Grace's Adventures in Prayer

Right, SCM. I have a confession to make.

I do not like praying. Being asked to write a prayer for something takes a disproportionate amount of effort and makes my skin crawl. Being asked to lead prayer makes me immediately search for the nearest exit. Having to come up with a prayer on the spot to say out loud in front of other human beings? I can’t even come up with something to compare it to. My mind immediately goes blank. Every thought I’ve ever had about praying or God retreats into a black hole from which there is no return (at least, until someone else promises to take care of the praying). I can’t even manage to put the words together. My least favourite part of my job as Chaplaincy Assistant was having to lead prayers once a month. Even though it was just me and the other chaplains, people who I liked and trusted and who supported me wholeheartedly, it made me want to curl up into a tiny ball and crawl into the nearest hole and never come out. And that was just having to read things from a prayer book.

I don’t even like praying on my own. Silent prayer is better, but it still feels either artificial and rote, running through the same basic petitions I’ve used since childhood (please don’t let my family die, look after my dog, take care of my friend who is struggling with their mental health, please don’t let me pass out from anxiety in this church service), or it feels entirely pointless.

I’ve realised in the past few weeks that I don’t understand prayer. Despite the fact that I was raised by two active churchgoers who cared deeply about my Christian education, somehow this understanding slipped through the cracks. None of the explanations I’ve ever been given made sense to me. Maybe they worked for everyone else in my Sunday School class, but I just nodded along without any idea of what people were talking about. What’s a prayer life? I have no idea. What is the point of prayer? No one has ever been able to explain this sufficiently.

So I don’t pray. I’ve been a Christian my entire life and I almost never pray outside of congregational prayer in services. I do anything to avoid having to pray aloud or pray with other people. It makes me feel profoundly uncomfortable and deeply confused.

Part of this, I think, must be tied to the fact that I am autistic.

I struggle to do anything that I can’t understand the purpose of, no matter how many people tell me I have to do it. We’re all familiar with the tendency of small children to endlessly ask why. My brain does that all day long, about pretty much everything. And the more someone tells me to do something I don’t understand, the less I want to do it.

Most of the vague platitudes people dole out as explanations for the purpose of prayer fill me with a sense of ‘no thanks’. And people who offer to pray with me? Even more no thanks. Anyone who attempts to pray ‘over’ me, or while touching me? It’s all I can do to not have a panic attack. It’s one of the many, many reasons I will probably never be able to attend a service from any of the denominations that heavily use laying on of hands in prayer.

In any case, I’ve decided to do something about it this Lent. As part of our focus on disability and especially neurodivergence this semester, I’m going to be doing a weekly blog about my journey through learning what prayer is, what it looks like for me, and how to pray out loud in a way that doesn’t confuse neurotypical people and also doesn’t make me want to cry.

If you have any suggestions of prayer styles for me to try, resources to check out, or if you want to share your own experiences with prayer (regardless of how your brain works), please comment on social media or get in touch