I am so thankful that the mothers’ group at my church resumed our meetings today. I love those women and have been so blessed by their companionship over the last few years.
For the next 6-7 weeks, a woman from our church (who is also trained as a therapist) is going to be leading us in a study on pleasing people vs. pleasing God. The gist is that we (Christians) are to fear God instead of fearing man, and when we do the latter, we start to become “people pleasers.” The study is based on two books: Pleasing People: How Not to Be an Approval Junkie and When People Are Big and God Is Small. (I own the latter and am planning to read through it again.) I know that when I swing toward the “fear of man” end of the spectrum, two of the characteristics I notice in myself are fear of being exposed as an impostor and being easily embarrassed. And how I feel is very easily described using a very typical Christian scenario: group prayer.
If you ever want to see me squirm, to know that you’ve just thrown me into a state of anxiety, then spontaneously ask me to close a meeting or Bible study in prayer. My heart will immediately start to pound, my hands will get clammy, and I’ll begin to fumble for words. Part of the problem is that I’m not really fluent in the sort of grand prayer speak commonly heard in Protestant circles, but I feel like if I don’t use it, people will find my prayer–and, thus, me–lacking and immature (hence the whole impostor thing). I also tend to keep my out-loud prayers short. However, because I have it in my head that other people think prayers need to be a certain length to be worthy, I end up blabbering on and on to reach my perceived quota.
If it happens to the kind of group prayer where everyone takes turns praying as they feel moved to, it’s still bad. I can’t focus on anything except my nerves and planning out my own prayer. Sometimes I end up choosing not to pray in that situation, but then I worry that others are noticing my silence. Surely they must think I’m slacking off by not joining in! If I do pray, then I’ll undoubtedly spend the drive home from the meeting dwelling on how I misspoke or said something stupid–and imagining the others rushing home to share with their spouse the ridiculous thing that I said during prayer time. Or maybe I heard a few murmurs of assent or a whispered “Yes, Lord” during my prayer, which will bring me great relief that at least I got something right.
Yes, I know how absurd and pathetic this all sounds.
I understand deep down inside that other people aren’t critiquing my prayer technique, and if they happen to be, well, then that’s more of a reflection on them than on me. I also know that my prayers, while perhaps not the most eloquent, are probably just fine–or as fine as any other sinner’s. But the biggest problem is that focus of prayer should not me and my “performance,” and it is certainly not something that’s meant to torture me. Rather, prayer glorifies God. It is “the key privilege of adoption that we enjoy now” (Boice). We have access to God and can approach Him as our Father! But prayer should always be offered to God, so when I am so concerned about what others think about my prayers, am I actually approaching God?
I confess that my fear of group prayer probably signifies inadequacies in my personal prayer life. There is no shortage of excuses when one is the busy mother of young children. But the fact is that if I can make time to watch Top Chef and 30 Rock, then I have time to pray. And maybe as my private communion with God increases, I will be more focused on God–and less centered on me and what others think of me–during group prayer settings.