Dear Friend,

I really should be sleeping, well that or finishing the paper that never seems to go away, but I have some thoughts that just need to be shared or else I know focus (and sleep) will be quite elusive. You see tonight at dinner my good friend Jordan mentioned trying to be deliberate in prayer. This is so relevant to my life right now, and I was feeling rather useless with words earlier, that it’s just sort of been ruminating in my mind since then.

Back in elementary school there was a situation where a large group of adults prayed for a small group of us children. We were surrounded by them and they prayed aloud… I don’t remember much about the prayer except that when I specifically was mentioned, I felt awkward and uncomfortable. It was at this moment that I began my struggle with prayer.  Only a few years later there was a situation at my church where a man had a heart attack and was in the hospital. The entire church was to be praying for this man because “If we believed our prayers would heal him, he would be healed.” When this man died, not a few weeks later, my problems with prayer and the guilt I felt for not “believing enough” only distanced me from this act of prayer even further. For years prayer for me was simply a part of family meals, a ritual that had little to no personal meaning. By the time I reached my sophomore year of high school prayer had become so difficult for me that I was merely a presence with little to no investment in prayer.

It was after my sophomore year (one of the hardest years I’ve ever experienced, see my senior presentation post if you really want more on that in particular) that my MYF went to Columbus, Ohio to participate in the MCUSA conference. The focus that year was the breath of God and at one point we watched Rob Bell’s Nooma (based off of the Greek word pneuma, πνευμα, which means wind/spirit/breath)  video “Breathe.” In this video Bell talks about how our physical breath is, in itself, a spiritual act. That it’s like a reminder of that first breath of life from God, that it’s saying Yahweh (a name that mimics breath) over and over again. This type of spiritual oneness brought me back towards prayer. Well, it was the first step. You see, for two years this was the only type of “prayer” I practiced. I would sit and just focus on my breathing, I would pretty much say “God you know what is on my heart, so I’m going to spend a few moments in silence, focusing on letting you hear what I can’t express.” At the time, that’s probably what I needed, a way to begin reconnecting with God as I stumbled out of a place where I felt like I was drowning in emotions that were so painful they couldn’t be put into words. I was letting God do the talking.

This summer my MYF again attended the MCUSA convention, this time in Pittsburgh, PA. As I’ve mentioned before I ended up attending a seminar on prayer. This short amount of time was all it took for God to move me into a new prayer mindset. I’ve already gone over the different types of prayer we experienced during this seminar, and I’m not going to go through them again, but I would like to talk about a few of those prayers in particular. You see when we did the first prayer, where we imagined ourselves talking to Jesus, I was completely blank. My conversation was non-existent. For the past two years I had been having silence parties with God, times where we just sat together and enjoyed each others company. I hadn’t had a decent conversation with God since I was so little I can’t even remember it. When we arrived at the lament prayer, I found my voice. There I was kneeling in a dark room, alongside a bunch of people I didn’t know, praying a lament, out loud. One of the most awesome moments of my spiritual life, right there.

Since then my prayer life has become so different. In fact, prayer has become one of my favorite spiritual disciplines. I struggle with it though, sometimes with just remembering to pray. I still dislike having people pray for me, and I don’t like most group prayers (meaning more than a small group of intimate friends) but I truly appreciate having this new found connection with God. Something I’ve been finding however, is that variation helps, I can still pray through my breath, I just shouldn’t do it all the time.

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo

P.S. Please come talk to me sometime about spirituality. tell me about disciplines that are really important to you, ones you struggle with, types of prayer you really appreciate, anything really, I was want to truly focus on this series, not just discuss it every now and then… I actually want to deepen my spirituality in the process, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that people are at the core of love, and love is at the core of God… not to mention that I just really enjoy serious discussion.