helps. Clouds, roses, music, seeing evidences of God’s presence are among my favorites. We each have our own lists. We’re not talking about lip service here, but honest, heartfelt thankfulness.
The prayer of listening: Listening means learning to be silent so we can have what Mrs. Eddy calls “audience with Spirit” (Science and Health, p. 15). We silence the world’s chatter and open our hearts and thoughts to hear the ideas God, Mind, is imparting to us. It is the nature of Mind to unfold all good. Our job is to listen. As we do, we’ll hear amazing things about the universe of Spirit and about ourselves as Spirit’s infinite ideas.
The prayer of yielding: This is a wordless surrender, a “God, You take over” prayer. Yielding involves complete trust in God and a letting go of any sense of ourselves as separate from Him.
God answers our prayers. There are a million ways prayer is answered. One is feeling the presence of goodness—maybe even in spite of the circumstances. We feel lighter, happier, more confident of good. Another is pure peace—an indescribable knowing that we are the loved of Love. Fear disappears from our thinking. Sometimes we actually hear God’s words, maybe even out loud. Things in our daily life begin to shift—sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly.
Recently an eighteen-year-old told me how her prayer was answered: with a simple feeling of conviction. “I have absolutely no doubt that healing happens,” she said. This was after she had prayed about a bad cold only days before she had to perform a lead role in a school musical. The next day the cold was almost completely gone, and she went on to perform beautifully, and with complete freedom.
If we don’t see results from our prayers right away, it’s important to persist. And we can ask God in prayer for that persistence, too. God will always give us whatever we need and show us whatever we need to know—including new ways to pray if we feel uninspired or like we’re in a rut.
Prayer isn’t a one-way deal. It invites and welcomes God into our thoughts, and the results are change and healing. So we can expect our prayers to be effective. After all, prayer is all about God, the All-in-all. When we turn our thoughts expectantly Godward, the possibilities are infinite. That’s an adventure worth going on!