“I want to talk to God, but I’m afraid ‘cause we ain’t spoke in so long.”
(Kanye West, “Jesus Walks”)
“Please talk to me / Won’t you please talk to me? / We can unlock this misery / Come on, come talk to me.”
(Peter Gabriel, “Come Talk to Me”)
I’m kneeling in my living room with my head bowed and touching the ground, tears streaming down my face, telling God that I’m sorry. It’s the first day—and first prayer—of my month-long prayer experiment, and so far, things aren’t going so well.
I’m 28 years old and I grew up in the Mennonite church. I attended Sunday school and youth group, and I was baptized in Grade 12. During my first and second years of university, where I took English literature as well as biblical and theological studies, I preached the occasional sermon at my church.
But the best word to describe my faith life over the past four years is stagnant. My church attendance has been sporadic, and I haven’t regularly practised any spiritual disciplines. I’ve always considered myself to be a Christian, and I’ve always tried to be a good person, but I have not been growing very much in my faith.
Last year, the word “integrity” haunted me. If I say I’m a Christian and yet I’m not working on my relationship with Jesus Christ, am I living with integrity? In an effort to grow in my faith, and inspired by the Muslim faith tradition, I decided I would dedicate myself to praying five times a day throughout all of January.
I did not follow the exact prayer times Muslims adhere to, and I did not wash my face, arms, hands and feet the way they do either. However, I did go through the 11 prayer postures that Muslims go through as they pray, and I said the same things they say, substituting “God” for “Allah.” During the last position, I would pray whatever was on my mind and then end with the Lord’s Prayer.
I cried during that first prayer on that first day because I felt ashamed of myself. I repeated “I’m sorry” over and over. For some reason, I thought that God was upset with me, like he might be asking, “Why haven’t you spent more time with me over the last few years?” If you asked me to picture him at that moment, I’d describe a man standing over me with his arms crossed, a disapproving look on his face.
Still, I continued my prayer experiment, using the time to request God’s help in my life and the lives of my family and friends, confess sins, and also listen in silence for what God might have to say to me.
The lead pastor at the church I attend put me at ease a few days into my experiment when I met with him to discuss some things. I told him about the experiment, and he said, “God is always thrilled when we want to spend more time with him. It brings joy to God’s heart.”
Suddenly, the image of God that I had from that first prayer changed, and I was reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son. I pictured God with his arms outstretched, wanting to embrace me, happy to have me back.
Some things I learned over the course of the month are:
1. Going through the Muslim prayer postures caused me to pray in positions I wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, kneeling with my face and palms upturned, or with my head bowed and touching the ground.
When I would pray before, I would often just fold my hands and bow my head—and it’s fine to do that—but trying out these different positions forced me out of my comfort zone, and also made me more reverent and respectful, conscious of the fact that I was coming before the One who created me and everything else.
2. At first, I was unsure about what I would pray about five times a day, but then I realized I could pray about anything. I especially enjoyed praying for other people because it’s one way I can help and support them when I’m unsure about what else to do.
Also, when my prayer experiment started, my father was waiting to have surgery to have a benign brain tumor removed. Prayer was a great comfort at this time because it felt like I was doing something for him. It helped me not to worry about my father’s situation because I was praying about it, giving it to God and trusting that everything would work out according to God’s will.
3. Because I was spending more time with God, I started to talk about God more with family and friends. This led to some interesting conversations about faith and prayer.
In many ways, my experiment was a return to faith, and it’s not really over. I’m excited to keep moving forward in my faith journey and excited to keep spending time with God.