Learning how to pray takes practice. Even people who grow up in a strong faith community often have seasons when they don't know what to say or how to relate to God. There are many guides on how to pray effectively and many opinions on what a proper prayer should entail. While this advice likely comes from well-meaning individuals, strict adherence to a particular type of prayer may put added pressure on those who already feel like they're not doing it correctly.
The Welcoming Prayer was designed by Mary Mrozowski to offer an opportunity for people to unlearn a lot of their long-held assumptions about prayer. It invites the faithful to be honest about their thoughts and feelings. It may be helpful for those who feel stuck with the ways they were taught to pray.
Acknowledge Thoughts and Feelings
You may have learned that you need to get into a certain mindset before you pray. Your daily practice may start with your gratitude journal so that you recall the things that you are most thankful for before you approach God. While a gratitude habit is a noble pursuit, forcing yourself into a certain state of mind before you consider it appropriate to pray may be more of a hindrance than a help.
What if you started your prayer time by simply admitting the truth of your current emotional and mental state? It's hard enough to want to pray when you feel frustrated, sad or angry. There's no reason to make it more difficult by thinking you have to be in the right mood before you begin. Acknowledge what you are thinking and feeling as you start your prayer time. You may even want to spend a few minutes acknowledging where the feelings are coming from. Being honest with yourself helps you be more open to praying authentically.
Welcome the Divine Presence
A clear assessment of your current state lets you welcome God into it. Many believers experience a stale prayer life when they allow it to become nothing more than one of the rituals they perform in their daily life of faith. However, prayer is meant to be a mystical, profound experience. Slowing down to intentionally welcome God into your prayer can bring new life to it.
The potential difficulty with this step is resisting the urge to clean the proverbial house of your emotions before you welcome your divine guest. Most faith traditions adhere to the belief that God is all-knowing. It logically follows, therefore, that there is no real benefit of pretending to feel happier or calmer than you do. Continue to welcome both God and your feelings together as you pray.
Surrender Barriers to Peace
Most faiths embrace the concept of submission to the wisdom of God, and this is the essence of the third step of the Welcoming Prayer. Release the tensions that are keeping you from experiencing peace or maintaining hope. Depending on your specific state of mind, this can take the form of a variety of statements:
- "I let go of my need to be in control."
- "I surrender my desire to be adored."
- "I accept that I cannot change other people."
If you have difficulty thinking of ways to voice your surrender, you can search online for welcoming prayers that others such as Father Thomas Keating have written. Alternatively, you can simply focus on your breath, picturing yourself exhaling your negative thoughts and inhaling healing. After all, there's no rule that says all prayer has to be verbal. Breathing meditations work well as welcoming prayers.
The practice of welcoming prayer isn't meant to be just another formula for talking to God. It is a reminder that prayer and the person offering it don't have to be perfect to be meaningful.