Petitionary Prayers of a Child

In End the Struggle and Dance With Life, Susan wrote about the power of prayer—not necessarily as a religious expression, but as a way to connect us to the universe outside ourselves. Here is an excerpt from the book:

When I was a little girl, I used to say the same prayer every night. “Dear God. Please let my Mommy and Daddy live forever.”

Well, my Mommy and Daddy didn’t live forever. And one could say that God let me down. But I’ve learned a lot since then and I know that God didn’t let me down at all. I just “asked amiss.” I didn’t really understand how to pray in a way that is guaranteed to bring me all that I ask for and need. My lack of understanding was bound to bring me disappointment and heartache.

The question is, “How many of us have grown beyond the level of the child when it comes to prayer?” I suspect very few of us. For example, I suspect that some form of the following prayer sounds familiar to many single women today: “Dear God. I am getting older. Please send me a wonderful man to marry so I can begin my family within one year.”

I’ll also wager that a good number of these women insert some adjectives in their prayer such as handsome, rich and generous. (I’m sure that many single men have an equivalent prayer!) Some of us pray that our loved ones get well when they are ill or that we find a job when money is short or that a certain business venture turns out successfully or that we win the lottery, and so on.

Some of us are needy and beg God to give us what we feel we can’t provide for ourselves. Our prayers sound something like “HELP! BAIL ME OUT!” Others of us are more arrogant. We think we know exactly what is right for us and we ask God to be our “delivery boy.” Our prayers sounds something like: “Let me have that job. I know it is perfect for me.”

To make matters worse, not only do we ask God to do it for us; we then worry that He (or She) won’t do it right! Does this sound familiar? I’m here to tell you that:

Any time we are asking God to fill our order, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment!

Prayers such as the above—those that ask for something—are often called “petitionary” prayers. I believe that we set ourselves up for an immense amount of fear, anger, disappointment, and all sorts of other negative emotions when we pray in this way. 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.

Sometimes we get the job; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes our loved ones get well; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes our business is successful; sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we find the man or woman to marry; sometimes we don’t.

As a result we are left with very little peace of mind as we worry, or even obsess, about the outcome of important situations in our lives.

See this month’s article to learn how Susan’s recommended forms of prayer to bring us lightness, connectedness, and joy.