Ask and You Might Possibly Receive
Prayer, Sandwich Orders, and Maybe Some Inner Peace.
Sometimes at night, I’ll sit on video calls with some friends while they play video games together. I don’t play video games, so I’m usually doing anything other than paying attention to them, using the voices of my loved ones as a sort of emotionally involved white noise machine.
Because I don’t play video games, I have absolutely no metric by which to determine if my friends are good at video games. I think they’re probably good, but not too good, given the amount of unprintable words and utterances of “please God, please God” that make up the backing track to my evenings.
I was not raised entrenched in the respective spiritual traditions of either side of my family, half Jewish and half Catholic. As such, I never really prayed. I didn’t see much of a point, since I had no basis for thinking anyone would hear, or care.
I don’t think that what my friends are doing when they say “please, God” is praying. It’s a colloquialism, a general idiom of desperation. I really don’t think it’s prayer because it’s surrounded by military jargon and rude sayings about people on the other team. Not that some legitimate prayers also haven’t involved those things, but that’s not what’s going on here.
But recently, more than ever in my largely secular life, I am surrounded by people invoking the language of prayer, even without the sentiment. So when life does what it does and suddenly gets very difficult on multiple fronts all at once, I started to get a little desperate. Talking didn’t help, journaling didn’t help, sitting on the couch watching Frasier helped a little, but wasn’t a sustainable model.
There are some times that inaction is soothing, that accepting your limitations puts you at ease and in your place. I have worn out my fair share of saying “it is what it is,” which, while often true, loses some of its power when the exact problem is that “it is what it is”. Sometimes, you just need to feel like you’re doing something other than watching and waiting for the world to come to you. So I took a page out of the angry gamer’s playbook, and also Aretha Franklin’s, and I said a little prayer.
Wooooahhh, Livin’ On A Prayer
And then I said another. And another. And for about a week straight, I prayed every night. One night, I decided to try out the movie cliche of praying, and I knelt next to my bed, hands clasped, elbows on the bed. That didn’t really change much, but I did get to determine exactly which floorboard next to my bed was creaking.
I wasn’t praying to anyone in particular, in an attempt to be as egalitarian as possible, and because I didn’t want to bet on the wrong horse. I was just asking for something, praying for something, throwing it out in hopes that maybe it would be caught.
The obligatory question that I have to answer is whether or not it worked. Well, nothing that I prayed for yet has happened. No signs, no miracles, no angels crashing through my ceiling (probably for the best since I rent my apartment). Maybe I didn’t have the right ethereal address, or maybe things just get backed up around this time of year.
But something happened, although it was for me, not my prayers. I don’t like asking for things from anybody. Part of this is just me, personally, and part of this is the conditioning I’ve received as a young woman. If you ask for something, on the better side, you run the risk of being seen as needy, incompetent, selfish. On the worse side, you end up having medical issues ignored and dismissed because no one thinks that your pain is real. So asking for something, even ordering food sometimes, turns into a mortifying act. How dare I request something for myself, even if it’s just a sandwich. Okay, oftentimes it’s just a sandwich.
But praying, and praying to no one in particular, didn’t come with those ties of guilt. How freeing it was to unabashedly ask for something, for me, for my loved ones, for the world. If only I felt like this at the deli.
I didn’t feel selfish when I prayed, or needy, or anything that I have been pushed to feel. I was able to identify what I wanted, what I needed, and put it into words, into an ask. Prayer gave me the permission to sit (and sometimes lie down) with what was important to me and not feel ashamed or scrutinized. I know that people say that only God can judge you, but when praying, I didn’t feel like even God had the right to do that.
Like A Prayer
A lot of people will say that something or someone is listening to our prayers. Maybe that’s true, and a part of me hopes that it is. But an equally important component of prayer is the action itself, rather than the result. There’s usually something vulnerable about asking for
something, an admission that someone else has something you need. I say usually because I have been an assistant before, and there are a good many asks that do not come from a place of vulnerability.
To be openly vulnerable in those moments, whether you’re pursuing a concrete result or not, has its own value. Admitting your limitations and lack of control and sending out your own desires is something a lot of us aren’t given space to do on a daily basis.
But the privacy of prayer, at least the way I do it, allows me to revel in that vulnerability, instead of having to guard it. What I want may not come true, maybe not ever, maybe not in my lifetime. But I’m going to ask anyway, I’m going to linger in what I want, and I’m going to admit that there might be something greater than me that could do something about it.
Prayer was borne out of desperation the first time I did it, of feeling like I had to take some other action when other doors were closed to me. But now, it’s almost like meditation. I identify what I need, what I want, and I ask for it. Maybe someone’s listening, maybe they’re not. But I’ll ask for it anyway.
I’m not going to tell you what I prayed for. I know prayer doesn’t work like birthday wishes, but you can never be too careful. But I’m also not going to tell you because it doesn’t matter. Not only do I not want to accidentally get myself into a “The Monkey’s Paw” situation, but I want to pray without the pressure of being heard. I want to ask without waiting to receive. In this situation, at least, I do want to receive my sandwich and not feel guilty about it, too.