“How do you pray?” she asked me.
I wanted to say, whoa! That’s like asking Mitt Romney or Newt Gingerich for their tax returns. How I pray is my business. Personal, private, not open to inspection.
I plunged in and told her my morning routine for my quiet time before I plunge into the day, if “plunge” can be used to describe my often slow start to the day. It takes a while for all muscles and bones, and even my brain, to fully cooperate. They need a little encouragement.
But she wanted more detail. So I showed her the template I use for prayer many mornings. I have typed out an outline for prayer attached to a piece of cardboard so it won’t get lost in the maze of papers and files on my desk.
“So you have a cheat sheet!” she pronounced gleefully.
A cheat sheet? I hadn’t thought of it that way. And why not? When I was teaching I sometimes told students they could bring in a cheat sheet the size of a postcard, or, if I was feeling magnanimous, the size of two postcards, or even more. By organizing their information in miniscule writing, they were probably studying harder than usual.
My prayer cheat sheet is letterhead-size. When the page becomes too messy with handwritten changes, I make corrections on my computer and print out a new one.
I like my cheat sheet. I don’t think God minds that I need a little help those mornings when my mind is wandering or time is limited.
I start with “Good morning, God almighty. Good morning, Jesus the Christ. Good morning, Holy Spirit.” By using the words “Good morning” I’m starting a conversation. I say “Good morning” to the desk clerk or the parking valet, never “How are you?”, those empty words tossed into the atmosphere that don’t expect a reply anyway.
I speak first to God. “Almighty God, I worship you as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Organizer.” Some people pray only to Jesus. I include the Godhead.
Next I address Jesus as “ the risen Christ, Redeemer, Conqueror of evil, sin and death.” I admit my cheat sheet reveals my theology. Then, on to the Holy Spirit, often forgotten, whom I address as “the source of all wisdom and power, as the one who gives me strength, who makes me holy” – when I am holy-- who “guides me into all truth, who empowers me, who prays for me.”
Next I turn to each member of the Trinity for specific requests. I want to be aware of God’s presence throughout the day. I move through my cheat sheet, adding details, omitting items as the Spirit moves.
I try to mention each child and grandchild by name. My mother told me once she remembered every grandchild's name (all 18) by praying for them daily. I never want to forget one of mine.
Why do I do this? Because my inner life is nourished through these quiet moments, my regular reading of devotional literature and Scripture. Because prayer is a way of living with hope.
People my age tend to give up hope too soon as if life, when you’re bent, out of shape and feel forgotten, no longer has something to offer. To pray means that this day has promise. This day can bring God’s strength and joy into my life. Hope is what it is all about when you are an octogenarian.
Every once in a while I reread Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning to set my inner life on course once again. His words once gave me hope after my husband died suddenly leaving me with four young children to support and raise.
Frankl points out that he noticed that when he was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II those fellow prisoners who chose to live in the past, believing life no longer had anything to offer them, were the first to die. When prisoners gave up hope in those most dismal circumstances where everything was decided for them – when to get up, what to wear, what to eat, what work to do – they soon let go. When they realized that life still expected something of them in this hell-hole – the responsibility of deciding their attitude toward what was going on – they had more chances of hanging on.
So my cheat sheet gives me a path through the sometimes waylessness of life. I don’t think God minds. It's not perfect, but it helps.
Good morning, God almighty. Good morning, Jesus the Christ. Good morning, Holy Spirit. Sometimes just those few words are enough to set me on track for the day.