DURING lunch at a restaurant, I overheard a conversation at the other table where there were two boys with their parents. The little boy was complaining, "I don't want to pray. Prayer doesn't work!"
The father asked, "What are you talking about? What do you mean prayer doesn’t work?"
The little boy replied, "I keep praying for Kuya to be good, but he's still bad. He still teases me. Prayer is no good."
Then the mother said, "Remember your Sunday School lesson? Sometimes, when God doesn't answer your prayer, he's telling you to wait and be patient."
It has been a while since I prayed, but hearing this little exchange made me reflect on prayer once more. I was brought up on the ACTS model of prayer -- Adoration (praise), Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (to ask or to petition) ever since I was a kid. I followed this model methodically at first, then I learned to pray as if just having a conversation and I would talk to God at various times during the day as if he were always there beside me.
Then I had a praise and worship phase. I would even lock myself in my room while playing praise music at full blast while singing and dancing to God. I went through a meditation phase where I simply sat in silent reflection and listening.
But I look at things quite differently now.
On adoration -- I do not understand why a god would want people to constantly tell him how great he is, how majestic he is, how powerful he is, and so on and so forth. If you know you’re good, you don't need other people fawning over you all the time. Sure, it's nice to hear people praising you for this and that.
For example, I like it when I get emails from people saying how they enjoy my writing. But if someone starts writing me three times a day, every single day telling me how good I am and how great I am, it won't take me long to press the spam button.
On confession, I understand the value of this as there is some release of guilt being done here. However this can be done in non-religious contexts. One can, for example, confess to a trusted friend, relative or mentor. One can even confess to oneself. I think the primary issue here is not so much the confession but the willingness to let go and forgive oneself.
Learning to forgive myself, to move on, and to accept full responsibility for my life was one of the best things I experienced so far in my short life. Ironically, I experienced it, not in church, but in a non-religious seminar series I attended around three years ago.
On thanksgiving, I once wrote that the best prayer possible would consist of only two words, "thank you," and that still holds true. Many of the people I admire the most have an attitude of gratitude. They are simply thankful for being alive, for the opportunity to breathe and experience life. There is a huge space of acceptance and openness to experience, even "bad" experiences like tragedies and loss, not that we are happy because of the tragedy, but that we are able to survive, move on and grow in spite of it. Being thankful, in its simplest form, is being happy with your life and enjoying every second of it.
On supplication, this seems to me the most discordant of these four types of prayer. If you trust in God to supply your every need and have faith that he knows what is best for you, why do you keep asking for stuff? If you need it, he will give it to you, and if you don't, he won't. That's simple enough, isn't it?
The usual answer I get to this is something along the lines of – God wants to hear you ask, like a parent who wants to hear his children asking for things. But that's not a very satisfying answer. I give my children what they need whether or not they ask for it. It would be quite cruel for me, for example, to let my daughter starve until I hear her ask me for food, and even then, I would not let her ask me again and again until I give it to her.
And so I wonder at the oft-given advice that if your prayers aren’t answered yet, you should keep praying, keep asking, get other people to pray for you or with you, etc. Does God have a quota then of how many times you should pray or how many people should be praying before he grants the request?
Does he have a sincere-o-meter or a faith-meter to gauge whether your prayer meets the desired sincerity or faith level (which is supposed to be just as small as a mustard seed)? I find this quite absurd.
What really works for me now is acceptance, forgiveness, and responsibility. I do what I can to improve myself and make things better. I forgive myself and others for all the shortcomings and broken promises. I accept what life throws at me, and am thankful to be alive to experience it.
Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer, and speaker. Send me your thoughts at email@example.com. If you want to listen to or engage in meaningful discussions, I'm inviting you to the Filipino Freethinkers Davao meetup on April 27 (Saturday) at Café Demitasse, 7:30-9:30 p.m. See details at www.filipinofreethinkers.org.(Andy Uyboco)