From the stairs below, I heard the murmur of voices, muffled and distorted by their own reverberations in the library foyer. At the top of the stairs, I saw two people; a young woman sitting with her head down, and a young man bent over his hands. The murmurs, I realized, were prayers — the sort I heard all my life in the youth groups and college ministries, filled with “I just thank you, Lord,” and “I just praise you, Lord.”
I passed by, on business of my own, only mildly curious, wondering at such an intimate dialogue in such a public, if deserted, place. Within a few minutes I returned to the foyer and the slight, echoing “I just praise you Lord”s, amazed for a moment that they might still be praying.
Then, with a single thought, I was not so amazed.
How much of our prayers, I wondered, comes from a desperate need to be heard? Do we deluge God with fervent prayers and ardent thanksgivings because we believe we are heard, or because we feel we must be? Are long, flowery petitions — or verbose, heartfelt ones — the most likely to draw the attention of the Almighty?
Perhaps so; perhaps not. I have heard a minister dispassionately beg the Lord’s forgiveness for the sins of His people, and a man talk simply to God as he would to a loving parent. There are as many prayers as there are souls.
I have tried to be one of those so outwardly penitent, despairing when those external actions did not alter my internal turmoil. I pondered for many years, wondering why those “I just praise you”s never healed me like they seemed to heal the others in my youth group. My wonderings grew into misgivings, which developed even further into a deep mistrust of all things ecclesiastical.
Even now, I still am very private with my beliefs. As much of a faith in God as I have today, I am still unnerved by those who use their religious beliefs to pronounce and denounce, as though granted superiority over other mere humans by some higher authority. I am usually critical of such people, if not in speech, then in mind.
Instead, today I realized that I have to have my own way of praying, but also that I can’t begrudge anyone else their own way. The outward sincerity, loud praises and religious fervor might be just what someone else needs today, even if I have a need for inward honesty, simplicity and quietness of heart.