Teach Us to Pray
Br Erik Burckel, LC
“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). In my mind, that’s already a prayer, and I add a hearty “Amen to that!” As Christians, this verse must be our “mantra.” “Lord, we want to know you, so teach us please!”
Trying to “figure out” how to pray has been a challenge for me. As a freshman in college, I studied engineering because I excelled at math and science. But what I’ve found is that prayer and math go together like ice cream and guacamole. Mathematicians control their problems. With the right equations, all problems are perfectly solvable. The one who prays is not in control! My search for specific results from prayer often rebound with seemingly nebulous responses from others or God himself: “Trust me. Have more faith. Don’t worry.” Easier said than done. Prayer is not always a pleasant experience, nor does it need to be!
I’ve learned that my prayer improves when I make my love for God more human. It’s counter-intuitive but refreshingly novel. We Christians often present some religious façade to the Lord in an attempt to fulfill our role as creatures fittingly. Our prayers take on established forms; we alternately focus all of our attention on him in church and then completely blot him out of our minds when we leave. We treat the Lord superficially, like a Coke machine that should give me what I want. But God made us the way we are, as human beings with a heart and a mind and feelings, and he wants us to love him like a human being loves! If Jesus lived in the house with you, would he like being with you? That kind of thing. We should delight to recall that the Holy Spirit is nearer than we think, in our very hearts, thanks to the grace of baptism.
Yes, reciting prayers, going to church, and making sacrifices are good, and even necessary. Of course human beings will love each other differently than they love God, but there is a certain quality of human friendship and love that our Lord craves from us. Any serious human relationship demands a level of authenticity and sincerity that we sometimes sidestep in our dealings with the Lord.
We know what love entails from our own experience; now we have to apply it to the God who became man. For me, one of the most thrilling passages of the New Testament is John 14:4: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Jesus, God, wants to be with me! He wants to talk to me, and he wants me to respond. That’s prayer! Lord, teach me how to pray.
Brother Erik studies humanities at the Legion’s novitiate and college of humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut.
Photo credit: by Andres Rueda on Flickr.