Confessions of a Prayer Worrier

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

Black and white photograph of a worried-looking personI’m a prayer junkie. I pray when I hear the wailing of an ambulance, while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, or when I’m watching the evening news. I have so many people on my prayer list that I can’t possibly pray for them all in one day. I pray so frequently and so habitually that I’ve caught myself praying for fictional characters in a movie. Now that’s embarrassing!

My prayers ramped up big time the moment I became a mother. Years later, as the rapidly aging, single mother of two adopted children, I feel both tremendously blessed and incredibly challenged. Like any mother, I want my teenage girls to launch well, to know that they will reach adulthood as people who can take care of themselves and others. Because both have special needs, I worry about how difficult this might be. What will happen to them when I’m no longer around?

It’s not just children who make me anxious. My list of “things and people to worry about” is a long one, full of dramatic and difficult situations. It pretty well maps my prayer list. I’m sure you have your list, too, and it may be far longer than mine. Like you, I’m not dreaming this stuff up. Our challenges are real and pressing.

The other day while I was praying, I asked God to take away anything that keeps me from experiencing him more deeply. As I prayed, I imagined myself trying to remove a thick rind around my heart. Though I was trying to pull it off, it kept snapping back in place, too strong to yield to my small efforts. What was this thing that had formed a barrier between me and God? As I prayed, it seemed evident that my heart was wrapped up tight in layer upon layer of worry. I had a sense that getting free from its controlling power would be a process rather than an event. I would need to keep coming back to God for help.

Lately I’ve begun to wonder about how my anxiety might be affecting the way I pray for people. Are my efforts at prayer powered by worry and stress? Have I become more of a “prayer worrier” than a “prayer warrior,” a person who not only works like everything depends on her but prays that way too? How many of my prayers reflect a desire to control outcomes, especially for people close to me? Why do I find it so hard to endure messy situations if that’s what it takes for someone to know Christ? Do I ask God how he wants me to pray and then give him space to answer?

By asking myself these questions, I’m hoping to expose what’s really driving me so that I can find a better way to pray—a way that’s open to the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. The Apostle Paul urges us to pray about every situation. That means that we should all become prayer junkies. But he also tells us not to be anxious. But if my prayer lists equals my worry list, how can I not be anxious when I pray?

Perhaps the key to dealing with our anxiety comes from what Paul says last, that we are to present our prayers with thanksgiving. Gratitude turns us back to God and away from our problems. Expressing thanks gives us time to calm down and remember who God is.

Giving thanks to God when your heart is smothered in anxiety isn’t an easy thing to do. Our worried thoughts are like little rats running around on a spinning wheel. But if we want to stop the rats from taking over, if we want to become prayer warriors rather than prayer worriers, let’s remember to start every day by thanking God. Let’s start right now.

(Image courtesy of kikis_86 at freeimages.com)

 
Originally published June 15, 2015.

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