While in quarantine, I’ve found myself hankering to add something “new” that I currently don’t do every day: pray. Yes, someone who as spiritual as I am, who devotes my thoughts and energy to sharing spiritual messages, doesn’t pray very well. Or at all. You could say I have prayer anxiety.
As a growing spiritual leader, one might assume I’m really attuned to God and how to communicate with Him/Her/Them. However, there’s a continual spiritual journey we’re each embarking upon in our unique ways, and there’s no definitive “destination.” Our only constant is evolution.
So, on my personal spiritual journey, I’ve encountered prayer anxiety. As I grow and learn more, I’m understanding more and more why this feeling persists.
Are you in a similar conundrum with prayer anxiety? The desire to seek out God but not knowing how to start things up? I have social anxiety around God, and I want to address it.
here’s the situation.
The act of praying was never really taught to me, not beyond memorizing the Lord’s Prayer and whatever tidbits are in the Lutheran Catechism. Even in my church classes on Wednesday evenings, prayer was laid out as a step-by-step process. First, you repent. Then you give thanks. Then you tell God how great He is (as if He doesn’t know already). Then you throw in some requests.
On my own, I still never found a groove that was beyond starting a prayer while in bed but falling asleep halfway through and not remembering what I even said. Those early days were very focused on superficial requests—enter in a genie granting me wishes to lose weight and not feel so alone.
As I got older, I still felt awkward about prayer, and it didn’t come naturally like it rightfully should. I didn’t gravitate toward praying. It wasn’t a part of my routine, not unless I really forced myself to think about it. I judged myself for it as an internal self-flagellating.
relief from prayer anxiety.
The only way I really began analyzing my prayer anxiety was in my seminary education. Luckily enough, it’s an interfaith environment where we celebrate all forms of authentic belief and worship. Turns out, there’s much more to prayer than repeating the Lord’s Prayer.
We’re all working on this together. Even if you claim yourself as a “prayer expert,” chances are, you still have the occasional tentativeness around prayer. You don’t know what’s best to say, how to say it, and when to say it. We put prayer in a box when not all of us fit into it.
In my own journey with prayer anxiety, here are some truths I’m keeping. If you resonate with any of them, let them guide you into a deeper connection with God.
the way to pray is grey.
If you’re down for the traditional praying with hands folded, kneeling by your bed, then do it. If you need to write everything down, then do it. Maybe you only remember when you park your car somewhere…well, that works, too.
There is no right or wrong way to pray. As black-and-white as we often paint religion to be, it’s fifty-thousand shades of grey. Just as we resonate with different beliefs over others, we also feel drawn to many ways to pray. We don’t communicate to each other the same ways, so why would prayer be any less diverse?
Stop judging yourself on what’s supposedly right and wrong. You’re only making assumptions based off whatever you were raised doing or used to seeing. Prayer, alone or in groups, is very individual. Let yourself explore different methods. See what clicks with you. If you’re still struggling, that means you haven’t found your “way to pray” yet. Be patient. Keep trying.
Prayer can embody anything.
As I mentioned, my seminary education has been interfaith, and a revolutionary discovery arose: prayer is fluid. More than just what you might say or not say, prayer anxiety comes from setting expectations.
But, truly, what activities and moments make you feel the most alive and in-touch with the Divine? Perhaps you love sacred movement like tai chi or yoga. Maybe you see creative expression as an extension of divinity. Even a mindful walk through nature can provoke its unique form of praise and gratitude.
Sometimes it’s hard to necessarily designate a distinct time every day to do exactly the same prayer, inevitably leading to prayer anxiety. Remove the barriers and presumptions you’ve made about prayer: God is much more creative than we give credit for. I mean, God is the Creator of the universe, so why not create our own unique embodiment of prayer?
God’s not a drill sergeant.
Thinking of God however we do, there’s a sense of guilt in not “perfecting” prayer. Welcome, prayer anxiety! In the Christian view, since we’re supposed to be repenting our sins every other second, having prayer anxiety is just another sin to add to the mix…right?
Wrong-o, buckaroo. Having prayer anxiety means you care about your spiritual connections. You want to improve and find a relationship with God. That alone should speak volumes. God knows this. God sees it. And God appreciates it.
No matter where we’re at along the spiritual journey, God loves you in every capacity imaginable. You are so precious. You are a product of Divine design, and God is constantly working through you. All of this is straight truth, whether you have prayer anxiety or not.
Don’t force prayer when it doesn’t feel genuine. Prayer anxiety comes from putting yourself in the mindset that “God expects me to do this. I need to do this to be a rightfully spiritual person. Aren’t I faking it otherwise?” Okay, maybe that’s just me.
Don’t memorize the Lord’s Prayer and say it half-heartedly, like it’s just another box to check off. Don’t sit in church (or online for Zoom church from home) folding your hands while a pastor gives a whole spiel and you’re mentally thinking about that one thing you need to do at that one time.
There’s only two people in cahoots while praying: you and the Divine. Of course, other people can join the prayer party, too, but ultimately, you’re cutting out the chitchat and utilizing this gift you possess—a connection to the almighty Creator—for good. Pray about what’s really on your heart. What are you really struggling with right now? What are you really grateful for that you noticed today?
The beauty of prayer is the realization that you’re not in this life alone. Asking for help can already be challenging enough, but you don’t have to pretend to have all your ducks in a row. You’re not putting on a mask so people don’t worry about you. God, uh, already knows; He’s/She’s/Their kind of smart like that. You can keep it real, talk like you usually would, and bare your heart to that almighty Source.
take THAT, prayer anxiety.
Prayer anxiety is quite a tricky subject because God is the ultimate source of comfort and peace; you wouldn’t expect to have anxiety about that which relieves anxiety. Experiencing prayer anxiety doesn’t make you inadequate; it makes you a human being in an environment perpetuating images we “should” live up to.
How we “should” pray is however you choose. Remove the walls you’ve built, the feelings of correctness and necessity. Pray because you want to work on your relationship with God. Pray for some spiritual self-care. At the end of the day, pray because God loves you and has blessed you immensely, and that’s something worth celebrating.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie
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