Ted Grimsrud—November 17, 2022
Prayer has never been something I have been comfortable with. For a number of years after my conversion when I was 17, I tried pretty hard to make it part of my life. I even bought a book considered to be a classic by fundamentalist preacher, John R. Rice, Prayer: Asking and Receiving. I read it eagerly, but it did not actually help me that much. It might be interesting to figure out why I couldn’t get into prayer, but I’ve never spent much time on that kind of reflection. I suspect it at least partly has to do with me being a pretty rational, concrete person. The idea of actually conversing with an unseen being never quite made sense—even when I believed in such a personal, all-powerful being.
On prayer: Live and let live
After those first few years following my conversion when I did feel like a failure because I wasn’t into prayer or (this would be a different story) personal evangelism, my non-praying approach to faith never bothered me much. I was generally comfortable when called upon for public prayer, but that was about the extent of my self-conscious attempts to speak to the almighty. Along the way, I would occasionally read something about prayer that was a lot less directive than John R. Rice had been—prayer more as thought (“please keep me in your thoughts”), meditation, or simply cultivating good will. At one point, I read an interesting bestselling book by a medical doctor, Larry Dossey, Healing Words.
I don’t remember Dossey’s book very well, it was probably nearly 30 years ago that I read it. As I remember, he was actually an agnostic religiously. He studied prayer as a phenomenon practiced by people across the spectrum of religious faith and found it to be an efficacious practice. People who prayed and people who were prayed for tended to have better outcomes as a whole. I found it to be an attractive argument—and still do. But it didn’t really change anything for me. In facing a few of life’s difficulties and grievous moments, I didn’t find myself any more likely to pray in any kind of self-conscious, overt way.
I can’t imagine taking the time to do so, but it would be kind of interesting to reread the Rice and Dossey books together to compare and contrast. Certainly, they couldn’t be farther apart in what they actually believe about God. Yet, they seem to share a similar idea—prayer actually works and can affect what happens in people’s lives.