If you know me, you probably know I finished another round of NaNoWriMo approximately one month ago. And if you’re a reader of this blog, then you might guess my book’s subject. I have continued to pursue the calling I announced last February and March. NaNoWriMo gave me just the push I needed to finish the first draft. For your enjoyment/amusement/criticism, here is a long introductory excerpt from my book, The Prayer Group (working title).
“’Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” Matthew 6:9-13
Praying out loud always felt awkward. I had grown up in a Christian family, but we only prayed together for holidays, dinners out, and the rare family emergency. I liked hearing my parents pray, and I would obediently bow my head and close my eyes. We usually held hands in a circle.
But when asked to pray for the group, by my parents or youth pastors, I got nervous. I don’t know quite why. Maybe I was afraid of saying something wrong or not having anything to say at all. My mind would freeze up. No one taught me how to pray, so I would resort to the usual, “Thank you, God, that we can all get together here. Please bless our food. Amen.”
In ninth grade, a few teenagers from my youth group, my sister, and the youth pastor took a trip to a district conference. We stopped at a fast food place, and when we had all sat down with our trays, the pastor told me to pray for us. I complained, trying to get out of it, but he held firm. He said I needed to learn to pray in groups, that it would be good for me. Something like that. I didn’t get his point.
Wasn’t it good enough that I prayed to God on my own? Why did other people have to listen in on my private conversations with my Creator? Was it any of their business?
I mumbled out some ragged prayer, and we all ate, the pastor seemingly satisfied with my compliance.
I slowly accumulated more practice praying in groups, but it still seemed awkward by the time I attended a private Christian school, Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. When my theology professor asked for volunteers to pray, I avoided eye contact and instead bowed my head.
My first summer after moving to college, I became a camp counselor at a small camp in the foothills of Washington’s Cascades. There, every counselor led a daily Bible study shortly after breakfast with his or her cabin of campers. For six week-long camps, we read and discussed the story of Moses in Egypt. By the sixth week, I practically knew the story by heart and looked forward to sharing it with my campers. But I would still ask different campers to pray for us before lights out each night. This was done under the excuse of teaching them how to express their faith and connect with God. Really, I was avoiding praying myself. Most nights I would anyway, and there were times that I felt it necessary to pray with a camper one-on-one, but I still lacked confidence. I knew the campers looked up to me as a role model, so I often silently prayed for God’s spirit to supply me with the words.
Despite the growth I still needed, I returned to college eager to lead a small group on campus. Whitworth has a built-in campus ministry network that trains, equips, and supports students in spiritually leading their peers. I was partnered with a friend in my dorm to be co-leaders of a group. From the start, my co-leader would call on the group members to lead in prayer. He fully expected them to step up and fearlessly pray in front of the group. We teased him that he picked on us just so he could avoid praying in front of us.
We all did pray, though. As a leader, I again felt the need to set an example and pushed myself to get over my own fears. At the same time, it nagged at me that we should want to pray together. Why were we avoiding the privilege of bringing our thanks and concerns before our Savior? We were intent on studying the Bible and talking about God, but we hesitated at talking to Him, especially in front of each other. Why did it feel like I could only meet with God in private and not with my fellow believers, my brothers and sisters in Christ?
At the same time, a friend of mine was studying abroad in China. We exchanged a few letters and emails, and he mentioned in one that he had heard from some of his friends at Whitworth that they were having a lot of fun together, particularly in pranking each other. I didn’t take much note of it at the time since they were not my friends, and I didn’t know whom he might have been talking about.
Michael returned to Whitworth that January. He quickly made a point of reminding me of the friends he had told me about. He had found out that there was a solid group of friends who met together every night to pray.
“Every night?” I asked. “To pray?”
Michael was excited. He invited me to come see for myself. I had my doubts. A group fanatic about praying together didn’t sound appealing and certainly not something I could easily join. Besides, I had my small group to lead and enough other friends and acquaintances to have a decent social life. I didn’t think I needed another Christian social group. Didn’t I get enough of prayer between church and small group?
Then a mutual friend bumped into me at the campus coffee shop. Anneliese mentioned that I might be interested in a student group that met together to pray. “We’re upstairs every night if you want to come,” she said.
They’re recruiting, I thought to myself.
Within a week or two, I was chatting with Michael in his dorm room. It was a Friday night, but I didn’t have any other plans. The campus is generally quiet all of the January term since many students are gone for short study abroad trips or just taking the month off from school. After visiting a while, Michael said he would head to the prayer group in a few minutes and I was welcome to come along if I wanted to keep talking. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to follow him and see what the hype was about.
That night, we prayed for at least an hour, possibly the longest I had ever prayed either by myself or with others. The security guard came around to kick us out so he could lock up the student union building. By the time I was back in my dorm room, I had caught the bug. I excitedly told my roommate where I had been and that they would be gathering again the next morning for breakfast and more prayer.
I went that Saturday morning to a room in a dorm across campus. Most of the group showed up, filling the double bedroom. Some group members had brought cinnamon rolls, muffins, clementine oranges, and bananas. We shared the food and sang several worship hymns together. And we prayed.
From then on, I counted myself as one of the group. I kept going, shocked at my own sudden eagerness. There was something that drew me in, something that stirred a longing in the deep recesses of my heart. I realized I was thirsty. The group offered living water. And I met Jesus.