When we gather for Thanksgiving dinner someone is always asked to volunteer to say the Thanksgiving prayer. That’s when all of the loudmouths in my family suddenly turn mute. And eyes are cast downward. Especially mine.
Truth is, I’m not very good at prayer.
My prayer skills have diminished over time. Oh, I’m still pretty good at piecing together an Old Testament smite. There’s a lawyer in Dallas who deserves deadly pestilence. When my conscience intervenes I dial it back a little and pray he gets struck with something milder like a boil or a brief locust plague.
But there’s no doubt I’ve done a poor job developing my ability to pray over the years.
Perhaps it’s because my life has moved beyond simple petitions that accompany early parenthood.
“Please keep my children healthy and safe.”
“Please destroy the Chuck E. Cheese in Fort Worth before Stephen’s birthday party.”
“Please give my wife a brief case of laryngitis until I can make it to work tomorrow morning.”
Maybe I’m embarrassed. I used to pray for things I didn’t deserve or, worse yet, didn’t even understand. That never prevented me from asking anyway. A job working for a law firm in the Caribbean. Winning the lottery.
The history of my abundantly blessed life is strewn with the remnants of my unanswered prayers.
Perhaps I’ve grown dismayed by the apparent futility of prayer. The older I get the more I realize our lives are shaped by random, unexplainable, and unforeseen events that we can’t control. Praying for God to somehow alter these events seems like folly. The parents who lost their child to cancer prayed just as fervently for a cure as the man who just received word of a clean CT scan. Does my prayer to end world hunger make a whit of difference? I’ve prayed for our troops in the morning and read horrible stories of their isolation and PTSD that afternoon. Then there are the parents in Newtown. I’m afraid I’m just not much help.
What is this purpose of prayer anyway? Is it just a way to assuage our guilt? Or a way to hoodwink God? When you pray for your friend who lost his job are you really just hoping God will let you keep yours?
Does prayer even work?
My prayers just seem so selfish… so ephemeral.
This is the one time of year it occurs to me that prayer may not be about what is missing in my life. Perhaps its about what is present…..in spades. And giving thanks for these blessings.
For clean water. For the ability to walk, talk, hug, tie my shoes, read a book, smell honeysuckle and pine. For summer vacation, Advil, rock and roll music, locks on doors, mute buttons, college football.
For people who inspire me. Single parents. Service men and women. Moms or Dads who are raising children with special needs. Those who pursue a passion without regard for wealth or power.
People who are patient with me. My wife. My kids. My parents. My legal assistant.
People who challenge me. My clients. Other lawyers. Bad drivers.
People who accept other points of view. People who embrace strangers and outcasts.
Of course, this rough inventory can lead to difficult questions. Do I appreciate my abundance? Do I use it to bring joy to others? Am I cynical and negative or positive and hopeful? Do I inspire others? How do I handle hardship and adversity? Do I follow prayer with intention?
But today I’ll just take a moment and give thanks.
So, does prayer work? This one does. Every time.