You Are Not Alone!
Let’s face it: prayer just isn’t a popular topic. People don’t generally brag about their prayer-lives or gush enthusiastically about the spiritual insights they are developing through their prayers. In fact, unless specifically asked, it is usually not fashionable to even acknowledge socially that one prays, much less how often or in what manner. Instead, people often pray in private, unseen and unheard, even by their closest friends. As a result, a lot of prayerful people may have the sense that they are alone, that they are the only ones who engage in this quaint practice, that they are out of the social mainstream. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In our country, the belief in God and prayer is remarkably common.
According to the prestigious Pew Research Center, 55 out of 100 Americans pray on a daily basis, while another 21 pray at least monthly. Let that sink in for a moment. Half the crowd at the Yankees game last Saturday pray on a daily basis! Tens of millions of Americans seem to find daily communication with the transcendent helpful in the conduct of their lives. If you pray, clearly you are not alone. Indeed, you are part of the majority of Americans who believe in God, consider religion as important, and practice their religions regularly. So, if this is the case, why do you sometimes feel alone?
I’d like to suggest two reasons why prayer seems to be a lonely practice. First, Americans may at times talk about praying but we seem uncomfortable with the idea of people actually doing it. Let me give you a simple example. When my wife died some years ago, well-meaning people frequently told me they would keep me in their prayers. In some cases (e.g. members of the clergy, etc.), I thought they actually meant it and I would reply: “Good! I need all the help I can get”. But usually, I just assumed that people were being comforting and really weren’t going to actually pray for me and I didn’t pursue it. Aside from situations involving painful loss or medical crises, we don’t really seem to like talking about prayer at all. In general, public expressions of personal belief seem uncomfortable for us. Hence, prayer is not a hot topic and we tend to keep the details of our prayer lives quite private.
The second reason why people who pray may feel alone has to do with the perceived meaning of prayer. The Pew 2016 report noted an interesting finding. Out of every 100 American adults, 58 still identify with the religion in which they were raised, while 42 no longer identify with their childhood religion. A significant proportion of Americans don’t identify with religion in a traditional way but prayer may be seen as a traditional religious practice, perhaps conveying a narrower view of the person doing the praying than the reality. Maybe we simply don’t want others to make assumptions about us based on our use of prayer. It may be more comfortable to keep our prayer habits to ourselves.
Let me end with a story about a man who prayed openly and didn’t care what anyone thought. Years ago, I went on a service mission trip to the Dominican Republic. At the end of a few days of work at a very poor village, a young man, the minister of the local church, wanted to have a religious service to thank the members of my team. As the service drew to a close, he walked up to me and, with tears in his eyes, held his hand to my chest and prayed loudly and with evident faith, asking God to bless me and lead me safely home. I was very moved and I’ll never forget the connection he created. But mostly, I’ll never forget his courage and conviction in being true to his beliefs.