When Lists Become Prayers

I have never been a huge fan of lists unless they involve groceries. I’m not one to use a variety sticky notes trying to keep track of everything that I need to do or a calendar of events, though perhaps I should. However, there are two kinds of lists that have become sacred to me; ones that I keep tucked away in my journal, and only speak of when asked.

During my last semester of school,  my therapist and I spent several sessions discussing what I wanted, specifically in a romantic relationship. She suggested coming up with at least six non-negotiables, something that I’d never given much thought to up until that point. I’d been told quite often that my expectations were too high, so I usually kept it at “I want a guy who is nice” (high school), and “I want a guy who is nice and will take me out on the weekends” (college). But I wasn’t a child anymore, and if I wanted to find love, it was necessary to not just decide what I wanted, but what I needed as well. It felt refreshing to not only narrow down the important deal breakers, but to proclaim them on paper. Each time I buy a new journal I write them down again on the last few pages, even though by now they’re pretty much stuck in my head. I probably should keep them posted on my bathroom mirror, especially in moments of loneliness where my values can easily take a backseat, or I feel like buying into the “twenty-something free-bird” mentality.

I’ve keep gratitude lists on and off since I was a teenager, but couldn’t stay disciplined enough to do it every day. Sometimes the concept seems like one of those happy-go-lucky fads, a band-aid to put on when desperate to ignore reality. Yet, I’ve picked it back up again recently; instead of waiting until the end of the day and looking back, I record thankfulness as I experience it. I focus on the small, mundane things that don’t seem worth being grateful for, but it helps me to recognize the beauty right in front of me as opposed to looking too far ahead or around me. For anyone who has read Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts, it’s very similar to her practice. I also took a bit of guiding from Soul Keeping, which my church did a series on about a year ago. 

Translating these practices to a communion with God is a work in progress. When I have my quiet time each morning, I experience the self-pressure to say things a certain way, to make sure that I balance gratitude with what is on my heart. Sometimes I cry when giving thanks, understanding at that moment how much I’ve been blessed with. 

And in terms of praying about relationships, that can be a tough one. I have moments where I almost don’t know what to say, let alone how to say it. I toggle between praying about a person I have yet to meet, and wondering if I’ve already met him but the timing isn’t quite right. More than anything, I don’t pray about it often because I don’t want to become obsessed or stressed over it. I don’t want to use love is a bargaining chip (i.e. Lord if you give me an affection man, I won’t curse like a sailor ever again!)

In my faith journey, I’ve been told that God created us so that He knows our words and thoughts, even before we say them. Realistically, there’s no need to pray out loud if I don’t feel moved to do so. I’m still getting used to the whole pray-like-you’re-talking-to-a-friend formula. 

I think lists are like prayers because they often get to the heart of things, the bare bones of what we want and need. In hindsight, that’s what God wants when we pray to him; no embellishments, no ancient language or ritual. Just what is. 

It seems very silly; almost as silly as saying, “and please let the Bears/Blackhawks/Hawkeyes/Cubs win, AMEN!!” But if that’s how God made me, than why not welcome the cheesiness? Who says sacred can’t be light-hearted and almost humorous?

Writing that stuff down (length aside) is a way of remembering. I want to look back. I want to remember. For the memories, no matter how painful, are the ultimate prayers. 

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