"Why do you pray?" was the question my teenage class discussed in Sunday School recently. One boy had provoked the question by asking what you do when you're not getting the results you hope for when you pray. "Just keep praying," another student said with a conviction that some of us knew came from having done that through some challenges of her own. As we continued to encourage him, the conversation turned again to why we pray.
One girl thought you should pray just to open your mind to truth. Another student said he prayed because it was the only time he felt really peaceful. What their answers pointed to, we decided, is that we pray because we want more understanding - because we know there's a larger reality than our physical senses see. It's God and His creation - the entirely spiritual realm of love and justice and health. We pray because we want to live more in this real world that God created.
Does this mean that we shouldn't expect to find practical, specific answers to our problems when we pray? No, we agreed, we should expect that. Still, some people in the class had found that clear answers came when they just prayed to be conscious of God. When they followed the Bible's counsel, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).
One student mentioned something he'd read in Mary Baker Eddy's book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" that week that had helped him do this. It says that Life is God (see pg. 394). As we talked about what that meant to us, it came out that our lives aren't really material or time-defined at all. Beyond and above a physical body with a name on it, you and I exist as individual expressions of goodness and love - of the Life that is God. We pray to become conscious of our eternal Life. This prayer opens up the real world of Spirit. And it has the specific result of solving human problems. One girl told about how she'd been afraid of having to speak in public as part of her summer job. When she prayed, it came to her that God was always doing the communicating and that she was simply expressing God. She loved that idea. And, as a result, she stopped being afraid and actually enjoyed the public speaking.
It isn't always easy to stop thinking about a problem and feel God's presence. Sometimes prayer involves a battle with negative emotions until we break through to peace and healing. A friend of mine wrote me recently about one of her battles. Her son had told her that he wanted to live with his dad in another city for a while. She was glad he liked the school there and had made good friends, but somehow - even though she didn't want to feel this way - she was hurt and even resentful that her son was no longer with her.
"I felt like I was being pulled into an illusionary world," she told me, "and I knew that I didn't have to allow that to happen. So ... I prayed. I acknowledged that only God governed. I knew that I could lean on God in my life, and that he would protect me and my son. I knew I could trust God's plan for us and that it was good. And I realized that I truly wanted to love. I started repeating the Lord's Prayer. I prayed it for some time. The next thing I remember is waking in the morning feeling refreshed. And I felt loved."
We pray because we want to live in the real world that God governs. We want to love. And when we keep striving to know God the way this mother did, we can't get pulled into an illusory world without God. We feel fear and hurt begin to disappear. God's love inevitably appears. The real world of Spirit is here, and you're already in it.
Hear my cry, O God;
attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth
will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed:
lead me to the rock that
is higher than I.
Psalms 61:1, 2
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society