When we pray, we take advantage of a self-help tool as old as civilization. In every culture, on every continent, in every age, prayer to a higher power has helped people cope with stresses and challenges. When we open up to a higher power we feel protected, guided and lifted above our own limited perspective.
Some of us have no faith in a higher power. Perhaps we are frustrated by our view of a universe in which we feel so alone. Without a higher power, at times of deepest crisis we have no where to turn but to ourselves. Ultimately aloneness parches our soul. The belief that we are alone undermines our sense of wellbeing and may turn us towards substances and cynicism.
If we’re ready to grow, and tired of the frustration and helplessness of doing it alone, we might consider our relationship with a higher power.
If we feel we are alone in a universe that doesn’t know or care about us, we are carrying a heavy burden. As we face our problems, we can find deep strength by reshaping our beliefs to include a compassionate higher power. By trusting that we are in the presence of a higher power we no longer must shoulder our troubles alone. This attitude may be one of the most important changes we can make to end addiction, despair and cynicism.
There are many obstacles that may prevent us from accepting a higher power. Anger is one of the most common. If we blame God for our own pain and the suffering in the world, our anger hurts us and accomplishes nothing. Anger poisons the vessel that contains it. If we are poisoning ourselves with anger towards God, we should do what we can to get back on speaking terms with Him or Her.
Even when we are comfortable with God’s existence, we may not be in the habit of including Him or Her in our daily routine. Perhaps we feel our God is too busy or too lofty to care about us, or too stern and judgmental. These attitudes about God’s intentions and personality may be exposing an area of opportunity for our spiritual and emotional development.
Digging deeper, we may find at the root of this image our childhood memories. As we formed our first childhood image of God, we transferred our parent’s remoteness or harshness to His all-powerful hand, and shied away. These internalized images of a remote, uncaring or harsh authority may be keeping us under constant internal pressure.
Rather than a faith issue, we discover we are suffering with emotional pain. When our harsh, remote judgmental image of God is based on childhood trauma, we need to heal our inner child. Relieving ourselves of this pressure may be a critical step in our journey towards strength and health. We may find many areas of our life improving when we address these issues directly in counseling. To become whole and healthy we need to find within ourselves a compassionate, gentle guide to transcend or replace the harsh, rigid one we’ve been stuck with.
We can improve the quality of our lives by challenging our stereotype and re-visioning God as a warm compassionate protector who wants to participate more intimately in our lives.
When we accept the participation of a compassionate God, we need to make an effort to reach out to Him or Her in a prayerful state of mind. There are many forms of prayer, each one having benefits and fitting into different life styles and beliefs. We may pray in sacred buildings, surrounded by hundreds or thousands of fellow worshippers, supported in our mood of reverence by ceremony, song and scent. Or we may worship in simpler surroundings, in an austere building or even alone in our own room. We may find peace and reverence in nature, lulled into connection with our maker by the vast intricate order of life and natural beauty.
Most of us associate prayer with the religious practice of repeating prescribed sacred writings, or we may understand prayer to mean asking for gifts and changes in our lives. These definitions of prayer miss out on the full range of dimensions through which we can connect with God. For example, fasting, and other forms of self denial, are considered to be powerful forms of prayer in many religions, as we make the effort to release ourselves from the biological demands of our body. Musical performance, dancing and singing may also lift us into a sense of connection with God. We may find we can enter a state of grace through a personal conversation with God, sharing our problems, dreams, and gratitude.
Whatever method or form we choose, when we pray we enter a state of reverence, awe and faith in a higher power, a state in which we open ourselves up to the presence of that which transcends us. At the heart of any dialog is receptivity. In the stillness of our reverence, we need to be receptive to our highest understanding of God’s presence in our life. Without this sense of reverent receptivity, we may find ourselves pushing our will on God. When we try to use God as a magic jinni to do our bidding we end up feeling betrayed because things never go exactly as we planned. To find deep, lasting peace in prayer, we get better results by asking for strength and “attitude adjustments” – “Give me the strength and wisdom to accept the things you have chosen for me.”
Prayer relieve the sense of being alone in the world and instead offers the sense of protection and companionship that helps us get through the tough spots. Whether we pray within the boundaries of our religion, connect with a higher power in a Twelve Step program, or pursue our own mystical relationship with God, we transcend the devastating sense of isolation in the universe. If we have been avoiding prayer, we should consider that consciously constructing this habit may put us in control of a part of our life that is currently alone and needy. By entering a state of reverence, awe and faith we can heal some of the deepest pains of life.
See also: Blame, Existential Therapy, Higher Power, Meditation, Religion, Twelve Steps, Values
The prophet by Kahlil Gibran
The way of the pilgrim (author unknown)
Wherever you go, there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The World’s Religions by Huston Smith
Waking up just in time, a therapist shows how to use the Twelve Steps approach to life’s ups and downs by Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
An Encounter With A Prophet by C. A. Lewis