Apr 11, 2011


I don't pray.

Not in private, and I try to decline every time someone suggests that I do it in public.  When I can't do so gracefully the result is formulaic and as short as I can make it.

There were times, of course, when I did pray--you grow up evangelical, your parents become missionaries, and you get hammered with how important it is: read your Bible and pray, read your Bible and pray, read your Bible and pray.  There are even different kinds of prayers, like the arrow prayers in Nehemiah where he prays on his feet, or the long prayers like Jesus prayed in the Garden, or the walking with God that Adam and Eve got to do.

At some point in my life I've made a concerted effort to try them all.  Get up early in the morning and read the Bible and pray for an hour?  I've done it for months at a time on multiple occasions.  Failing that, I've tried to do so in the evenings, since mornings are ... well, I'm a poor conversationalist with people before noon, much less God.  I've tried the Nehemiah-style prayers where you shoot off little 'God help me' or 'God grant me this or forgive me that or thank you for something that just happened' prayers at various times.  I've tried to be spontaneous, I've tried to create a liturgy of sorts where a ritual would guide the experience, I've had a prayer list that I went through each day, I've read the Bible by studying passages in depth, by reading straight through, by opening it to a random page and starting in.  I've done what they told me I was supposed to do-nearly every conceivable variation of it.

And what they said would happen ... didn't.  There was no noticeable difference in the likelihood of occurrences that I had prayed for over those that I hadn't.  I didn't feel any different, aside from the effects of having less sleep.  The promised clarity was no improvement over my own mental abilities; the supernatural guidance was no more likely to be right than my own intuition and was on occasion spectacularly wrong.  The catharsis from 'angry' prayers was no deeper than that of screaming at a person, or at nothing, or writing angry blog entries and then deleting them.

The tangible--guidance, catharsis, peace, emotional state, and receiving what you pray for--is a wash.  And what's that leave?  The intangible, the untestable--drawing closer to God or perfecting your soul or whatever else that was supposed to happen but that you couldn't actually tell whether or not it had--remained intangible and untested.  Perhaps one just ought to pray, benefits or no--but why must one pray?  The whole idea of a conversation is meaningless if one never gets an answer, and as far as I have ever been able to tell, I haven't.

Do X, I was told, and Y will occur--I did X and Y didn't follow, no matter how many times or how fervently I tried.  If I was doing it wrong--even if every single one of my numerous concerted attempts to have a prayer life was the victim of flawed methodology--no one could ever explain what I was doing wrong or how to fix it.

So I stopped.  I stopped beating my head against the wall of other people's failed predictions. I stopped agonizing over the assumption that the problem was on my end.  I made the conscious decision not to lose any more sleep over it--literally or figuratively.

I honestly haven't noticed any difference.


  1. God is within me! My belief in Him is not measured with the times I went to church, with the number of times I reread the Bible or how many verses I can cite from the Holy Book. Nope! These are all artificial measurements that have always made me sick! IMO, God is nothing physical, He is spirit!

  2. Just a thought, Andrew. One of the best descriptions of prayer I've encountered is from Mother Teresa. She said "I don't talk to God; I listen." When asked what God said to her, she said "God doesn't say anything; he listens to me. And if you don't understand that, I can't possibly explain it."

    That's pretty much the way it is. I didn't pray for years either. Now I can't live without it. The one thing I've never been able to do is define it or say what good it does.

  3. i guess that if ever felt what you and she describe then things might be different, but ... i just haven't. don't know whether i'm sad or bitter or nothing at all.

  4. I see this is a very old entry but I just had to comment after reading your other religious-themed posts, which I like very much. I'm an atheist, formerly fundamentalist/evangelical Christian and so many of the things you've written resonate with me.

    The failure of prayer to help me understand God was an enormous barrier to my ability to believe. I am very glad I stopped praying when I did, and just reading this post is reminding me of that. How much silence or how many failed prayers can a person be expected to endure before Christians will say it's okay to just give up? Never, you're told to just keep banging your head on the wall. No matter what, if your faith isn't working the problem is with you, right?

    I like that in this post you say that you felt no different after you stopped praying. That isn't what people in our shoes were taught to expect. Prayer is so important to devout Christians, it can be hard for those of us who had useless/negative prayer experiences to relate.

  5. Sorry that it took me so long to get to this; your comment caught me just as I was leaving on a longish trip without internet and I never got to it.

    But anyway, thanks much for your comment. Good to know that the experience wasn't unique to me.