Prayer, like meditation, can be a powerful tool to calm the mind and body during difficult and scary times—or at any time really. Praying is not just a religious expression, it can be helpful to non-religious people equally.
Whether or not you are religious, prayer can be a healing process. As Susan wrote in End the Struggle and Dance With Life, “The healing effects of prayer, even for those who do not believe in God, have been documented in a number of scientific studies and it is hard to deny the evidence. So pray to the Spirit or Higher Self within or simply to the grand mystery of it all. But don’t negate the potential power of prayer in your life. It can be an awesome force, indeed.”
Prayer is essentially a type of meditation. The benefits of meditation—reducing stress, increasing patience and tolerance, reducing negative emotions, promoting good mental health—are well known and well documented. The benefits from prayer are the same. Where in meditation you are meant to focus on your breath or a specific thought, prayer is focused on something outside yourself.
A 2005 study published by the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that spiritual forms of meditation to be more calming than regular meditation. Prayer allows you to give up or give over your burdens to a Higher Power, helping you to feel more connected with the world around you.
But not all prayers are created equal. “There are many ways that people pray. And while there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to pray, I believe that some prayers can create confusion and distrust while others can create an incredible sense of power and love. Needless to say, it’s important to learn the difference!” said Susan.
What she meant by this is that when we pray with a specific need in mind—I need a job/girlfriend/vacation—we are petitioning our Higher Power to be our savior to give us what we want, or as Susan put it so distinctly, our “delivery boy.” These types of prayers come from fear, anger, neediness, disappointment, and other negative emotions.
Susan said, “Petitionary prayers do not do the job of ending our struggle—whether they have loving sentiments behind them or selfish ones. The simple reason for this is that sometimes they are answered and sometimes they’re not.” When people use this type of prayer, they are showing that they do not trust the power they are praying to. They are setting up expectations and will likely be disappointed.
To get the most benefits from prayer, Susan suggested three types that can help us get past the petitionary prayers to really get in touch the Divine energy outside of ourselves. These are:
- Prayers of Trust
- Prayers of Gratitude
- Prayers of Communion
Petitionary prayers show that we don’t trust the Grand Design. “We don’t trust the rhyme or reason for things that happen in our lives and in the lives of others we care about. We don’t trust the great wisdom of the Universe. We ask for things to be OUR way, not God’s way,” wrote Susan. We are not trusting the ability of the Divine energy to lead us in the best direction.
A prayer of trust can show us how to hold the Higher Power in our hearts, making the fear and disappointment disappear. A prayer of trust is like an affirmation that you are telling the Divine energy. It’s showing that you understand that you may not know what’s best for you, but that you are willing to trust.
A prayer of gratitude should be self-explanatory. It’s giving thanks before a meal, it’s acknowledging the blessings we have in our lives. According to Susan, “Infusing our prayers with gratitude is a wonderful way to notice all that we have been given. When we are grateful, peace enters our hearts and our neediness abates.”
A prayer of communion is more about listening than telling. “Prayers of communion need not have any words. They are simply about being in the presence of the radiant Spirit of a Higher Power. The feeling of being lost in this world totally vanishes. We are Home and we are safe,” wrote Susan. When we allow ourselves space to just listen, not necessarily with our ears but with our soul, we will be able to feel a connectedness to the world around us.
Whatever way you pray, know that the benefits will spill over into all the areas of your life. Regular prayer can help us stay connected with the Divine energy that is always around us, no matter what is happening at any moment. As Susan put it so eloquently, “We need only to tap into this Divine Presence to find an exquisite piece of ‘Heaven’ that we can take into our hearts and radiate out to everyone whose life touches ours. In this place, our fear disappears and is replaced by an intense sense of love and caring.”
When you are stressed and fearful, remember that a few minutes of prayer can help you connect to the world around you in a more loving, helpful way.