Melissa Hawks has been a friend of mine for almost two years now. Our friendship spawned because of a crazy thing Jon Acuff decided to do called the Start Experiment (Now Dreamers and Builders), and has grown into a massive community today. I consider her one of my bests, even though we haven’t known each other for a long amount of time. She’s a woman I’ve shared stomach-hurting laughter and deep, grievous tears with. We have both been there for each other during our darkest of days, and have helped pull each other out of the pit. I’ve watched her grow deep and wide, as she’s watched me. Hopefully, this is the first of many guest posts from Melissa. I’ve noticed throughout our friendship that she’s pretty exceptional when it comes to prayer. She is always praying for others, for circumstances, for herself. I wanted her to share with us today about prayer, so that maybe some of that great habit she has will rub off on us. Without further adieu…
I first learned how to pray when I was a seventeen year old freshman away at college. That may seem odd considering I grew up in a family where ministry was what you were born to rather than a life choice. I learned all about the technicalities of moaning and groaning and prayer journeys and prayer meetings and prostrating yourself before His face before I could walk. But I learned how to pray at the age of seventeen from a middle-aged professor named Jim Sleeva.
Sleeva is a legend amidst those who sat under his tutelage at the small Christian college I attended. I was never quite sure whether he liked or approved of me; he was hard to read. Back then I was a pretty great at following the rules, but beneath it all I knew the truth. A wild heart beat it’s irregular rhythm within my chest. There was a rumor that Sleeva had x-ray vision like Superman so I knew he could probably see my wild heart too. He reminded me of how I had always pictured Jesus. I couldn’t imagine that Jesus (or Sleeva, if he could see them) would approve of all my thoughts. But, I was pretty well versed in Scripture and I knew Jesus had made quite a name for himself by being nice to the sex workers and women caught in adultery, so I figured maybe at some point he (and Sleeva) might find it in their holy hearts to like me too.
Here’s what I learned from Sleev about praying: you don’t have to be fancy. He never used grandiose words, or elaborate repetitive phrasings. He spoke exactly like he would speak to anyone else. He would close his eyes, get a giant ridiculous grin on his face and say, “Hey, Jesus. Thanks for these kids here and this beautiful sunny day you gave us to enjoy. You knew exactly what we needed after the last two weeks of storms and rain. Touch my friend Juan, who has the flu and heal his body. Show us how we can love You, each other, those we meet, better. You’re the coolest, Jesus. (because Sleeva was kind of a hippie) Amen. He would finish his prayer and you would think, “yeah. That dude knows Jesus.”
That’s when I learned how to pray.
The whole idea of “pray without ceasing” always seemed overwhelming and and a bit dramatic to me. Until I came to understand that my prayers are just me talking to God. About stuff. All the things. And that’s what I do. When I stopped trying to force my prayers to fit into a certain time frame of a half hour first thing in the morning or an hour before bed (yeah, that never happened), and I just began to start talking to God throughout the day whenever life happened, that’s when relationship formed. That’s when it became like breathing.
That sounds hard, right? Does it sound a little painful? It’s easy. It’s part of being mindful about how you are feeling and what you are thinking. If I notice a sunset or I’m so angry at something that has occurred. I acknowledge those feelings and turn them into a conversation with God. “Thank you for that glorious sunset, God” or “I’m so freakin’ pissed right now, God.” It’s a good habit to get into because it also makes me more in tune with His voice. When I am communicating with Him, I also take more time to listen.
Don’t self-edit your prayers. He’s God. He can handle the real you. I swear in my prayers, because sometimes I swear in real life. The first time I did this was right after I filed for divorce. I was in my car alone and the weight of it all was burying me. I couldn’t breathe; it was too much. I started to pour it all out and with it came a whole heap of language that I knew the community I was raised around wouldn’t have approved of. Between the “Oh, Jesus’s” and the “@#$&” my car was being turned into an angelic toxic waste dump. But He’s GOD. He can handle it. He can handle me. And I reverence Him enough to be real with Him. It doesn’t take away from the sacredness of our conversation, it adds validity to it. I am not hiding from Him.
The intimacy that comes with this kind of relationship with God has some great benefits. It teaches you to live with less fear. I have become less afraid of the dark because the Light is always with me. It also becomes easier to recognize dark things because you are accustomed to living your life in the light. You know immediately when you take an action that you shouldn’t. You learn to love people better, forgive faster, and that God doesn’t fit into any of our boxes we try to shove Him into.
I’m continually learning how to be in relationship with Him. How to trust. How to quit trying to tell Him how my story should be written. I’m so damn bossy. And He is patient, loving, and keeps redeeming me and my story. My prayer of late for my own life has been this, “I trust you to complete that which concerns me.” It’s been the ultimate way of me letting go and leaving it in His hands. Because here is the truth my prayers have taught me…
He is God. He is trustworthy and He is good. And even on the worst days…that is enough.