Let Us Pray

For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth). Ephesians 5:8-9

“So you’re saying I’m supposed to close my eyes, say ‘O my God,’ worry as usual, then say ‘Amen,’ and that’s it?” “Well, don’t close your eyes if you’re driving! Maybe just try it as an experiment. If you’re like me, you don’t have that many different things you’re worrying about at one time; it’s just worrying about the same few things over and over and over. Maybe it will help to turn a worry episode into a prayer. You know when you’re going into “worry mode’ right?”

“Sure…”

“Maybe you could think of that ‘worry mode’ feeling as God calling you to prayer. Is it worth a try?”

“Yes, I’ll try it. But how will it help?”

“I’m not sure, but just naming your cares in your heart and addressing God with them in your mind mightbuild up trust that God is with you in this. I think that would make a difference. It might not change the things you are worrying about, but you might change, how you feel might change, and wonders do happen, right? I just don’t think anyone can go wrong with prayer.”

I gave this advice in conversation with a parishioner more than 20 years ago in my first pastoral assignment. I don’t know where the idea came from. I just heard it flow out of my mouth. I’ve reflected on that office visit many times in the years since, especially while training as a psychotherapist. The parishioner reported to me later that the suggestion was helpful. She was still a worrier, but spent less time worrying and suffered less in her feelings of dread. She also felt closer to God, especially when she prayed this way. I suspect she also became clearer about her fears and less afraid of them. I admit I’m often inconsistent in applying my own counsel, but when I am praying this way, I feel more peaceful. The worry cycle turns into prayer.

Bringing God into the worrying state of mind changes our experience of the suffering in worry. The feeling of dread precedes worry. The dread, or anticipation of a worrying episode is what I called the ‘worry mode’ all those years ago. I’ve since learned this is a kind of ‘anxiety’ that starts a worrying thought pattern. The important step for a believer to practice is recognizing the experience of dread as it comes on and reinterpreting the dread as a call to prayer. Developing a habit of interpreting a feeling of dread as God’s call to pray results in turning a dark and fearful experience into a light and hopeful one.

The painfully repetitious quality of worry often has very little to do with the number of dreaded ideas. Typically, the time spent in worry results in increased fear and no progress in clarity or insight. By inserting an ‘O my God’ and an ‘Amen’ into the worrying thought process, a limit is imposed that can weaken the cycle of repetition. Psychotherapists will often call this repetition ‘rumination’ or ‘perseveration.’ Praying with someone who is worried can begin a healing process. By inviting them to “pray out your worries and we’ll raise them together to God,” together you can break into the loneliness of worry. The cruelest part of worry is the isolation. When a lone worrier prays, they act on the hope that they are not alone; that God is with them. That hope, by grace, turns into trust.

Praying our worries will bring us more clarity than ordinary fretting. Because we are addressing our worries to God, the worrier will experience a greater degree of accountability for understanding them. Is there any prayer than will not deepen our relationship with God? Who will doubt that our very psychology was created so that we would benefit from prayer?

Forrest Parkinson M.Div, MSW, LP, is pastor of Community Church of Little Neck and a licensed psychoanalyst, having studied at Blanton Peale Institute. He holds an MSW from SUNY, Stony Brook and will complete training as a Spiritual Director in June, 2016. He counsels teens, adults, and couples at our sites in Advent, NYC and in Mineola.
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