Posted in Christian Living, Faith, Living

De-coding our prayers

In the good old days when I taught English composition to reluctant classes of grumbling college freshmen, I used a core concept to try to explain the importance of detail in writing which I called the “code word.”
Code words are those general ideas or phrases that we say all the time that carry much more meaning for us than just the word alone implies. Think of it like Hemingway’s iceberg theory, where the reader only sees the tip when the bulk of meaning is beneath the surface. Of course, the method of minimalism works just fine for a brilliant writer like Hemingway. In the hands of an untutored writer, a code word is just a general idea with no foundation or substance at all. Think of sentences like, “the book was really cool and made me think” with nothing else there to back these conclusions up.
To help my students understand a bit better what I meant by this concept, I would use the example of our prayers. In our prayers, we use codes, or shortcuts, all the time. God is, after all, omnipotent. He, at least, knows what we mean when we say “take care of Timmy,” or “keep us safe.”
As I reminisced about this practice earlier this week, I began to wonder if our own code words in prayer really serve us well at all. Do you find yourself repeating the same phrases each time you pray? Didn’t Jesus once scold those around Him who relied on meaningless repetition in prayer, which only keeps us further away from a meaningful relationship with God? After a while, do your own coded prayers really mean anything to you at all, or are they just good luck rituals, mantras with a seemingly positive meaning but very little power?
De-coding our own prayers can be just as difficult as writing more specifically always seemed to be for my students. You can’t just hit the highlights and move on, assuming God knows it all anyway. That strategy works in certain moments when we are so anguished all we can manage is a cry of “Abba,” but what about our day-to-day discussions with the Almighty?
If we take the time to spell out our hopes, fears, desires, and needs, will we not discover more about ourselves? In the end, what exactly do we want to be kept safe from? What dangers should we ourselves be looking out for? If we find ourselves only coming up with material wishes when we pray with specifics instead of codes, what does that tell us about our own need for spiritual growth?
At the same time, don’t you think that a God who goes to such great lengths to know and be known by His children would want to hear us take the time and effort to verbalize as specifically as possible what we want to say to Him? Are code words really the best we can do? Since God only deserves our best, I think we should take it to that next level.
So, it’s time to de-code, step up to the challenge and speak to God like we really believe He is there and listening. You may just be surprised what you learn about yourself and your prayer life if you do.
And you’ll write a killer college essay, should the need ever arise.



I am a 40-something Texan with a feisty cat and a supportive husband of 20 years. With a Master's degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, I have taught creative writing at Texas Tech, won awards for my writing and been blessed to be mentored by Horn Professor and poet Dr. Walt McDonald. I earn a living by helping my husband's family run a health food store, but my avocation is writing. I hope you enjoy reading about some of my triumphs and tragedies as I continue to work on figuring out what life is all about and on growing my ability to share my writing. May your own journey be a blessed one.

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