Avoiding Frustration and Prayer
I make no apologies for what I am about to write. For some this will be insulting; it will cause concern; it will sound an alarm that I cannot silence. This blog will have a negative impact on readers, on friends, on family. However, in the words of some great sage from long ago, it is what it is.
Let me first start off by saying that I am a Christian. I’m not a Christian because I’m American, or because my parents were Christians, or because it’s just the default religion of my environment. I am a Christian by choice. I choose to believe in God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But, I admit that because of my choice I have lived a life of constant fear, confusion, wonder, and frustration. I’ve had some ups, but many downs. Both a result of other choices that I’ve made and some that I can attribute to God if I try really hard. I am in constant evaluation of my journey. I am, as the Apostle Paul says, working out my salvation.
I’m not an idiot. I’m educated by higher learning, experience, and self teaching. During my college days, I attended a Bible college and studied theology for a year. Wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was extremely helpful in understanding the road I chose to walk. I read a lot of theological books of varying disciplines. I have attended classes at my church and still do. I participated in an intense missions study in Los Angeles and spent time in Mexico helping missionaries. I’ve done just about every Bible study one can do to highlight the experience of following Christ’s teachings in an attempt to better my spiritual life and walk. I’ve heard countless interpretations of biblical passages, encountered self-professed prophets of God, and dreamed supposed revelations from above. However, all the teachings, reading, studies, prophesies, and dreams pale in comparison to my experiences.
I write all of this not to brag or to show how smart I am. As I said, I’m not an idiot, but neither am I a genius. I am merely living and evaluating. No, I write this because I want to tell you that I am no longer frustrated. I no longer have fear. I no longer wonder about the mysteries of my life, where I came from, where I’m going, and who is or isn’t walking beside me. It is true that I believe in God. However, the ironic reason for my new found peace is not because of God. It is because I choose to no longer pray.
There are many reading this right now that are saying, “But, Gary, how can you profess to be a Christian and not communicate with God?” I know it’s a hairy predicament. It is one that I, at times, struggle with, before daily, and now just weekly. After all, praying is what Christians do. Jesus himself prayed. The apostles prayed. We have prayer before service, during service, and at the end of service. We pray before meals, funerals, and weddings. Christians have prayer meetings, prayer books, prayer chains. We pray for the living and we pray for the dying. Prayer is part of the Christian life, it always has been. But not for me. Not anymore.
For some, prayer gives them strength, it lifts them up, it gives them resolve. For me, prayer gave me anxiety, it brought me down, it raised questions. I prayed for peace, not strength. I prayed for help, not hope. I prayed for answers, not questions. I already had strength. I already had hope. I already had questions; hence the prayers. However, answers never came. I never heard a voice. I was never lead to just the right scripture. I never witnessed a miracle. Oh, I strained to hear the voice. I had big maybes at times. I’ve searched for just the right scripture in desperation, finally settling on some vague staple that I could pull out of context. I’ve declared miracles only to realize that they were just my hope for some kind of sign manifested by my extreme need to hold on to something tangible. It was a vicious cycle that was bringing me deep into the abyss of depression and abandonment.
Yes, abandonment. My prayer life was giving me an overwhelming feeling of abandonment. Depression was heavy. I had dark thoughts. All was lost. The end of my rope was but a thread. My fingers were slipping one by one off the edge of the cliff I was desperately gripping. People reassured me that God would not overwhelm me, that he would not break my spirit, that it was a lesson I was to learn. I’m here to tell you that not only was I overwhelmed, but I was broken, and I no longer cared for any type of lesson. I was convinced that God hated me, that everything that I ever read in the Bible was just stories and letters written by zealots from an ancient time when donkeys were a mode of transportation, the world was flat, and the sun revolved around the earth. I felt I was going insane.
How can I choose not to pray? I liken it to an adopted child finally tracking down his biological father, calling him, only to receive dead silence on the other end. The father wrote a letter to the child, telling him how much he loved him, that he wanted to talk with him, but when the child called, the father had nothing left to say, leaving the child devastated. The child begins to wonder what is wrong with him. He begins to question whether or not his real father really loved him. When what he should have done was just cherish the letter.
The Bible says: ask and you shall receive. However, I say, don’t ask and not be disappointed. Many friends and members of my family will be quick to remind me about the story of the persistent widow. But, I will be quick to remind them that the Bible ends that story saying that God is nothing like the wicked judge who finally gave in. He is much better and there is no need to beg (paraphrase). They will also retort with something like, “God’s answer may be no. It may not be the answer you’re hoping for.” And I will answer with, “I stopped looking for my answers long ago. I just wanted an answer.” They will follow-up with, “God’s timing is perfect. In his time.” To which I will say, “Stop making excuses for the Almighty.” Then, finally, they will point out the story of Job; how he overcame loss and finally heard from God. However, many Bible scholars believe that Job wasn’t even a real person, that the book was a story to encourage and teach Israel to have faith during trials and tribulations. Whether it’s real or not doesn’t make a difference. It isn’t me.
It is often said in Christian circles that people can argue theology, they can argue interpretations, but they cannot argue with experiences. The day that I decided that I would no longer pray, a sudden peace overcame me. I no longer questioned God. I no longer blamed him for my despair. I no longer wondered if he had abandoned me. I felt free for the first time in my life. I began living in the present; not the past or the future. Now was all that matter. Everything was of my doing, my problems, my accomplishments. God was off the hook. There was no longer some mystic mystery surrounding my life. No, I simply began living by the choices that I make. My time here was up to me to impact. The afterlife was up to God.
So, what do you believe in then, Gary? I believe in God and I believe in the church. I believe in the good that the church does, in the people that serve in the church, and the community of the church. I believe in its purpose. However, I don’t believe in prayer. I don’t believe in miracles. I have never seen a miracle. I have never heard God speak. I have never witnessed the power of prayer. I know it’s a bummer to some of you. Sometimes, it’s a bummer for me. I know many of you will even question my salvation. Some of you will try to save me. Let me put you at ease. I’m fine. For years, the ball has been in my court. I have merely bounced it back to God’s side of the court. I’m not taking my ball and going home. I’m still in the game.
One more thing that I believe. I believe in honesty. That is why I wrote this article today. Too often we only hear the rosier side of Christianity, or the watered down version of the journey many of us face in our lives. This is real. This is me. I said in the beginning that I’m not an idiot. It’s true. How do I know? I’m smart enough to realize that this could be part of the lesson, that I could be as wrong about prayer as Neville Chamberlain was of Germany. That’s okay. God is God and I am just a man, ignorant of many things. Besides, he knows where I am if he needs to reach me. Peace.