How Do You Pray?

How Do You Pray?

Seth Godin, in his new book V is for Vulnerable, writes, “LMNO…used to be a single letter in the alphabet.” I get that. It was for me and I suspect it was for you, too.

Another misconception I held as a small child was that “nowalayme” was one word. I finally asked my parents what it meant. They were confused until I used it in a sentence, the only way I’d ever uttered it: “Nowalayme down to sleep…”

True prayer is not a recitation of words but a dialogue of substance. Click To Tweet

They smiled, glad for the chance to clarify but likely dismayed over my confusion. “Nowalayme” was not a word they said, but actually four words: “Now I lay me.” Then they explained the rest of the prayer, which although comprised of words I knew, were strung together to form meaningless phrases.

They taught me this prayer and I recited it as a nightly ritual. While I memorized their words and repeated them as instructed, I knew not what I said.

I wonder if I still do this, but in a more adult way. Have I repeated the same words so often that they no longer hold any meaning? Do they flow forth with polished practice and devoid of thought? Do I merely repeat the phrases others have prayed without considering the meaning behind them?

To my dismay, the answer is too often “Yes.” When this happens, my prayers today are no different from the “nowalayme” prayers of my past.

True prayer, I must remind myself, is not a recitation of words but a dialogue of substance.


Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.


  • Elisha Posted January 8, 2013 4:00 pm

    Agreeing with you on this one. As I begin to study and understand the liturgical world of the Reformed Church I struggle often with the consistent use of recited prayer. It is VERY unfamiliar to me and I think I am still exploring how I feel about them….

  • peterdblog Posted January 8, 2013 4:51 pm

    Having attended a few liturgical churches in the past 40 weeks, I’m beginning to sense a comforting rhythm to their prayers, but so far it is just outside my grasp.

  • Candy Posted January 10, 2013 10:23 am

    I think of times where I’ve sung along with songs. Often there are times that we repeat and sing along what we think we think we hear, even if it doesn’t make sense. How often have I read the lyrics to a song or heard it sung by someone else who enunciated better than the original artist and had an “aha moment”. From then on I have a new appreciation for the song because I now know what the words really are and can appreciate the message more fully.

    • Peter DeHaan Posted January 10, 2013 2:13 pm

      Candy, this is great insight; thank you for posting your thoughts on this.

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