The Evolution of My Relationship to Structured Prayer: Childhood vs. Adulthood

Prayer is something that I both enjoy and resent. I was attracted to it as a child, and in 8th grade committed myself to praying twice a day on Sundays, as was our practice in the Jewish day school I attended. In 10th grade, I took on the 3rd prayer session (Maariv), having recited it all summer as part of the summer teen tour program I attended. (I also dedicated it to my cousin, who was ill at the time).

I like the effusiveness of prayer; the words, the poetic language. I even like the structure.

But I resent the structure when I can’t keep to it—when other things in life take precedent, or get in the way (or at least SEEM TO get in the way).

My daily prayer practice first began to lessen in my mid-20s when I was going on job interviews. Those mornings were busy and I didn’t have time to pray. I was focusing on preparing for my interview AND getting there on time! Also, I had previously adopted the practice of not eating prior to praying and I was finding that an unfed Gila was not as adept at interviewing as a well-fed one.

When I got my 9-5 job, similar concerns/conflicts continued. Now and then I would whip out my phone on the bus/subway and recite some morning prayers. There were even some mornings I had extra time and could take the elevator up to the Jewish chapel in the hospital where I worked and daven (pray) there.

But for the most part, I readily let go of prayer—just another life obligation weighing on me. As a kid, I enjoyed taking on that obligation, but adulthood brought with it many obligations of its own, so my relationship to prayer, as described above, changed with my transition to adulthood responsibilities.

While I felt a sense of relief not having to pray daily anymore, whenever I did get the chance to pray, reciting the words filled my heart with sweet, warm feelings of nostalgia—nostalgia for a past that was much simpler; whereas in my current adult world, the universe lay wide open before me and anything was possible—for better or worse—the shelter of my upbringing having blown away long ago.

While I miss the simplicity and nurturing environment of my childhood, I cherish the relationship to prayer I have in my adult life: because I come to it out of LOVE, rather than out of OBLIGATION or compulsion. I know that my prayer book (or app) is there for me, whenever I desire to open it—and open my heart to its words and sentiments.

This morning was one of those rare occasions that I had some free time and could pray. I pondered my past conflict with prayer as both something I wanted to do and something I resented HAVING to do. And it reminded me of a blog I wrote a few months ago about exercise. I feel/felt the same pressure with exercise as I did with prayer—prayer was just the first experience in which my tendency toward rigidity, self-judgment, and criticism manifested. For so many years I blamed prayer for creating this rigid structure—and surely the nature of daily, obligatory, thrice-daily prayer, reinforced by my childhood educators did contribute to my mindset—but it wasn’t the WHOLE story! I injected further feelings of rigidity and inflexibility into my prayer practice.

While I recited the words in the prayer book this morning, I also PRAYED that I could live in the present moment and enjoy this oasis in time—and NOT pressure myself and create any future expectations with regards to morning prayer.

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