“But I have to say something! I need to speak!” This is what I hear from my 3-year-old little mister after I tell him, “No, that’s enough, do not ask again”, after he has asked fifty million times to eat tons of candy, or if he can watch television at midnight, or if he can take off all his clothes in public.
“I need to speak.” He tells me this through little clenched teeth, like he’s holding his words in and if he doesn’t utter them they will explode out of his chest. “Okay”, I tell him, “Say it.” And he will, for the five million and oneth time, ask me for something that he knows he will not get.
And this is me. I stopped praying after my sister died. I had been raised to believe that if I had faith enough to fill a mustard seed, I could move mountains. I prayed every night. I prayed for forgiveness for every sin that I imagined I did. I prayed for blessings for everyone. I prayed prayers of thanks if something good happened to me. But mostly I prayed when I wanted things to change.
I can remember the first time I prayed desperately and vehemently. I was probably about six or seven years old, and in an attempt to bring my parents some joy, I prayed that I would wake up the next morning and be a baby again. An infant. I wanted them to smile and hold me and forget any troubles they ever had. I wanted to make them happy. I can remember praying so hard that sweat rolled down my back. I can remember lying in bed and crying and pleading. I had faith to fill ten mustard seeds.
When I woke up the next morning, still very much six years old, I laid in bed and sobbed.
I prayed when my sister was dying. I prayed and I begged. I prayed out loud in the hospital. I cursed, and I knew. I knew that my prayers were just whispers. I knew they weren’t going anywhere. And maybe it was the doubt that came in when I woke up in my bed at six years old, but I knew I was all alone.
When my sister died I felt completely betrayed and lied to. Everything I had ever been told was a lie, a trick, and I felt so supremely ignorant. There was no giant man in white robes with outstretched arms who could both love me if I obeyed, and torture me if I sinned. I had been made to feel guilt for actions that were natural. I had been told stories that warped my perception of who I am. I felt full of rage for being made to feel that I was being taken care of by a giant father, and that the sins that I had committed were causing me to suffer.
I felt cut off and I refused to ever pray again.
Sometimes prayers would enter into my mind and I would stop them, “No. That’s not real. No one is there to hear that.” And I would move on and go forward except with something that felt like a sore and tender part in my chest and emotions that were almost always on the verge of tears.
When people would talk about God or religion I would smile, but inside I would think of their ignorance and pity them. All the while something inside of me felt like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter. Something like anxiety and fear and anger. Like a dog in a corner.
This past year, though, I have been allowing myself to let go. The caged dog inside of me yells out, “I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY! I NEED TO SPEAK!”, and I say, “Okay, it’s okay to believe in God. It’s okay to pray. You can pray.” And slowly, I have allowed myself to whisper prayers.
I don’t pray like I used to. When I used to pray I would imagine a giant man with a beard sort of smiling at me and sort of frowning who would nod as my words entered his ears. Now, when I pray, I think of the stars. I think of the blackness of the sky and I think of spaces that exist deep inside of the earth. I imagine energy flowing out of me. I imagine all the people of the earth and all of the animals and I pray to them. I wish for them. I used to start off my prayers with “Dear God” and ended them with “Amen”. Now, when I need to speak, I just speak. I speak almost constantly. I look at the sunshine and I thank it for it’s beauty. I look at the road and imagine the hands that built it and thank those people for their hands. I look at my sweet little babies and I thank their souls and I thank their hands and I thank their noses. I also thank myself, I thank myself for allowing me to speak. I thank myself for allowing me to believe in a God, and for allowing that God to be something different than the God that I was always told about. And I thank the world for teaching me that maybe even if I ask five million and one times for something I may never get it, but that it’s okay to speak anyways.
And so, I have something to say, and that something is thank you. Thank you for you beauty, your kindness, and your prayers, and thank you for allowing me to speak.