I’ve always had a hard time praying. I’ve been told: just talk to God. Talk about your day, your likes, your dislikes, your feelings. He wants to know all of that, so tell him!
This always bothered me. Not that I didn’t believe God wanted to know all that. But simply because it made no sense why in the world I would need to inform the all-knowing being who created me about the events of my day. He knows everything that is in your heart, they’d tell me. He does? Then what’s the point in telling him any of it?
This has been my daily struggle. And when I do manage to pray I often feel like it’s a show—like it’s just words, forced and fake. And it irritates me to hear those words like that. I continue to try. But the words… they’re sticky and heavy and they often feel pointless.
But then, occasionally, there are the raw moments. The real ones. When I don’t even think about it. Like suddenly I just say something. Something I know I needed to say. Something I know God needed to hear. For a moment, it all makes sense. And in these moments I know I prayed. And I know why I prayed. And I wish that I prayed more and more consistently—and most of all, I know that and why I should.
It is these moments that I’m reminded of through all those daily struggles. Through all the words that feel sticky, through all the defenses that leave me feeling stupid, and all the times I look up and say I don’t know why I’m telling you this but I guess ill do it anyway, because in those moments I have a relationship. And in a relationship, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have to talk. You talk. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already said it before or if they already know. In a relationship, words aren’t just useful. They’re love. They’re like hugs and kisses. And you never don’t hug someone because you already hugged them once before. You don’t stop saying “I love you” because your loved one already knows.
The problem is, relationships aren’t always obvious and they’re obviously not always easy. The trouble with God is that he doesn’t sit right next to (most of) us. Or at least not in a way that most of us can clearly perceive. Sure, lets say he speaks in flowers and butterflies. But that’s inevitably going to be harder to hear than the spoken words of our best friend—or at least it will take more practice or a natural talent and disposition to be able to make the association. And so most of the time, for too many of us, God is just this call center that we hope (or don’t hope) exists somewhere in the sky. We call in when we want something and we hope, even it we’re not convinced it’s worth it, that it gets through. So much of prayer is like this. A just-in-case kind of thing. Like if the call center might be there, I might as well ring in in desperate times. But if it’s a call center, then it’s all practical business. And God is a little mastermind who sits at a computer and makes decisions based off of the emails and voicemails he receives—but has no real connection to or understanding of the minions who send them.
But that’s not the God I know exists. The God I know exists would love me even if I never called in. The reason I need to pray to him is because I need to love him. And prayer teaches me to love. Prayer connects me to Love. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when I’m telling him what he already knows. It’s hard to believe that. And it’s even harder to write it and claim to believe it. But it’s a fact of humanity. For although God gets the bad rap for being the one whose hard to talk to, we experience this in many of our other relationships.
It’s a fact of humanity that sometimes we have to do things that seem superfluous, that don’t come natural, that seem repetitive, that we don’t feel like doing, because that’s the only way to love in that moment. That’s the only way to have a relationship. And yes, we should rejoice in the moments that are raw and real and beautiful—in the moments that make sense. But not every moment will make sense. Love won’t always make sense. But we keep doing it because love is the only worth it thing in the universe. Because our relationships matter most. And the beauty of them will never develop if we don’t devote ourselves in the moments that don’t make sense.
I realized this ever more fully the other day when I was talking to the twelve-week-old baby growing inside of me.
People often ask, what did you do/think when you found out? And I tell them that the first thing I thought about was how strange it was that suddenly I knew that there was this tiny person inside me and yet five minutes prior I had had no idea of his/her existence. One moment I was a twenty-two year old who still felt like a kid, and in the next moment I was a parent. But even crazier to think was the fact that I had been a parent for at least four weeks by then. Suddenly, I was changed, and my life and my husband’s life were changed forever. And yet, we looked and felt and seemed exactly the same. I didn’t know where to start. Was I to talk to the baby right then and there? Say hi? Introduce myself? Wouldn’t that be silly? After all, Baby had been there for weeks. He/she already knew me better than I knew him/her. And wasn’t that bizarre!? I was all my child knew. And my child was the last thing or person that I knew. So what in the world was I supposed to say??
And so in an effort to proactively understand, get to know, and bond with Baby my husband and I have been trying to talk to him/her. He gets next to my tummy and says hello baby! And then pauses and says it again. I tease him and pretend to be Baby’s voice saying daddy, you’ve said hello a million times already and we laugh at how silly we must sound to Baby because we really don’t what to say—we don’t even know if Baby can hear us yet. But we talk to Baby nevertheless. And my husband keeps saying “hello.”
And then I try to announce things, because I read you should start including Baby in your daily activities. Say, Baby, we are going to eat dinner now, or even ask baby, would you like some pasta? I do it. Or at least try to remember to. But man, I feel stupid sometimes. After all, at some point won’t Baby know that we are eating now? And if Baby doesn’t know, why does Baby care? And goodness, how in the world is Baby going to let me know if he/she doesn’t want pasta? Kick me? Even though Baby’s still too small for me to feel anything and won’t even know what do you want pasta? means until months after he/she is born? I keep doing it, but usually it feels so silly.
And then the other day, I was writing a letter to Baby. Because that’s another way you’re supposed to bond. And I signed it love, Mama. And with those words staring back, suddenly, everything hit me. I finally felt it. I understood in that moment who I was and who Baby was and why it matters that I tell her about dinner and why my husband hovers over my belly not knowing what new he can say but does so nevertheless—I understood fully in that moment that it all mattered because it’s how I can love Baby right now. It’s how I can love someone who I can’t really see yet and fathom who that person is and who I am to them. It’s how I form a relationship with someone whose presence is only marked by my own throwing up and a black and white video that I still can’t believe is of MY baby inside of ME. But that’s what it is. And my husband and I now watch that video regularly. Because that’s how we love Baby. We’ve already seen it plenty of times. But love isn’t about practicality. In love, you stare at a familiar face even when you know every freckle by memory and you stare at it when the freckles are split by wrinkles, and then you stare ever more lovingly when you know even those wrinkles by memory. In love, in a relationship, you talk superfluously and you laugh about stupid things. You ramble. You’re silent. You tell the same story twice. And you pray. Even when it feels stupid. Because he’s there. And you love him and he loves you, and talking, sharing, it’s what you do when you love, even when it doesn’t come naturally. Even when it doesn’t seem practical. It’s that loving when it doesn’t come naturally that gives way to the natural and deeply true and fulfilling relationship. And who knows if the unnatural moments are as silly as they feel? After all, I have a feeling that if not Baby, at least God, is smiling when my husband says “hello” for the millionth and one time over my belly. I know I am. I know I sense the love in that seemingly superfluous word. And if merely through the warmth that such a sensation causes in my heart and the laughter that springs up from my soul, I tend to think that Baby feels it too.
And so that’s why I talk to Baby. And that’s why I talk to God. And I thank them both for teaching me how to love.