Confessions of a Recovering Prayer Fanatic


Prayer. The hardest thing in the world.

Fifteen years ago, I was a prayer fanatic. Having grown up in a holiness tradition in a Korean church, I was all about the early rising, the long hours logged in prayer, the moaning and the groaning and the angst, the knobby knees, the undecipherable words that only my spirit deep within knew.

And then overnight, kaput.

I no longer had the words. And the more I spoke in prayer, the more I seemed to dig myself deeper into the late-stage onset of undiagnosed depression I had. I found I could no longer speak. And the more I tried, actually the darker and heavier and more deeply depressed I felt. Prayer felt oppressive. And this, after years and years of regular – daily – prayer spent on my knees for about an hour, sometimes two.

Fifteen years later I stumble upon this gem of a quote by C.S. Lewis in Till We Have Faces that so adequately summarizes the experience I had:

“Only words, words; to be led out in battle against other words…

I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer…

why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?”

I now know that prayer is not about my words.

I now know that uncritical prayer can mask deeper needs.

I now know that misguided prayer can smokescreen deeper brokennesses.

I now know that prayer is not about an intense hour, but a day-long abiding.

I now know that it is not heroic to bleed out words, but better to conserve them.

It is better to use few words well than many repetitively. Word inflation = meaning deflation. Jesus warned us about thinking we would be heard for our many words (Matt 6:7) and therefore told us not to use “meaningless repetition” as the pagans do. “batta/logeo” is the word there, denoting a word (logos / logeo) babbled about meaninglessly (battabattabattabattabatta). It is believed to be an onomatopoetic reference. I know I have done my share of battabattabattabattabatta’ing. And for that season perhaps it served its purpose. But today I have great difficulty bringing myself to doing that again.

I have learned to pray instead with very few words, but great amounts of silent reflection, and a very actively engaged mind. Not a racing mind, mind you – and there is a difference – but an actively engaged mind. Even when I am not saying anything. It becomes prayer for me when I am deep in contemplation that is worshipful.

Today I still pray, but with different starting motivations. It is not longer to rack up words to get into a spiritual hall of fame. It is not to build a rep. It is to expose my soul. It is to open it up to correction. It is to understand God’s universe and His ways, and to align myself with Him where throughout the day I may have gotten misaligned. And selfish. Or resentful.

Prayer is less about unholy becoming more holy.

It is more about sick taking my medicine getting better.

Constantly having to set ego aside. Take an inventory, do an evening examen. Was I wrong when I shot back at my wife that way? Was that lustful thought worth entertaining? And where am I hungry, anxious, lonely, or tired? Why am I snapping at my children these days? Prayer, prayer, prayer.

Prayer is not a talisman or a charm to get what we want; rather it is about knowing the mind of God even before we ask.

And that’s why we are so often told: “Ask Me again” – because are we sure that’s what we really want?”

And further, what do we really want beneath what we want?

This stream of consciousness are some reflections I am having as I prepare to teach for the next 11 weeks on the subject. I don’t feel adequate. Haven’t mastered it. But I have fought to attain it and can only share in the struggle.

Prayer. The hardest thing in the world.


Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

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