The leaves have escaped the trees in my yard. Morning and late afternoon are dark, and we are deep into the season of Fall, Summer but a distant memory. Seasons change. We know this to be true and we accept it, perhaps with some grumbling when the snow piles around us for far too long, or the rain falls for one too many days in a row.
Life brings changes in spiritual seasons as well, and yet often I see people (myself included) hesitate to embrace naturally occurring shifts in spiritual practices, particularly when it comes to prayer. “Why is my prayer life less robust than it was two years ago?” “I can’t seem to get alone with God right now. I feel so guilty.” “I used to get out for long prayer walks and now all I can do is sit in my chair in silence for a few minutes a few times a week.” We quickly jump to self-criticism and judgment, struggling to embrace new spiritual seasons, where God might be inviting us into a fresh or different posture of prayer.
Prayer habits change for many reasons. A tragedy or period of deep depression draws us to the floor in anguish and supplication. We are interceding for a person or situation that requires faithful discernment. The prayers of the grieving and the discerning beckon a unique prayer posture, one of intensity and emotion.
Sometimes, life gets busy and we either forget to prayer, or prayer suddenly looks different than before. Maybe we do need to take inventory of our lives and make more space for prayer. Or…maybe it is a time wherein prayer is more silence than words, more noticing than naming, more feeling than judging.
No matter what the situation, guilt around prayer practices is neither helpful, nor what God desires for us. Dr. MaryKate Morse writes: “If we pray because we should or because we need something, the motivation for a life of prayer is weak. However, if we pray to experience God and to grow, the motivation is stronger.” The “should” of prayer is what trips us up. We compare our prayer lives to those in our communities, or to people we read about in books or online.
Faithful prayer that stems from a desire to experience God can look like a variety of models. Some weeks, all I can offer by way of prayer is what I call “shower prayers”. Those few minutes under the water might be the only alone time I have all day, and so I whisper names and feelings and longings to God. I trust that God receives my offering and will walk with me through the day ahead.
A dear friend and I walk most Friday mornings. Our conversations frequently remind us of God’s goodness even if we are processing something difficult. On one such Friday morning as we came to the end of our route, my friend said: “Prayer has been hard for me this week. Today I think this walk and conversation is my prayer.” Of course, it is! Sometimes prayer is on our knees and sometimes prayer is on the move with a friend.
The Apostle Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing.” There are times for concentrated prayer with few interruptions. There are also times for shower prayers, doing-dishes prayers, rocking babies prayers, and driving to work prayers. These too are unceasing prayers.
Jesus tells us that prayer is not for show. Not for the world to notice and certainly not something we do to prove our worth to ourselves or to God. Let us have grace for ourselves as we pray.
A Moment of Reflection:
Recall a time when your prayer life changed. Is there a texture, a color or an image that comes to mind?
Notice where there was freedom in this shift and where there was judgement.
What prayer invitation is God giving you today?
1 MaryKate Morse. A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four ways to walk with God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013.
2 1 Thessalonians 5:17, NRSV.
Alyssa Bell is a tent-making Co-Associate Pastor at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA along with her husband Matthew. They have two daughters, Theresa and Susie. While serving the church, which she loves, she pursues complimentary vocational avenues like teaching and spiritual direction. Alyssa recently completed her Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation and is in the Spiritual Direction Training Program through the Companioning Center. She has a heart for mothers who minister, either in a church setting or elsewhere. For fun Alyssa enjoys walking, making music, reading mystery novels, and completing puzzles.