When I was growing up praying seemed to be governed by rules and rituals. There were specific prayers that you were supposed to memorize and we were supposed to say certain prayers at certain times. I don’t think I ever really knew what some of those prayers were saying – but you said them anyway.
To me praying seemed to be very impersonal. I prayed because I was told that is what I was supposed to do. I never felt like I was really talking to God – especially about me. I never felt I was getting anything out of praying other than the fact that I was “doing my duty”. And so, after a while, I stopped praying.
When I was in my twenties, I was married and a new dad and I was starting out my career with a fairly stressful job and a commute that was at best one-hour each way and at worst three hours in standstill traffic. Although nobody really could ever tell, I was stressed to the max. And I started having anxiety and panic attacks.
If you have never had an anxiety or panic attack, I can assure you it is one of the worst feelings you can have. You don’t know if you are losing you mind or dying or both. I don’t think I have ever felt more alone than I did while going through this time of my life.
I started searching for answers. I was trying to figure out what was happening to me and why it was happening. Falling back on the fear from my childhood that this might be some type of punishment for not having gone to church in quite a while, I started going to church again. Still I found no solace.
One day I met a person who explained to me what was going on in my body. The basic problem was that my body was chemically on overload. I was told there were several techniques that could be used to try and calm my body and reduce my stress level.
Meditation was one of the techniques that I found worked the best. Meditation is an exercise that helps you relax your body and also calms your mind. If you have never meditated before it is, for lack of a better description, like putting yourself into a trance. It is similar to the state that your mind and body are in just before you fall asleep but without actually falling asleep.
After practicing being in that state of relaxation for a while I felt like I was no longer alone. I felt a presence with me reassuring me that I would be okay. I started to think about and talk to God. I would tell God how thankful I was that I was “finding myself again.” I would ask God what I needed to do with my life so I could live without the anxiety that I was having. What I found was that I was praying. I finally learned what it was to pray and talk to God.
Praying is a unique experience for each person. And no matter how you pray, the point is that praying is merely talking to God. It took me a long time to realize this and get to the point where I could just talk to God. Now I talk to God whenever I feel the desire or need to. Just like any relationship talking is the key.
So to answer the question of “what is prayer”: prayer is just talking to God. And to answer the question “how do you pray”: just start talking.
So find a quiet place, relax your body, clear your mind, and start talking to God.