I came up with the term “broken-record prayer syndrome” shortly after my husband and I began praying out loud together. The main symptom of this disease is repeating the same lists of praises and pleas every day, ad nauseam. After a few weeks, I realized this terrible malady had made my prayer life boring and tinged our morning prayers with a haunting sense of deja vu.
Every day, I rattled off the first few thoughts on my mind: Keep my husband safe today, watch over us, guide us, etc. While these are fine requests, they don’t really get into the depths of my heart, which is the very place I think God is most interested in reaching.
As my symptoms progressed, I started to worry that I’d never have a vibrant prayer life again!
One day, in the middle of sharing my sorrows with a friend, I realized the problem: I was playing it safe in my relationship with God. It was scary to share the deeper, messier parts of me, so I was sticking to the “safer prayers” instead. Somehow, I had forgotten that I have the freedom to fully express my needs, wants, and desires in God’s presence. After all, God is surely big enough to handle anything I can throw at him.
So, I’ve found myself in the interesting position of praying about my prayers. As I’ve asked God for help in my battle against broken-record prayer syndrome, he has been faithful to answer.
Here are three ways God has helped me reinvigorate my prayer life:
1. Enter the silence
Morning prayer time with my husband is often rushed. We sit on the couch and quickly jump right in, one eye on the clock to make it to work on time. Sometimes we’re running so late that we pray in the car or over the phone. While God surely accepts these offerings, it isn’t a conducive environment for deep, heartfelt prayers.
So, we’re making a few small changes in our morning routine to allow ourselves to enter more fully into our prayer time. The alarm goes off a bit earlier and the coffee machine is set on auto-brew. We sit down knowing we have plenty of time to pray.
Now that we’re arriving to our prayer time earlier, we can take a few deep breaths before we begin. Hitting pause before we even start makes it harder to just ramble off the first few things on my mind. When we sit in silence for a few minutes, it’s easier to hear both God’s voice and our deepest desires. So, we remind ourselves that we’re in the presence of God and ask him to help us quiet ourselves before his throne.
2. Be a detective of grace
As poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning says: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Being a detective of grace requires giving up my addiction to rushing, running, and cramming my schedule so overly full. Detectives need time to fully evaluate situations, look around, and take stock of what they see.
God’s presence is all around us, yet we so often miss the treasure in plain sight. When we start to look for signs of God’s love in this world, he is faithful to reveal it to us. And once we start recognizing God at work, we find more and more to pray about and be thankful for every day.
For example, I have a beautiful azalea plant in my yard, but I rarely ever noticed it. Once I moved it right next to my front door, however, I began to pause and thank God for its beauty daily. It was evidence of God’s goodness hidden in plain sight.
3. Practice gratitude
My brain has a negative bias: If I receive 10 compliments and one complaint, I will focus on that complaint. Why did they say that? What could I do better next time? Am I a terrible person? And where attention goes, energy flows. Suddenly, that one complaint is so much bigger in my mind than those ten compliments.
Practicing gratitude is a way of breaking that negative bias by forcing myself to keep track and recall the good things that occur each day. There are many ways to do this:
- Write down five things I’m thankful for each day
- Pray an examen to review where I saw God in the past 24 hours
- Keep a tally in my planner of every time I smile in a day
- Sit for a few minutes before lunch and thank God for each person I interacted with that morning
- Pray with my senses by thanking God for something I saw, touched, smelled, heard, and tasted that day
Entering the silence, being a detective of grace, and practicing gratitude are not ingredients in a magic potion. They are not a fix or a cure. Their purpose is to put me in a position of listening to, waiting on, and seeking for God’s loving presence. It is there that I receive healing for my broken-record prayer syndrome.