by Ross Odegaard
When I was a kid my family went to church. I had fun making things in Sunday school and playing with my friends. We sang songs and said prayers and watched terrible videos from a VHS player on an old television. Everything we learned about Jesus sounded like a fairy tale, carefully presented to us in stunning flannel-graph. The stories stuck with me, and as I got a little older I cared more about what Jesus meant for me. I remember praying at vacation bible school when I was 7, the year my grandfather passed away, asking Jesus to forgive me. My grandfather told me about Jesus a lot when I was little, I figured if he thought Jesus was great, he probably was.
My family moved around a lot my whole life, and we went to church until I was about 14, everything from United Methodist to Southern Baptist. It was quite the experience. I’ve heard people pray in tongues (which was really, really strange), I’ve seen people weep and cry out to God from the pulpit, and I’ve watched “altar calls” at several Christian concerts. I never understood all of that, I’m not sure that I understand any better right now, it never felt real to me. Prayer has always been sort of a one-way conversation in my head. Praying out loud feels strange with other people, like there’s a certain way to do it properly, and I don’t do it right. God has never spoken to me, no matter how still and quiet I am.
I was a part of a Christian organization in college who decided that we would pray because that’s what Jesus did. He often went to lonely places to pray. We prayed a lot. We prayed in small groups. We prayed as a leadership team. We organized 24 hours of prayer – that was really hard, praying at 2am is a foggy, mumbling, sort-of-sleeping experience. I don’t remember what we prayed for, I don’t remember seeing answers to our prayers, but I remember the experience. We were committed to praying together as a group of Christ followers. The content of the prayer was not necessarily life-changing, but coming together with others before the Creator was formative. I prayed out loud, it didn’t sound like other people’s prayers, I didn’t say “dear Lord” 12 times, I didn’t beg for things, I never followed a formula. I always felt out of place. I did it anyway.
What I experienced then I remember now, and hopefully God has used it to form who I am. I don’t pray at a specific time every day, sometimes I don’t pray at all. When I see something beautiful that reminds me we are part of a created world I say thank you. When my kids make me laugh I remember Jesus wants such good things for us and I ask Him for more, for me, for them. I pray that God would use the pain I experience to change me. I don’t understand pain, or how it will change me, but it has to be good for something, so I ask. I pray with other people, I’m often silent. When people I care about have painful and challenging experiences I ask Jesus to make it better, I hurt with them and weep for them. I try not to cry in public, a six foot, 280 pound man doing that makes people feel uncomfortable, sometimes that’s why I don’t pray out loud.
Life is hard, beautiful, messy, confusing, and different than I hope and expect more often than not. Maybe I don’t see everything that the Creator has done, maybe I don’t know where to look, maybe I’m not sure I’m doing it right. Whatever I pray though, I think Jesus hears me, I believe He cares, that He wants such good things for me, even if he’s silent.