When I was a child, I used to have a secret place where I would go to talk to Jesus. I told him things that weren’t safe to say out loud where someone might hear. I didn’t know that was praying. I thought praying was when people recited rhymes at meal times or before bed or stood on a platform and shouted at God in King James English as if he were as hard as hearing as some of the folk in the pews (who some of us thought may have been as old as King James).
I talked to Jesus because he was someone who loved the little children. I could be very open and honest with him. Somehow, I had picked up the notion that God the Father was angry and disappointed with me like so many other people in my life. I couldn’t let him see the confusion and pain in my heart. It seemed ungrateful –and perhaps dangerous.
I’m realizing, all these years later, even though I have learned that God the Father is not who I thought he was and is loving and kind and inviting, I still don’t feel comfortable praying out loud in front of people. When someone asks, “Does anyone want to close in prayer?” I’m already avoiding eye contact.
You see, when I pray, I am very aware the moment requires total transparency. I call it praying naked. It comes from a time when the Holy Spirit spoke to me while I was in the bathtub. He’s not dismayed by my many imperfections in body and soul. Other people on the other hand…
Someone, who I’m sure meant well, once told me she had heard me pray a few good prayers in an intercessor’s group we belonged to. Then she suggested I listen to some of the more well-seasoned women’s prayers to see how it was done. I didn’t know I was being graded. Suddenly I was back in Jr. High.
It was the last day of the dreaded “Extemporaneous Speech Unit” in English class. I could no longer hide behind Big Bob or make an emergency trip to the restroom. I rose. I faced the class. I pulled the topic from the hat. I spoke. I tried to be humorous. My joke fell flat. Sigh. The teacher asked me to explain it. Sigh. I did. She still didn’t get it. Sigh. Neither did the other students. Sigh. The students were invited to submit their evaluations. Can you die from humiliation?
People who know me now, can tell you I have no trouble talking about almost any topic. That’s probably because I am an introvert who learned to function as an extrovert to avoid the humiliations of youth. It’s a skill I needed when I became a singer and later a teacher. But performing can be exhausting.
Some good friends have helped me learn to pray together with them. They don’t judge. They don’t hide their weaknesses. They encourage. They challenge. They support. They give me freedom to be myself. How beautifully precious they are.
I walked down by the lake thinking about this. I love how clear the water is here. Its transparency reminds me of the hope that someday I can feel less self-conscious when praying out loud in public. I hope for unity in spirit with fellow believers who will be safe, where judgment is replaced by encouragement, where we are recognized by our love for each other, and where our focus when we pray is on God and not ourselves.