Prayer is one of those disciplines we often approach like going to the gym: either do it big, time-wise, or not at all. But with "prayer time" often looking like prolonged concentration and bodily stillness, it can be difficult to do faithfully. Limbs get stiff, the phone rings, it seems boring.
As I wrote about last week, a trip to California several years ago played a significant role in reviving my prayer life through the practice of short but regular prayers for a block in my neighborhood. But those proved to be baby steps preceding far longer, more intense walks, which changed me in ways I never expected.
A year or so into my prayers for the block, my church organized a two-day prayer conference. In addition to various short times of praying with others, we wrote a goal for our prayer lives on an index card. Because I was working on the manuscript for my first book, a memoir of reluctant chastity due within months, I said I wanted to pray about my writing more.
I didn't know how that could happen, so, as with many things, it was easy to be pessimistic that I could change this part of my life. Then, mid-summer, relational drama ensued. Under normal circumstances, this could have easily consumed all emotional energy, leaving me useless to do much else. But my writing was already behind schedule. I couldn't not try to cope, but I also couldn't fall further behind on the manuscript.
Overwhelmed by the strain one night, I decided to go for a walk. Once out amid the decades-old brownstones and well-established trees of Sixth Avenue—the route I'd been accustomed to walking down from 10th Street—it seemed natural to address God.
As I walked up the warm, quiet street, with the cover of dark and sweet smell of flowering trees in the air, I dove into all the details of my anxiety: the situation I was unsure how to handle, the stuck part in my writing, the small disappointments of the day. Before I knew it, a mile had passed; two, by the time I came home. A 40-minute walk, and I had spent the whole time praying. It somehow hadn't been hard at all, compared with what 40 minutes of kneeling would have been like.
When my worry returned the next night, I set out for another mile up and back down Sixth Avenue, then another night and another night. Before long, I was walking to pray almost every night and sometimes even twice a night when I was in the worst shape (needless to say, I did not have a typical sleep schedule then). It was not as if prayer ever fixed the prevailing problem that night, but every time, something good happened, even if what changed was hard to describe.
Some nights when I didn't feel like praying, I would start by going through my day and thanking God for everything I could be grateful for, like tying up loose ends with little spiritual thank-you notes. And, increasingly, that 40-minute stretch allowed time for the intercession I'd wanted to do for others but struggled to carry out as I wanted to.
And the more I took the snags and stuck spots in my writing to God, the more I found solutions and made progress. I started to think of the Lord as a kind of editor, a co-laborer in the project to a degree I had not imagined. My standards for the work got higher, and lazy, self-indulgent passages kept getting cut and re-written.
Then one night, about three weeks into my writing prayer walks, I was startled by a burst of admiration and gratitude. The feeling was not unfamiliar, but had always been inspired by my current object of romantic interest. Not once had such true worship been extended to God.
I'd always known there was something "off" and broken in the way I got attached to men, but the fact was that I worshiped them. As much as I might have tried to love God, I always believed, deep down, that there were much deeper reserves of love and affection that would be tapped only by a husband and lover. I'd never thought that was possible with God. But now, after three weeks of nightly walks in which I processed my day and poured out my heart, God had finally drawn truer worship from me.
The summer ended, I finished the book and moved away from Brooklyn to a job and routine on the West Coast where it was been harder to maintain a prayer life like that. But that time forever changed me. And every time I do succeed in getting out for a prayer walk, something deeply good takes place. What routines have or could become your place for meeting God?