Every so often there’s an image or sound clip that goes viral on the internet with the tag “what colors do you see?” or “what word do you hear?” The most famous examples of these fads, I think, are the photo of an ugly lace dress that couldn’t decide if it was black and blue or white and gold, and the sound clip that either said “Laurel” or “Yanny.” Personally, I find these things pretty dumb, but still, they really got under my skin. I always saw a blue and black dress, and it bothered me that I couldn’t see white and gold. Similarly, I heard “Yanny,” and was quite annoyed that I could never hear “Laurel.”
It honestly made me feel like something was wrong with me. Why can all of my friends hear one word and I’m hearing another? Why do they see white and gold, but I’m only able to see black and blue? If I can’t see the “right” colors, or hear the “right” word, is my sight and hearing invalid? I know I’m making this childish fad out to be a big deal, but the message it carries honestly is a big deal.
When I used to think about prayer, I would picture someone kneeling on the ground with their forehead pressed to the ground. They were likely in a church, and likely facing a cross; maybe it was a Sunday. When I used to think of prayer, I would think of a child laying in bed at night with their hands clasped, praying for a snow day or a new toy. When I used to think of prayer, I would think that I was doing it wrong.
Last July, during the first few days of my Mission Trip, I was terrified of prayer. After Morning Prayer, we would all go to breakfast, and sometimes people would talk about their prayer experience that day. People would say things like, “It was great – God spoke to me exactly what I needed to hear,” or “Jesus was there,” or “Jesus made me laugh so hard today.” This made me incredibly scared. I don’t hear God speak to me? I don’t sit with Jesus? I don’t even see Jesus? What am I doing wrong?
I had a very narrow view of what prayer was “supposed” to look like. My image of prayer was sitting in bed talking to God every night, or realistically, maybe once a month when I was really breaking down. To hear that people actually had a daily connection with Him made me feel inferior. When people would kneel, forehead down, on the ground during Worship, I was so confused? What does it mean to do that? What does it look like to talk to Jesus daily?
On Mission, we had at least one hour a day dedicated to prayer. At first, I was so intimidated by this. How am I supposed to sit and ask God for things for an hour? That’s so long. He won’t be listening, and I’m going to get distracted anyway.
I found myself getting frustrated by feeling like He wasn’t speaking to me, or wasn’t present in my mind. It felt like I was trying to force myself to see white and gold, or to hear Laurel, but I just couldn’t.
I would do what I considered “prayer” for the first few minutes, and then stop and open a book or my journal. I would read a few chapters of Bob Goff’s Love Does, or write about my day – what was wonderful, what I was scared of, what I wished for the future of the Mission. I felt defeated that I was reading or journaling or just sitting during my hour of “prayer.” This isn’t actually prayer. I’m not good enough to pray for a whole hour.
What I realized after the first few days spending my hour this way, though, is that I was actually praying the whole time. I was at peace – reading, writing, sitting. I was being still. I was taking an hour out of my day to sit still with Christ. Even if I didn’t “see” or “feel” him next to me, I was praying because I was isolating myself from the craziness of my outside life.
Prayer is often a moment of rest. It is peace. Prayer places your physicality and spirituality in harmony with the Lord. It doesn’t matter if you hear Him, or see Him. It doesn’t matter what you see or hear. It matters that your eyes and ears are open if He does call.
If you’ve been running yourself into the ground, and you decide to give yourself a break and go to sleep early, that can be prayer. Closing your books or phone to breathe for a few minutes can be prayer. Laying in bed and speaking your worries out loud can be prayer. Talking to a friend about how you’ve been concerned for her health can be prayer.
Prayer is yours. Prayer is your moment in harmony with Christ. Not anyone else’s. If they see white and gold, that’s fine. It doesn’t matter, because their sight is not yours. If they hear something different than you, that’s amazing, because their conversation is not yours.
Don’t be afraid of taking ownership over your prayer.
Even now, I am sitting in Benton Chapel as I write this post. I couldn’t seem to get the words out when I tried to write earlier, but I knew I wanted to honor our Lord by completing this post. So, I walked to Benton, put on some Worship music, sat in stillness for a few minutes, and then got to writing.
This moment is mine. It is different than yours. But I am in the presence of God. And this is prayer.