Monday, April 8, 2013

Ghosts Who Make Toast, or, When I'm Really Good at Prayer

I'm really bad at prayer, you guys. Partly because I was shy for so long, and it still feels weird to open up that much of myself to anyone. Partly because I'm never quite able to shut off the analytical part of my mind, so I'm constantly thinking, "Did I really need to say that bit? Because it's God, you know, and he knew that already. And am I really asking God for this and that? Does it work like that? Do I get to order off a menu of blessings like he's my divine waiter?"

I understand logically about prayer, and I don't really think I'm ordering from some buffet of blessings because I'm feeling hungry for a little financial success or whatever. I understand about building relationship with Christ and all the other things you hear about in church.

I'm still bad at prayer, just like I'm bad at building relationships and communicating with people. Unless you really know me, I probably find it super awkward to communicate with you. It's not you, it's totally me. And you may not even realize how much of an internal edit I'm doing on every single thing that comes out of my mouth. Those who really know me (which is a small list) might wish I'd edit more with them, and they aren't even getting it all. In fact, people who don't know me in real life probably get a better glimpse of me through writing, because I'm always more comfortable sharing myself that way.

So imagine how I feel when I'm conversing with someone who hears it all. The internal editor is of no use; He hears it all--he knew it before I thought it.

You'd think it would make me more comfortable, right? That's how it should work: God knows how bizarre I actually am, and he still loves me. I realize this, too, and prayer is still hard for me. Sometimes, I write letters to God instead. It's easier.

Except there are times when prayer comes easily. It's easier for me to pray for someone else than for myself. It's easier for me to pray for my child than for anyone else. Mother's instincts override social anxiety and other messed up personality traits, y'all.

It's also easy for me to pray in the middle of the night when horror-movie thoughts dance in the shadows.

I've mentioned before, I don't watch horror movies much. I don't need the fodder; my mind is rife with shadows and terrors as it is. Remember about there being monsters in my basement? Seriously, you guys, inside I'm still an 8-year-old girl sometimes. Except I never wanted to be a princess. Ironically, I wanted to be the monster-slayer.

Sometimes, a tiny, not-so-innocent thought will pop up. For instance, have you ever been in your kitchen and smelled toast? But no one's cooking toast, and it's 1:24 a.m., and there hasn't been anything going on in the kitchen for over eight hours?

The rational thought for some people might be, "Perhaps I should clean out the toaster. I'm clearly smelling what must be an army of crumbs collected therein."

My thought? "There must be a ghost making toast." For a moment, I'm amused by the concept of Casper spreading jam on his toast. And also by the clever internal rhyme. Then something happens and an odd thought becomes a gaping maw of darkness that is all the scarier because I'm the one creating it.

Quickly, I become some sort of paranoid Stephen King character and shadows take on sharp edges and every single thought I ever locked away in the mind box labeled "Nightmares: Do Not Open" comes flooding to life. It's a paralyzing fear, y'all. This is when I hide under a mass of blankets even though it's 75 degrees in the room. This is when I contemplate waking my husband, but I don't. First, because he'll think I'm being ridiculous. And second, because if I break the terrifying silence with a sound, everything hiding in the darkness might leap forward to do whatever shadows do. Like consume your body or whisper evil in your ear.

So it's here, in the ridiculous darkness of the night, that I'm actually good at prayer. I'm not saying I'm eloquent or that I'm able to follow some sort of Christianese formula for praying. It's in the night terrors--or during the more realistic and more terrible actual horrors in life--when everything else is falling away and only darkness is surrounding me, that I can actually break through and communicate freely, purely, and without editor.

It's also during such a time that I ask for the most important blessing: I simply pray, "Be with me."

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