It was a few years ago. I was watching the livestream of Pete Greig, the founder of 24/7 Prayer, speaking at the HTB Leadership Summit in London. And this sentence he spoke jumped out of the screen with force.
“The great joy of praying is learning to pray the way God made you.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d realised that maybe the way I’d been taught to pray was not the only way. But he held out an invitation to me, a chance to stop toiling to try and make my prayer life look the way I thought it should, and discover the joy of praying in a way that fits who I am, who I was uniquely created to be.
I wrote last week about giving up my “quiet time” – that structured, early morning, typically evangelical approach to prayer that is just a bad fit for me, especially in this season of being a baby mama.
The more I learn, the more I practise, the more sure I become that we need to discover ways of praying that are a good fit for our lives, the seasons we’re in, and our personalities.
Pete Greig also said during that talk, “So much of the material on how to pray has been written by introverts, living a cloistered existence, sometimes without children, and with an affection for squirrels and early grey tea!”
Alright, they may not all like squirrels, but I have found it to be harder as an extrovert to find personal prayer resources aimed at my personality. (On the other side, I imagine introverts struggle if they find themselves in a context where corporate prayer expects them to speak their own prayers outloud to the group).
I come out on the extrovert end of the scale in most tests. Although I love and need time to myself each day to feel inwardly balanced, so much of my energy comes from being around other people. My own projects get a boost right after I’ve had a conversation about them with a good friend. If a meeting finishes at 10pm, I still have energy to dive into all my assigned tasks right then and there. Because the presence, the enthusiasm, the contributions of those around me, it energises and enthuses me.
I like to describe myself as a “wannabe contemplative”. I am so drawn to the monastic writers and the mystics. I scribble down their prayers in my journal. I love learning about the ways they live. But if I try to begin a contemplative practice on my own, it usually lasts all of one day before I run out of steam.
It’s not just that I suck at discipline. There’s definitely an element of that too, but the bigger truth is that I am designed to be energised around other people, and so I find it harder to sustain that kind of prayer alone.
Ruth Fowke writes,
“Prayer is about finding the most suitable rhythm to enable one to develop a meaningful, vibrant relationship with the living God. He has chosen to make us all different from one another. Each of us must find the prayer pattern that is most suited to foster the development of our relationship with the Creator God.” (from her book Personality and Prayer).
Two years ago, at the Amahoro conference in Kampala, we began each morning with an hour of contemplative prayer together. It was lead by an Anglican priest in a room where the windows were open to the sound of the gentle waves on Lake Victoria, just meters away.
I pulled myself out of bed each morning to make it there with my wonderful room mate Tina, and we found a chair each in the circle and sat together in the morning quiet. Together our small early morning group sang Taize songs, spent long moments in silence, practiced lectio divina, and chanted beautiful lines of scripture. It was entirely beautiful and transcendent. I loved it.
Then, last year I spent four days on retreat at the Northumbria Community in the UK, where they follow the Celtic monastic tradition and pray together four times a day. And so four times a day I followed the sound of the bell to the cozy living room, settled back into one of the sofas in the sunshine, and joined in the quickly-familiar pattern of prayer, feeling my heartbeat slow and my shoulders release their tension.
These are two defining moments for me in my faith journey these past few years. They introduced me to contemplative prayer, monastic rhythms of the day. And yet, I still haven’t been able to sustain my own quiet daily prayer time alone.
For now, I’m letting that be ok.
The danger is that I would release myself from the shame of not managing to pray one particular way (the evangelical “quiet time”), only to layer the shame over me again when I struggle to pray in a different way.
But shame is the worst reason to pray. Or not to pray. That kind of shame is not from God.
Instead I want to pray out of desire. I want to want to pray. And more and more, that desire will come when I find the way to pray that is most natural to me, and when I learn the discipline to keep at it.
Mother Mary Clare of the Sisters of the Love of God, wrote,
“Prayer is essentially… a love affair with God, not schemes or techniques or ways of prayer, but the most direct,open approach of each one of us as a person to God our creator, redeemer and sanctifier… We are seeking God himself.”
In her book, Ruth Fowke has a section for extroverts like me. She suggests prayer walks, individually or with others; using creative endeavours like painting, gardening, sewing as ways to focus ourselves into prayer while still giving our bodies an activity to engage with; going on a retreat that has moments to debrief and discuss with a guide or another participant between times of silence; or meeting regularly with a prayer group so that the energy of being together with them will enthuse your individual prayer times.
That’s just one aspect of it. Do you approach the world primarily through your intellect or your imagination? Is your heart or your mind more likely to lead your responses to situations and people? Are you more intuituve or reasoned? Each of these will influence how we pray. And so the possibilities are endless!
What if we were to discover the joy of learning to pray the way God made us?
*All the Pete Greig quotes are from my own notes scribbled down as I was watching his talk. I’m pretty confident I wrote them down correctly but this is my disclaimer in case they are a few words off…
A really useful resource is Tara Owen’s series on the Enneagram and Prayer. She’s written posts for the first five personality types so far (and then paused for the new baby!) so if you know you’re type, there’s a wealth of wisdom and ideas there.