by Bronwyn Lea
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
“I wish I was better at prayer.”
I’ve sighed this to myself so often. I get overwhelmed by the news, by work, by the demands of my children, and the heartbreak of the world. I know I should pray because God has promised he hears and he answers, and because my heart needs to grow its trust-muscle… but so often I get stuck, not knowing what to say or what to pray. What if I am praying for the wrong thing? Or with insufficient faith, given that I’m asking one “able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine?” (Ephesians 3:19-20)
As a writer, I sometimes open my computer and sit staring at the blinking cursor of a new open document, not knowing how to start. ‘Writer's block’, they call it. Well, sometimes I have ‘Prayer’s Block’, as if there were a blinking spiritual cursor in my soul, and even though there are 10,000 things to lift to God in prayer, in that moment I can’t think of a single one.
I take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in this. After seeing the way Jesus prayed, and realizing their prayer life looked nothing like that, his disciples asked him outright: “Lord, teach us how to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
Jesus responded by teaching them the Lord’s prayer: a simple pattern for prayer that goes right to the heart of the things that really matter: God’s person and purposes, and asking for his pardon, protection, and provision as his dependent children. I have prayed those 57 words again and again, trusting that my prayers don’t need to be sophisticated or lengthy to be heard.
And, as I keep asking God to teach me to pray when I get stuck, I’ve been comforted by discovering that sometimes the prayer I need to pray in that moment can be even shorter than those 57 words in the Lord’s Prayer. Called “breath prayers” by many, I’m learning to pray little phrases of truth from Scripture: one on the inhale, and one on the exhale; and leave it to the Holy Spirit to fill in the blanks, just as he has promised to do (Romans 8:26).
The first time I heard of breath prayer was from the pastor who leads our small group. “I pray this several times a day,” he said. “It’s called ‘the Jesus prayer’, and is taken from Luke 18:38. It says “Jesus, son of David (breathe in), have mercy on me (breathe out).”
At first this seemed a strange sentence to turn into a whole prayer; as awkward as a poorly-fitted sweater on my tongue. But I quickly learned the difference it could make to take one deep breath in a moment of stress, and turn it into prayer. In the inhale, I was acknowledging the presence and Lordship of the one who is near, and on the exhale bowing in humility, and asking for help.
Over the following months, I found myself exploring some new breath prayers; some from scripture, some from other believers, some just from the depths of my heart.
“I believe (inhale). Help my unbelief (exhale).” (Mark 9:24)
“You are God (inhale). I am not (exhale).”
“You are with me right now (inhale). Thank you (exhale).”
“I feel invisible (inhale). Thank you that you see me (exhale).”
“You made my body (inhale). I will honor and care for it (exhale).”
“This is hard (inhale). I will wait to see your hand in it, Lord (exhale).”
Again and again, God reminds me that relationship with him is not a formula. Just like in a friendship there’s time for deep heart-to-hearts and catch-ups… there are also times for quick check-ins and texts. A quick breath is all it takes to reconnect and remember He’s there and I’m his, and come what may - that’s the anchor for my soul.
Bronwyn Lea is the author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World, a Propel book club pick. Find more 5-second prayers on instagram and facebook, and sign up for her newsletter of musings and favorite recommendations here.