“Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done marvelous deeds.” – Psalms 98: 1
Over Christmas, as our family sat waiting for Mass to begin, the choir was singing a different version to a song I’ve always loved. Hearing it with new words and a slightly varied melody made this old favorite a ‘new song’ of sorts, for me.
As the soloists took turns with each verse, I found myself hanging on each word anew to hear the story they were singing unfold (though the story itself–the nativity story–was also an old familiar one).
Then, this week, as I read the readings from the lectionary, I kept seeing this Psalm repeated throughout the week’s readings. And I kept thinking of that old familiar song our church choir sang anew, and I couldn’t help but make a connection between it being a new year, and the desire to want to start so many things in a new way as we humans do. Perhaps one of the most important things we can make new, though, is our prayers.
It is no secret that our prayers are not meant to change God, but rather to change us…change our hearts, change our thoughts, change our focus to something better, higher, more holy than we might first imagine. So, what better way to start that change, than by approaching our prayer life…our “song” to God, if you will…in a new way?
Here are a few simple ideas:
- Start praying. If you haven’t made prayer (conversation with God) a regular part of your daily life, then make this the year you start. Pick something you naturally do each day that will trigger you to remember your prayer time. I have a friend who always said her prayers in the shower because it was the one thing she knew she would do consistently every day!
- Go the opposite. If you already have a prayer life established, we can still get into ruts from time to time. Has your prayer life become a list of complaints to God? Try telling him instead what you are grateful for! Has your prayer life become a long litany of you asking God for things you’d like to see him do? Try asking God what he would like you to do…and take some quiet time to wait for the stirring in your heart that just may be his reply.
- Go simple. If conversation with God seems unnatural to you, try starting with what’s familiar to you. Perhaps you are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary but you don’t really know what they mean or how they came to be. Use this opportunity to do some research and find the true beauty and depth of humility in these simple words. Or, if formal prayer doesn’t seem natural to you, but you don’t think you can come up with your own words, you can google prayers for all kinds of things! (The internet isn’t all bad, you know.) There is no shame in using someone else’s words for a while until you can find your own.
- Keep at it. It is easy to think that once we’ve tried something a few times, “we’ve got this” but only the slightest of interruptions to our schedule, can find us going hours, days, or weeks without prayer, and we simply forget to begin again or build it back into our daily life. Even more common is to simply grow bored with prayer, because it is easy to fall into the trap of believing our prayers are going unheard or unanswered (because we are used to immediate results) so when we don’t get results, we give up. Prayer is not something (in many cases) that will change us over night. Instead, like a newly planted seed, it is something that takes patience and persistence and faith before we’ll see the “fruits” of our labor.
- Accept imperfection. It’s easy to think that when we are doing new, we want to “get it right.” God is so much bigger than you or I that he can do very much with our very little! This means that when words flow beautifully from you and you can pour your heart out to God, God understands and hears you! But, also, when no words come, only tears and pain in your heart… God also understands and hears you! God doesn’t need us to be perfect in our prayer. God only needs us to make ourselves available to him.
In a way, we are all beginners when it comes to prayer. Whether we have “prayed without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) as Paul urged the people of Thessalonica to do long ago, or whether today is our first day in years (or ever!) of saying a prayer, let us remember that our goal is simply to make some time to offer ourselves to God.
He is sure to notice.
And in doing so, may we discover (whether for the first time, or again and again), that prayer really does change us. Sometimes in shocking, mind-blowing, dramatic ways. And sometimes in small, but welcoming ways…like an old song, heard new.