I was a crier as a child. I screamed my head off every time I left the house. Santa Claus was scary. The grocery store was scary. It was all just scary. I cried almost daily in 3rd grade, because I had skipped a grade and lost all my friends. At that same time, I began losing my eyesight which is scary but my teacher did not believe me. I will never forget her calling me a crybaby in front of the entire class. Five years later, I was crying in art class in 8th grade so fed up with being teased. In time, I learned to not cry, even when I was sad.
I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop talking. In it she explains that in introverts, stimuli often overwhelm the senses. Many introverts were criers as children. We go into ourselves to settle the stimuli. Some of us can be very social, but by definition, we need time away to resettle our senses. It was so freeing to read that and understand that I am not a monster. I am still hardwired with such powerful sensitivity to the stimuli around me. The work for me now is not to reign in that sensitivity, but to unlearn all the mechanisms I developed to suppress what used to be shameful.
God does not need a prayer translator, so just be honest
This leads me to prayer. I have come to take a very positive view of humanity. That for the most part, God knows what God is doing when making us. And I’ve come to see the myriad human expressions and personalities as the work of a creative and diverse God. So when I hear people struggle with prayer, instead of going theological, I try to go psychological. Who are you as a person? How are you wired? What is the prayer avenue for you?
Spiritually, prayer is communion with God. There are ideal states of prayer, but there are myriad pathways. Too often we idealize states of prayer, rather than seeking pathways. Different pathways work for different people. Which goes back to the diversity of God. How can we pray to God with integrity, whole constantly trying to be someone else. I seek the wisdom of others as to the essence and meaning of prayer. But the pathways are my work. I think that goes back to how one is wired. While contemplative prayer that leads to serenity in the presence of God is awesome and to be savored, for others singing, screaming, writing work better.
Tired Mother Prayers
I gathered with my international peers at Taize. A young priest spoke pleasingly about the ease of being in the presence of God. It sounded awesome. Then a young mother of 3 from the Canary Islands spoke up: she is constantly exhausted. She sleeps during the moments the kids are asleep. She awakens upon their stirrings and is heroically attentive to them until the next rest period. The young priest had no answer for her. Neither did the young Methodist country preacher. But the lesson has stuck with me: God craves the prayer squeezed out between diaper changes as much as the hour of silence in the still on the monastery.
Prayer is walking with God, talking with God, listening to God and sitting in silence with God. There are lots of ways to do it right. I’m playing with a revelation that those screaming fits of my childhood were my first prayers: screamed out of fear and desperation, messy, ugly, embarrassing, raw…only answered when I entered the safety of home and the closeness of mom, dad, brother. I am too often worried about being embarrassing.