I’ve written in this space before about my prayer life: how obsessive-compulsive disorder has led me to try to build an imaginary shield of protection around my loved ones and how I have struggled for years to get constant prayers and chants for forgiveness and help out of my head.
If I’m not very mindful and careful, my prayers morph into repetitions of words said until I feel “right.”
Whether they are prayers for others or prayers for myself, prayers said aloud, prayers said silently, prayers written down—they can all end up being a mess of words.
I pray, but I’m not communicating with God. I’m communicating with myself.
For all the pain I’ve had over religion and prayer, I still want to nurture the spiritual in my life. I want to be part of an organized religion. So I am making some choices.
Meditation is working better than prayer for me, and I will continue to practice.
And I’m making other choices.
Jonathan Grayson, Ph.D.
In his book Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty, Jonathan Grayson, Ph.D. wrote something that made me consider the whole way I approach prayer and faith: “Many of you have focused so much on following rules that you have forgotten to think about the nature of your faith.” (p. 222).
Grayson said people with religious obsessions believe in two Gods, “a loving and forgiving God who cares about their souls and well-being” and “a stern and exacting God who will damn them for the slightest misstep” (p. 222).
We have the choice of which God to believe in, Grayson said. Religion is full of guesswork, and people decide what to believe as a matter of blind faith: “Most people like to think of faith as a feeling that gives strength, but it can also simply be a decision you choose to follow” (p. 224).
That reminded me of something a former minister told me when several years ago I discussed with him my lack of faith and my trouble with praying. He told me not to focus on how I felt but on what I believed and to do things that could help me be closer to God, like having regular devotions.
There it is again
So I’m back to the same thing I’ve faced before with OCD and depression: I place too much importance on feelings and not enough on action.
I still have many reservations about prayer. But in addition to meditating, I am choosing to pray, not as I have in the past, not in the OCD way, but in a way that I am able to. I am choosing to pray to the God whom I choose to believe in: a loving and forgiving God.
I will never know in this life whether or not I am doing it “right.” I cannot be certain that I’m praying in the way I’m supposed to, if there is such a way. But I will take action to try prayer to better my life.
For the time being, that will probably be saying prayers that have already been written, like the St. Francis of Assisi prayer.
How do you nurture your spirituality? What choices have you made about spiritual practices? Are there any prayers that you particularly like?