Last Saturday, I wrote about My Struggle with Formal Prayers. I have been thinking about that topic ever since, and I have come to another realization as to why kneeling and vocalizing an individual, personal prayer is so hard for me.
First, some of the paradox behind the struggle:
I have no inhibitions whatsoever with public speaking or one-on-one conversation. I have performed in public since the days of my earliest memories. I sang a public solo for the first time when I was six years old (I think; it might have been eight, but I believe it was pre-baptism.) - "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission" in Sacrament Meeting for a cousin's missionary farewell. I gave my first public speech in First Grade, when I received an award for reading a ridiculous number of books during a contest. I sang in solo competitions and vocal groups from 4th - 12th Grade; I've played piano solos and accompanied others hundreds of times; I played the saxophone for eight years in school; I was the Drum Major of our High School Marching Band. I was a school teacher. More recently, I've been in Sales and Marketing for nearly twelve years. I don't remember EVER being nervous or shy about speaking or performing in front of people. A shrinking violet I am not.
I also am not shy about expressing my thoughts and feelings - as anyone who knows me in the Bloggernacle can attest. When it comes to group participation, I am more likely to be highly visible and audible than quiet and invisible. Communication skills and inclination are not a problem for me.
As I considered all of that this week, I was left to ask:
Why then do I struggle so much with formal prayer? Other than what I articulated last Saturday (the fact that I really do carry a constant prayer in my mind and heart), is there some other personal characteristic that "gets in the way" of kneeling and vocalizing prayer?
It hit me just a couple of days ago that I simply am not a very "formal" person. I am totally comfortable interacting in formal situations, but, for me, doing so is an artificial way to concede to the need to "play the formal game". In a past job, I walked the corridors of the Ohio Statehouse and talked about million dollar funding projects with executive directors of major philanthropies, but my actions in those discussions were "artificially" formal for me. I would have been much more "at home" and "natural" in jeans and a t-shirt, sitting outside on the grass and just having a heart-to-heart chat. I've conducted formal interviews for years, but I'd rather sit and rap with someone than grill them in a formal manner.
Also, I am a natural tease, and I tend to take lots of things less seriously than many others. For example, I'm not sure the member of the Stake Presidency who heard my talk on charity last Sunday expected the quote from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" ("Be excellent to each other." - at least I didn't include what followed: "Party on, dudes!") or the description of listening to someone learn to play the bagpipes as similar to hearing someone kill a cat - in context of being charitable as people learn to play their souls (although I did mention in the talk that I probably shouldn't say "kill a cat" in Sacrament Meeting). I'm a country boy at heart, and the sociality that exists in a small town tends to be a bit less formal than at a country club or in a middle-upper class suburb.
I've known all of that about myself for a long time, but it never really registered in the context of formal prayer. Simply opening up my mind and heart and talking with God works for me. I've had some incredible spiritual experiences in my life, but I'm having a hard time thinking of one that occurred during a formal, vocal, personal prayer. (Priesthood blessings are a different story, but I'm distinguishing them as "ritual prayer" from "personal prayer".)
What struck me is that the most powerful experiences I have had in my life that are associated with prayer have come when I was being most "true" to myself - when I wasn't engaged in an activity that was "foreign" or "unnatural" to me, but rather when I was doing what I do best. Those experiences all have come either when I simply was chatting with God (talking with him informally in my head and/or heart) or when I was involved in a ritual of some kind - like a Priesthood blessing or an ordinance.
This insight has been a revelation to me, and I am contemplating the implications. At the very least, it has reinforced the need to be careful of requiring all God's children to speak with him in the exact same way - of over-simplifying and communalizing something that might be better left complex and personal. Sometimes, unity of purpose and result might be better than total unity of form and function. At the very least, it's given me more to ponder - and it's strengthened my gratitude for the inspiration that led to my New Year's Resolution for this month.
In Our Ward: Lesson 32: “Live in the Spirit”
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