The Secrecy of Prayer


I’ve been reading a book called Intimacy by Henri Nouwen. I know what the title sounds like, but I promise it isn’t a book about sex and/or romance. It touches on both of those topics, but it’s primarily about intimacy with God and others. It’s worth noting that Henri Nouwen comes from a Catholic ish perspective, which is interesting, because I think he was a priest… i.e. no sex in his life.

On page one of the book, Nouwen sets out his purpose as follows:

“I wrote on different occasions, for different people, with different questions in mind. I wrote not to solve a problem or formulate a theory but to respond to men and women who wanted to share their struggles in trying to find their vocation in this chaotic world.”

With that purpose in mind, I tried to be a good audience and to take Nouwen on his terms rather than my own, and though I disagreed with him on many a point, I was deeply touched by the chapter he wrote on prayer.

Nouwen had the privilege of reading the prayers of various college students during the Vietnam war. Though it irked me that he critiqued excerpts from the various prayers he included in the book, as if there can be a rubric for assessing a person’s conversations with the Almighty, I felt joy and honor in being able to hear/read the deepest longings, fears, joys… of the hearts of others.

In fact, the intimacy I felt with people I’ve never met, many of whom are likely deceased, got me to thinking about my own prayers and what I tend to say (or not to say) to God. I thought about how valuable it would be for each of us to see other people’s prayers, read them, feel them, thinking them… how much better prepared we would be to have our own conversations with God if only we had a sense of how other people talk to Him. And yet, it seems impossible for us not to hold our prayers close to our hearts, secret and safe.

Therefore, though my prayers often feel embarrassing and inadequate to me, I thought it would be interesting for me to go ahead and post some of my most often-repeated prayers.

  1. “Help __________ go smoothly.”
  2. “Be with me and be my Abba.”
  3. “Use me.”
  4. “Why am I still here?”
  5. “Help me stop doing _________.”
  6. “Hold me in the palm of Your hand. Shelter me in the shadow of Your wings.”
  7. “Help me to know You.”
  8. “Help me to communicate _________well to __________.”
  9. “Draw ________ into Yourself and help him/her to know You  more fully.”
  10. “Be glorified in my life so that just one more might be saved, like Shindler’s List.”

 

The thing that struck me as I thought over these prayers, which I lean on as stability in my life, is how often I ask God to do the things that He has promised to do, as if I don’t trust Him to be as good as He says He is. The other thing that struck me is how selfish most of my prayers are. They’re about the insecurities I’m feeling, both in relation to God and in relation to the world.

Also, though I always end by thanking God for Jesus and by saying, “It’s in Jesus’s name I pray. Amen,” Jesus, for the most part, is absent from my prayers.

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