My wife and I were praying together after breakfast, as we do. It was her turn, and in a context I’ve since forgotten, she included this line in her prayer, “. . . it’s been a long time. . .” and for me all concentration was gone. Whatever spiritual demeanor I had worked up for that moment, drained away and was replaced with a series of queries, each leading to another.
“Where’s that line from?”
“Oh, right – from a Led Zeppelin song. What song?”
“I can’t remember. I need to look it up. Wait, I can’t do that right now. Okay. What are the other lines?”
“Wait. Barb’s still praying. Oh, she’s almost done. I’ll look it up then.”
There you have it. Insight into the mind and heart of a Deeply Spiritual Pastor.
I joke about being a Deeply Spiritual Pastor. But it is no joke that Christians condemn themselves without mercy for the state of their prayer lives. Perhaps we do need to pray more, or more often, or with more people. Others have addressed all those questions.
The question which few address is why it is hard for some of us to meet the goals others set for us. I would like to suggest that some of us are not wired to pray like everyone else. And to consider this can be greatly freeing.
I have never done well with private prayer. Sometimes that’s because I question its power or usefulness, issues of theology and faith whose solution lies elsewhere. I have something else in mind here.
Sometimes I struggle with prayer simply because it is profoundly difficult for me to sit still. I have a good system for prayer. I flip through names on cards and recite to God my concerns for each person, and this has value. But I quickly grow antsy.
I am fine with this until I read or hear someone say that we can assess the spiritual vitality of a person by his prayer life. We can know, it is said, what a man truly believes by the quality of his prayers. And suddenly, I feel like a spiritual hamster. I follow the rules for prayer, but as for Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, no, Tim, it ain’t happening that way for me.
Should I even be a pastor? What’s wrong with me?
I know others of you struggle as well and for you I want to offer a suggestion. What if we struggle not because there is anything wrong with us, but because who we are does not fit with the majority opinion on how prayer is to be done? What if some of us are cut out of different cloth?
The cloth from which I come is sufficiently ADHD that focus is a genuine problem. Create an environment in which I am to be alone with my thoughts and distractions come easy. Let a lyric from an old song cross my mind and I’ll chase that squirrel and cannot help myself. That should not reflect poorly on my or your spiritual vitality.
Maybe the way some of us are wired makes it fundamentally more difficult for us to pray privately than others. Maybe we are not like those spiritual giants whom we are told we are to emulate because we have, in fact, a more slippery hill to climb.
I posed these questions to my good friend and reluctant mentor Larry Edison, whose response was to write a book reflecting on the unique challenges that those with unique neurology face when sitting down (if they sit!) to pray. I know of no one else saying these things.
Larry does not want us to use diagnoses as an excuse for sin. At the same time he wants to liberate those whose minds work differently from the templates and paradigms laid down by those who write the standard books. The guilt for non-conformity and the shame of inability is already great in other ways for those with an a-typical mind. We would never tell a person with paralyzed legs that they must climb the stairs or the blind that they must admire a piece of an art. Why then do we insist that those incapable of focus should judge the quality of their spiritual lives by their conformity to a certain paradigm of mental focus?
It’s freeing to be told that perhaps prayer is more difficult because one’s brain is wired differently those who write the books and that is okay.
Always practical, Larry is honest about ways he has found to “pray without ceasing” that fit the way his ADHD brain works. You can judge the quality of a man by his prayers. But not if you force him to pray like everyone else.
The cover alone will encourage those of us with attention struggles. It was drawn for Larry by his good friend Tom Armstrong, creator of the syndicated comic strip Marvin.
Prayer will always be a struggle for Christians. It is, by nature, a declaration of dependence upon another, and our flesh will resist that. Let’s just make sure we are struggling with our flesh, and not with the expectations placed on us by well-intentioned but overzealous Christians. It’s encouraging to know that Right for me may be Different from the good people who write the books.
For those of you who have “read” this far, but not retained a word, I understand you completely. The information you are looking for is “Rock and Roll” released by Led Zeppelin in 1972.