“Dear God, thank you for princesses and hair bows and toys and glitter paint and books and Mommy and Daddy and shoes and bikes. God, thank you for everything! Amen.” – Piper, age 4
My prayer life has never been very strong. I’m great at saying grace at a meal and quick “Help, Lord!” and “Thank you, God!” moments during the day, but settling myself to pray for even a short period of time is not my strength. But, I find that I’ve been talking to God a lot lately. I’ve been praying to God most evenings right before falling asleep. It’s the last thing I do before my head hits the pillow. I turn off my bedside lamp, sit cross-legged in the middle of my bed and talk to God…out loud. That’s really all praying is, isn’t it? Talking to God? I talk to God out loud, as if I’m having a conversation with another person. I used to think my prayers needed to ‘sound good’ and carry the same formality I experience in Sunday morning worship services. That the only way to pray was to rehearse and use ‘big’ words. But, praying is just being real. I mean, God already knows what I’m going to say anyway, doesn’t He? When I stopped putting pressure on myself to have perfectly worded prayers, I realized how organic and unrehearsed and even messy my prayers can be. They’re authentic and beautiful and exactly the way God wants me to talk to Him.
In my prayers each night, I first thank God for all of the joys from the day. Even when I think I’ve had the most ordinary day, reflecting on specific events and interactions helps me remember small moments that made that day unique. I often take these gifts for granted, but God lives in the ordinary. These moments are the very essence of God at work in my life. Pausing to recognize them has been very powerful. For keeping me safe on the road; for a productive day at work; for a sweet note from a friend; for the blessing of making music; for time set apart to relax and recharge. This is a time of praise; a time of worship. Prayer is worship. Laying this foundation of gratefulness helps to center me and see God at work in my life.
I then transition to prayers for others and concerns in my own life. Who in my life has a prayer concern? Who has God placed on my heart? What am I struggling with? Doing this at bedtime is wonderful because after I say my amens and my head hits the pillow, my prayers are repeated in my head as I drift off to sleep. I breathe them in and out. Repeating prayers for peace and healing for loved ones and their loved ones brings me comfort as I drift off to dreamland. I feel most connected to God during these moments in my prayer time.
I’ve painted a beautiful picture here, but this is not an every-night occurrence for me and the length of my prayers varies greatly from one night to the next. I’m talking to God more than I used to, though, which is the goal. Some nights I’m just so tired and can barely utter an ‘amen,’ let alone reflect on my thanksgivings and burdens from the day. At these times I just check in and tell God that I’m tired, pray for a good night’s sleep and for renewed energy to greet me the next morning. Some nights I don’t know what to say about a person or situation. I simply bring it forth as a prayer request and tell God that this person or situation is on my heart and I just wanted to tell Him that. I think He gets it. I think He understands me even when I pray and can’t find any words to pray with. I think praying through sighs and tears and balled up fists are just as powerful as having the rights words to express what I want to say. Often, this is when I’m being my most honest. That’s what God wants. Honesty. Authenticity. All of me. What a blessing that He understands me no matter how I communicate with him.
So, I talk about wanting to be in love and feeling left behind. I’m certain that my 20-year-old self wouldn’t believe that I would be at this point in my life and haven’t found ‘the one.’ I guess I haven’t been brave. I haven’t put myself out there. I’ve been too shy. Well, that is, until a little over a year ago. That was when I went out looking for love. Intentionally looking for it. Last month, I ended my one-year journey with an online dating service. ‘Why would you cancel now? That seems like the perfect way to meet a guy!’ many people would ask. I joined because I was always curious about it and have had countless conversations with friends and colleagues who said they knew someone who met their boyfriend or husband online. I joined because I wanted to take a risk; I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. I didn’t want to look back later in life and regret not giving it a try. So, I signed up.
It wasn’t an awful experience. It was exciting to meet someone new and see where it might lead, but I honestly learned more about myself than through my connections with my ‘matches.’ This was an unexpected result, for which I am grateful. My experiences saw three categories of guys: those I reached out to, but who didn’t reach back; those who needed an instantaneous connection with me and wanted to hear wedding bells within the first few dates; and those who were so socially awkward, I was embarrassed for them. I will say that with one guy in particular, I caught a glimpse of how I want to be treated in a relationship; how I should be treated. To be the one who’s chased, and not the other way around. It felt good. It made me feel special and wanted.
Even still, I had total peace about clicking the ‘cancel membership’ button. It was without a doubt the right decision for me at this time. I can define the reason why in one word – – authenticity. Online dating lacks the authenticity I desire. It feels so forced. I have no idea who these guys are. We don’t have any mutual friends; we weren’t friends first; we didn’t see each other from across a room or share a smile or conversation that drew us to each other. We are complete strangers who are brought together because a computer thinks we’re compatible. I just don’t think it’s for me.
Maybe I’m analyzing this to death. It really is just a way of meeting new people. I can choose to be as involved as I want to be. I can make it what I want. But, the time I spent trying these guys out was precious time taken away from the already-strong relationships in my life. Do I really want it THAT bad? Do I want to feel like I am consistently on the hunt for that perfect guy? I honestly don’t think I do. I want it to be an authentic experience. I want to be friends with a guy and then fall in love. I want it to feel natural and not feel like a dating service is in control of setting expectations for what it should look like. So, even though I bawled like a baby after clicking the ‘cancel’ button, I felt relief at the same time. I was sad that the journey did not produce the results I was hoping for, but I gained a deeper understanding of who I am and where my priorities lie. For now, I’m done with that time-consuming process, but not done with being open to finding love.
So, this summer, I’m focusing on those in my life who I already love and care for so much. Pool time, bike rides, coffee talk, dinner, movies with my favorite peeps. Giving up online dating is not a forever decision; just a right now decision. For now, I know that being present with my friends and family is what I need. That’s me being authentic, and it feels right.