Getting past cookie-cutter prayers

Getting past cookie-cutter prayers

Written on 06/24/2020
Ulla Mia

Written by Ulla Mia

Growing up, I was under the impression there was only one way to do things. Tattoos were bad, certain hair colours were bad, and as for all the religious things like Bible study and prayer…well, there was a religious template for everything.

But the cookie-cutter way of life never worked for me. I tried to do things the way everyone else did and it got me nowhere. I felt so disconnected from God. Kneeling by my bed asking for all the right things or speaking the right praises seemed empty, like I was talking to a distant ghost. When times got hard, prayer seemed worthless. It never seemed to help.

There were nights I cried myself to sleep, unable to bring myself to pray. How could I? As I was taught, prayer was limited to asking for the right blessings, interceding for others, and being thankful. I was a girl suffering from the earthquake effects of past trauma, unsure how holy I was and struggling to study God’s Word to the same depth as my peers.

Why would God hear this girl? Did she even have a right to ask for His help? And what was she to ask? For help out of a place she began to wonder if she deserved to be in? 

One Sunday, just before private confession, the priest at my church said something that stood out to me: “Some of the deepest prayers in my life have simply been telling God I was not okay.” I never knew it could be acceptable to tell God I wasn’t okay! During hard times, I began to admit this to God, and I sometimes felt a peace come from it. But once again I missed the point.

A couple of years down the road, I was still in a dark place where words were empty. I knew less about God than I realized. And yet, as He saw my agony and hopelessness, God clearly told me to talk to my worship leader. I tried to argue but God set me up to meet with him! When I told my worship pastor about my struggles he said, “It’s strange to pray to a Jesus you don’t know.” Just like in real life, talking to a stranger about your life story would be pretty weird. Was this what I was missing? Partly yes.

Whenever I told one friend what was going on in my heart, he’d often ask me, “Have you told this to God yet?” Usually, the answer was no, because the words I spoke to him were angry or grieved—even questioning God about my past. How do you bring those things to God, without disrespecting the One who created life? On my lowest days, when I had no words to speak to God or even my friends, I began to write. I wrote out poems or expletives to get a new perspective on things, often texting them to friends for insight. 

Then, one of my dearest friends had a health scare. The doctors thought he could have cancer. I’m the emotional type, so I was devastated and terrified. I was in tears nearly every day.

For the first time, I wrote a poem to God, begging Him not to take my friend away from me.

After a couple of weeks of repeating this poem every day, I got a call from my friend saying it was a false alarm. I fell on the floor, thanking God in a voice so overwhelmed it barely left my throat.

Then, this truth hit me. I bond with my friends in different ways. With one friend, we bond over teasing and play fights. With another, we bond with through hugs and real talk. The list goes on. This same concept is true with us and God. God reaches each of us individually, the way we are. For me, writing or singing to Him opens my heart to feel His presence. Often, I’ll begin by asking Him a question and write out His reply unintentionally.

Even to this day, I’m learning to do this well. I still have to be reminded God welcomes our honesty and to never compare myself to my peers. My worship leader often writes his prayers in music. One of my pastors sits in solitude and speaks to God in beautiful silence. None of these methods are wrong. God relates to each individual in a different way.

As long as we invite Him in, listen for Him, and speak to Him, we will hear His answers—often in ways we don’t expect. Talk with God. Be honest with Him, and do not try to copycat what others do. Find the way the Holy Spirit connects with you and pray to the God who created you and loves you so much He reaches out to you in just the way you need.