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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Sure I'll help, just don't make me pray!

As a pastor, if there is a group gathered around a meal, whoever is hosting or in charge of the event will often scan the crowd for the pastor's face, and then with an expression of great relief, invite the pastor to pray.

I'm almost always willing to pray if asked or needed. I wasn't always that way. There were times when I didn't want to or didn't know how to, times when I felt sure I would embarrass myself in front of others or reveal too much of myself to others.

It was okay to feel those things. Prayer is a vulnerable exercise. In prayer, we are showing more of ourselves than normal. In authentic prayer, we show God and others what we are thinking, believing, struggling with, worrying about, and celebrating. In that kind of prayer, we are laying bare all the random scattered pieces of who we are in that moment. That is uncomfortable, especially for we human beings who are accustomed to trying to keep it all together, or at least look like we are holding it all together in front of others.

I guess there are people who get around this by praying not what they feel or believe but what they think will look and sound solid and strong to others. To me, that's not as much prayer as it is Sales.

Praying is a vulnerable act. It allows others to know us and lets them see us. In prayer, we might stumble and stammer and try to find words to express things that are confusing or inexpressible. Prayer is a conversation with GOD after all! All of this can feel intimidating as we move toward prayer.

But here's the thing, yall. God knows our deepest thoughts and feelings, the ones we cannot see, and the ones we see but try not show others. Avoiding prayer does not change what God knows, it only delays what we need to know about ourselves and what we need others to know about us. This God is the most gracious, forgiving conversation partner we can have. If we really are angry, we don't have to hide it. This God won't get angry and argue back, but might say, "Wow, you're really upset about that." If we really are sad or frustrated or hopeless, this God won't try to cheer us up and offer cheap platitudes, what an author recently dubbed "toxic positivity." This God will absorb all the heavy emotions with us, encourage us to fully feel them, then begin imagining God-inspired ways we might respond.

As we go into prayer today, I encourage us to gather our guidebook or devotional readings or prayer lists. As we read through these resources in prayer, pause, and try to feel. What happens in your body? Does your heart or chest feel differently? Does your jaw or fist clench? Do your eyes water? Pause over each prayer long enough to feel. Some might be stronger than others for you, and that's okay. Then, talk honestly about those feelings with God, wonder with God why some prayer requests felt so differently or strongly in you. Finally, listen. Listen for God's gracious response to you, accepting your feelings, feeling them with you, not rushing around them or shoving them to the side. Hear God encouraging you and me to use our feelings to shine light and bring Kingdom to those on our list or beyond.

Nowadays, when I pray, I take a few deep breaths and imagine any chains on the doors of my heart falling away, any locks being turned, and the doors creaking open. I ask God to be my tour guide and to walk me through what I'm feeling and thinking today.

Then, once I've thought and felt those things beside God, I pray again. In this second form, I become the guide and tour others through my heart.

May your walk with God today reveal more about you than you knew or felt before. May your prayers with others today allow them to know it and feel it with you.

Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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