The Paralyzing Intersection of Prayer and Personality

October 23rd, 2013

Growing up prayer was modeled in my home on a regular basis around the dinner table and in bed each evening. I learned to pray using written prayers like “God is great, God is good.” These were prayers that I repeated each evening. I believe these written prayers were a great way to begin the habit of prayer (and I love and appreciate liturgy). However, as an adult, I began to think I did not know “how” to pray on my own once I had outgrown those childhood prayers. I assumed prayer must be repetitive and boring. It must be quiet, calm, and routine. I wasn’t good at any of those things (and nobody likes boring). I felt lost.

Communing with God through prayer is defined in Scripture as entering into God’s presence. I am an extrovert who loves being around other people. I enjoy encouraging and companioning others, and fellowship with others. I also love to hang out with God! However, while I longed to commune with God intimately and quietly, my extroverted personality did not lend me toward a natural inclination for sitting at the feet of Jesus.

The outcome (until recent years) was a paralyzing place on this road of Christianity that halted me. That place was the expectation of what a prayer life was to look like in my own life. Yes, I have read the books. Yes, I have practiced varying models of prayer and meditation. Yes, I created prayer journals and notebooks and logged answers to God’s prayers. And yes, I often disliked every pattern that someone else defined for me. I never stuck with a pattern for more than a few months. The traditional prayer patterns others had great success with fizzled away in my life. Nothing worked. I felt like a praying failure. What happened? I became paralyzed in my prayer life. There wasn’t one. It was nonexistent.

As a parent of a growing son, I’ve recently invited him to simply talk to God at night for his prayers. I have dropped my own childhood expectations of what his prayer time is to look like and simply invite him to take a moment to give thanks and pray. His hesitations are much like my own, “Mom, I don’t know what to say.” Here is what I’m learning in my reply, “You don’t have to say anything at all.” The posture of prayer is just that - a posture of entering into God’s presence. Find what works. When I finally understood prayer in this way in my own life, I realized I had constant opportunities to live my life through prayer and meditation.

There are so many ways I enjoy connecting with God and I now include them all as part of my (once dead but now active) prayer life. When my intention is to connect and communicate with God, any moment can indeed be an act of prayer. That statement either seems completely out of reach and ridiculous or you just felt a huge sigh of relief. Maybe you, like me, have struggled with what it “looks like” to pray. Maybe you, like me, have read the books, started logs and notebooks, and fallen asleep at night saying prayers.  

While I’m an extrovert, I enjoy and long for times of solitude and silence with God. However, I often felt like a failure during these times as I longed for communion, yet remained disconnected. There had to be more. It seems I was missing the point of prayer. Finally, I decided one last attempt to become unstuck and embraced the creative longing of my soul by discovering ancient tools for prayer and meditation. I met God in scripture through Lectio Divina, bought a sand labyrinth, opened up the crayons and markers and discovered the healing time spent with mandalas. I discovered walking and praying in a local labyrinth (where there are no intersections to become stuck).  It wasn’t until after my exploration of these new/old ways to pray in my times of solitude did I finally understand the bigger picture and how my longing for varying ways to pray connected me to God. My personality type (using the Myers Briggs assessment) labels me as an intuitive feeler. My prayer life did not thrive with my previous goal oriented path. My prayer life was longing for stillness and communion with God through movement and creativity.

Today a yoga pose on my mat is prayer. The steps I take through a guided Labyrinth are prayer. The movement of my kayak paddle on the still water is prayer. The words of a poem are prayer. The stroke of a paintbrush is prayer. The crayons on a paper Mandela is prayer. The dirt under my gardening fingernails is prayer.

God wants to commune with us. God longs for our connection and attentiveness. God wants us to cry out in joy and thanksgiving and supplication. God also made each one of us different. Wouldn’t it also make sense that God expects us to pray differently?

The path toward discovering how God created you can freely lead you on the path to discovering communion and connection with God. Don’t become paralyzed at the intersection of your own personality and prayer. My longings are my own but I’m certain there is an avenue for prayer and meditation that will help you connect intimately with God (and not feel like a failure doing it).  Let us each draw nearer to God, be free to draw near, you might even need some crayons in the process.

Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help. - Hebrews 4:16 CEB

What is your favorite way to pray? 

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