Finding My Voice

I have a confession to make.  As a Christian, there were times when I could be arrogant and judgmental.  This critical spirit manifested itself especially as it regarded one’s prayer life.

That was until 2011.  Up until then, I considered the best prayers to be those spontaneous, heartfelt expressions spoken from one’s heart.  No rote prayers for me.  Just reciting someone else’s prayers seemed to be the lazy man’s approach to a prayer life.  Besides, it seemed that some folks chanted a prayer like it was some kind of magical incantation or mantra.

Shame on me.  I learned different in 2011. 

In 2011 I lost my voice.  Oh, I could still talk and carry on a conversation, but when it came to prayer, the pleadings from my heart never made it past my lips.

It wasn’t for a lack of desire.  It wasn’t because my heart sensed no need.  On the contrary, my soul had become an echo chamber of supplication, the cries of my heart seemed to shout, but my lips refused to utter the words.

Such is the prayer life of a man in grief.

I lost my wife, Tootie, of 38 years in January of 2011.  At the age of 59, we were both on the cusp of retiring and enjoying the next phase of our lives.  Now, without her, I found myself walking through a fog, unable to know what steps, much less what direction to take.  As a Christian, my faith sustained me.  Nevertheless, I strangely found myself unable to pray.

There are those who suffer loss and raise their angry fists to God, demanding to know why.  Not me.  Anger was never my response.  Confused and disoriented, I found myself unable to utter anything other than “Help me, Lord!  Although utter is too tame a word.  Maybe a better descriptor was a desperate plea.

I was encouraged by the words of John Bunyon, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, “In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.” 

Despite my prayer struggles, I maintained a daily devotional life.  It was a lifeline for me.  More like a daily rest stop for my troubled soul.  Scanning through the Psalms one day, I began to see David’s songs and prayers in a new light.  I started to recite them.  Much more than that, I devoured and adopted King David’s words as my own, much like a starving man who walked into an all-you-can-eat buffet. These ancient words helped me navigate the emotional minefield of grief.

Gradually, my voice returned.  No longer silenced, I began to pray…out loud. I recited the Psalms as if they were my own cries for help, for deliverance, for peace.

It was during one of my daily rest stops that the Holy Spirit convicted my soul of hypocrisy.  How could I use the prayers of David as my own while having a critical spirit towards those who recited the prayers of others?

This memory came crashing back to me this week.  When my wife Patrice and I finished our devotional time, she mentioned a prayer that she had been privately reciting.  We have been continuously praying in these pandemic times for the protection of our children and grandchildren.  One of my daughters was ill, and Patrice shared how she had been praying for her and our family with “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” She explained that this prayer of protection and guidance recognizes the need we have for Christ in our daily walk with Him.  Vaguely familiar with this prayer, I looked it up.  It comes in several versions but this is the one my wife prays.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Christ incarnate be my Lord.

Admittedly, it can be easy for a person to fall into the habit of just reciting a prayer like this, allowing it to become a mechanical routine or a meaningless repetition.  Such repetitious prayer without a heart of conviction is useless.  That’s why I like to meditate on such words, ruminating like a cow chewing its cud, for there is a richness to be found here.  But wait, there’s more!  Using such prayers as a springboard for your prayer life is yet another tool/weapon in the spiritual battle for the protection of our souls.

Consider it just another way to sharpen the sword of the Spirit. Ephesians 6:11 charges us to, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

More than that, for guys like me, such prayers rekindle an excitement for the awesome privilege of intercessory prayer. The saints who have gone before us have left us a powder keg of prayers that we can adapt, should we need inspiration, as our own.

Oh, how I pray that every day, I find, “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me….”

“The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from our prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”  Samuel Chadwick, British Methodist Minister  (1860-1932)

Note:  Photo by Aaron Burden on unsplash.com

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  1. Brenda G. Alexander

    This year, part of my Lenten time was learning ways other people connect with God. I picked up a book I have had that a friend wrote on her experience following the death of her teenage son in a car accident a few weeks before he was to graduate. She used scripture through this difficult time to find God’s comfort and feel His loving arms around her. Through deep grief, we can sometimes forget that God is there with us, or we can find a stronger connection with our Lord. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience.


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