I’ve been told to pray to know God’s will for me, and for the willingness to do it and nothing else. It’s a tall order. I prefer the other kind of praying. You know, that desperate ‘please God, let me …’ You left for the meeting late, and you must be there on time, so there you are, praying for green lights all the way, for the bus to be there just as you get into the station, for easy-to-find parking, or for an elevator that arrives right on time. You’re making deals. ‘Let me pass the test, and I’ll totally study from now on’. You’re providing explanations and making excuses. ‘I couldn’t work on that project – there were people over and I had to entertain them. I had no time at all!’ ‘This is a really important date – I have to make it on time! Don’t let me be late or my life will be totally messed up.’
I try to avoid the orders and self aggrandization of ‘God, you had better get me that raise! I had worked so hard on that task!’ I know that I don’t do half the things I say that I will do, and that I could do better on the other half. Still, prayers are a thing. I try to do the prayers I’ve learned, be it the Sh’ma or the Amida or any of the others. Sometimes, that helps. Most of the words we say are words of thanksgiving, praise, and very ‘give me strength to do your will and clear the obstacles in my way’ style petitions. They can get very formulaic, though and stilted. I find my mind drifting away from my prayers back to everyday concerns.
How do I get my ego out of the way enough to hear God’s will for me? There are ways I get into the right headspace – singing, being outside, walking. I think my prayers are purer when I do that than they are when I say any words. Sometimes, I can consciously clear my head enough of thought to actually connect to God (to love, to myself, to the universe – whatever works for you; don’t let the words get you.) Sometimes, it just happens – a strong enough emotion, and I cry, laugh, and pray truly from the heart.
Those are real prayers. Whether I’m asking for help or thanking God, whether I ask to succeed at something I’m doing or request God’s will for me, it’s when emotion overwhelms thought, when my mind is finally defeated in its effort to rationalize everything that I pray.
So, I use words – to say what words cannot:
When I’m feeling lost and broken
And I weep from ache and grief
When fear overwhelms, unspoken
When pain drowns out all belief
When each day is long and weary
And no one can tell me why
When the tasks seem pointless, dreary –
God, please hold me when I cry
When I yell with rage unbending
And cast stones instead of bread
When I swear a grudge unending
When the redness fills my head
When I cannot fix the error
And shards mock my broken dream
And frustration leads to terror
God, please hold me when I scream
When I laugh with friend and brother
And success comes like a treat
When we see God in each other
When a triumph ends defeat
When with firm determination
I find joy in every thing
When I smile with elation
God, please hold me when I sing.