Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thoughts on Prayer


Give this post a look-see on youtube: Thoughts on Prayer

The Asperger's traits addressed in this post include:
*Following scripts when interacting
*Difficulty expressing emotions appropriately
*Prefer routines and structure

I like to pray. I really do. While prayer is challenging for many Christians, it may be particularly so for those with Asperger's traits. Let's start by considering praying out loud.

When I was six years old, I ended up one Wednesday night in a classroom full of children at a Bible-teaching church, and we all had our heads bowed and (supposedly) our eyes closed. I definitely was staring at the desk. Is is safe for me to admit on a public blog that I have scarcely ever kept my eyes closed for an entire prayer? Wow, I don't know what my excuse is for that, except that I have also read the Bible through completely and never found the verse that said, "Thou shalt close thine eyes while rendering prayer unto the Lord."

Anyway, back to my story. These children were all praying in turn, down the rows of the desks, and my turn came late in the game. I was nervous. The problem was not just that I had to think of something appropriate to say, but also that all these children seemed to start their prayers with "Dear Heavenly Father." At home, I always prayed, "Dear Jesus." What should I do? I finally made up my mind to cave to peer pressure and begin, "Dear Heavenly Father."

One of my friends - and only one - always begins his prayer with "Righteous Father." I thought that was odd until I read the term "righteous Father" in my Bible and saw that it was how Jesus Himself addressed God the Father in prayer. See?

"O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me" (John 17:25).

Sometimes it's good to go against the flow.

However, whether you choose to be different or follow the crowd when you pray, I really recommend picking some patterns, or "scripts," to recite when it's your turn to pray out loud. These scripts are frequently used phrases or sentences that can be handy to have in your head, especially if you have to start praying immediately when called upon to pray. This preparation is important for Aspies, since we tend to get nervous when a social situation takes an unexpected turn. I have heard testimony from a male Aspie who froze up when called on to pray and from a female Aspie who specifically asked her small-group Sunday school class to give her the opportunity to "practice" praying out loud.

In Baptist circles, preachers emphasize that we are not to be reciting rote prayers, but praying from our hearts. I agree. What I'm saying here is that just as we follow scripts in social situations, such as saying, "Good luck!" when a friend is going to take a test, or "How was your day?" when we sit down to dinner, we can draw from our memory banks of scripted phrases when it's time to pray.

Examples would be: "Thank you for this food and for the hands that prepared it," "Please protect us as we drive and help us safely reach our destination," "Thank you for the beautiful weather we've been experiencing," and "Please give us a good night's sleep and help us to be ready for the day ahead."

The advantage of having scripted phrases prepared is that you can say them while you're thinking about what the rest of your prayer is going to sound like - the part that is individually tailored to the prayer requests you have heard or the thoughts that are on your heart at that specific time. Now that you know the purpose, do you see why I made my examples wordy, even though that's a no-no for serious writers?

Please see my very first blog post for another example of how scripts can help: What Comes After Hello?

Moving on, I'd like to share my personal experience with silent prayers. When I was a teenager, I went around organizing my belongings for fun. The more organized my life was, the better I enjoyed it. So for my devotional prayer life, I devised a system. I cut up tiny squares of scrap paper and labeled them with the names of all the people I knew, grouped by families, and made another set of paper squares labeled with all the things I was thankful for. I put these scraps into two envelopes labeled, "REQUESTS TO PRAY" and "THANKSGIVING TO PRAY." Then I would pray for two scraps drawn from each envelope during my daily devotions and move them to the envelopes labeld, "HAVE PRAYED." Ha, ha! I love it! Maybe I'll do this again. Anyway, the advantage of being systematic about your prayer life is that you don't overlook anything. The disadvantage is that you may feel your prayers are a little forced or contrived, as I eventually did.

Prayer can be an excellent way to regulate emotions, and many Aspies need help with managing their emotions. Nowadays, my silent prayers are heavy on the thanksgiving side, a little weak on the requests, since I have been under more stress than usual as a new mom. I need to keep my spirits up so I don't get discouraged, and counting my blessings helps with that. The problem with requests is that they haven't been met yet!

I also have chosen to avoid the kind of prayer meetings where a list of names and problems is handed out. That just depresses me. I prefer to hear the whole story from the individual when I receive prayer requests. It is more meaningful that way.

Another way to boost the spirits is to listen to Christian music or sing it yourself, and that is my favorite way to express my praise to the Lord. Praise counts as prayer, you know. Just think about how good you feel when a friend spends time talking with you, and as a bonus, throws in a compliment for you. I expect God feels the same way about our prayers and praises.

Update from 2015: I use a prayer journal marked into sections: Praise (write down song lyrics) | Admit (confess sins) | Requests (check them off as answered) | and Thanks (count your blessings).

I now use scripted prayers with my 2-year-old daughter. The one for mealtime goes:
"We thank You, Lord, for happy hearts, for rain and sunny weather. We thank You, Lord, for this our food, and that we are together. In Jesus' name, Amen."

The bedtime prayer is also all thanks, and it goes:
"We thank You for the stars so bright, for rest and shelter through the night, for help, for food, for love, for friends, for all Your goodness sends. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Dear Lord,
Please be with my readers as they think through this important topic with me. If there's anyone reading who does not know You personally as Savior, I pray that they would choose to believe on Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. May we all search God's Word and believe it to be true and act on it for Your glory.
In Jesus' name,
Amen.