As a youngster growing up outside Chicago and with our parents’ guidance, the Pollitz children rehearsed these words on a near daily basis. I knew them as “The Lord’s Prayer,” simply “Grace” at the dinner table and that bedtime poem, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Each rolled off my lips without hesitation.
With some small exceptions, prayer was for years relegated to what required memorization or reading from a hymnal. This seemed sufficient to carry me through over half of my college years. All that changed the night I was invited to attend my first “Bible study.”
Finding myself sitting on the floor in a literal “upper room” in a downtown building in Valparaiso, Indiana, was an entirely new experience. Each college student in attendance had a Bible opened on our lap, myself included. The leader graciously led us on a varied tour in its pages. I refrained from comment or eye contact and gladly abided by the saying, “Silence is a virtue!” This was virgin territory for such a novice, and I might add, negligent theologian as myself. Of perplexing note, however, was the apparent easy conversational tone of the discussion evidencing a comfortability previously unbeknownst to yours truly.
All seemed reasonable until that announced time for the closing “popcorn” prayer. I quickly found it had nothing to do with that movie-time snack covered with butter and salt. For the uninitiated, it’s when everyone holds the hand of the person next to them. With heads bowed and eyes closed, someone in the group agrees to open the prayer and another to close, and around the circle we go, beginning to end. The simple sign of each finished prayer was a gentle squeeze to the hand of the person next in line. The anxiety of it all, as a first-timer, was nothing short of gut-wrenching. The waiting brought on damp clammy hands and nervous fidgeting. It was supremely worse that any piano recital I’d participated in as a youth. I heard nothing of their prayerful offerings, wracking my own brain, sizing up any suitably spiritual utterance of my own. The synapses of my brain were not firing on all cylinders, and even a simple sentence was immediately illusive.
If you have ever felt my pain, I console you now with news of my life-altering coming to faith the following Sunday. With it, the matter of prayer moved from listless to life-giving. This was just the beginning as I continue to gain wisdom of the “practice” almost 40 years later. Even with a learning curve still on the move, the past four decades have occasioned an unknown quantity of public and private praying, especially having served as a parish pastor the past 34 years.
As time passed, there have been seasons of great diligence and discipline in this invitation to pray. Other times, they have been more meandering and irregular. I’ve known periods of great clarity and definitive answers and others, where I can be stuck with a greater need for patience or a realization of an unanticipated reply. Sometimes it seems prayer changes things around me, and sometimes prayer has a way of only changing me.
Permit me a moment to speak of just one of those seasons. There were two seasons in play, actually. As some would know, the church season called Lent, or “spring,” and another season called “Titan basketball!” That being said, with seasons overlapping the late winter and early spring of 2004, I’d publicly committed to praying daily for the 40 days, each day being guided by six index cards lined, front and back, with a few hundred prayer concerns. It wasn’t always easy carving out the Lord’s daily invitation to pray, but I humbly made good on my commitment.
That other parallel season was deeply personal for me, too. There was more than a little devotion involved, as well. As a father with a couple sons bounding up and down the hardwood for the Titans that basketball season, I followed, watched and cheered with great intensity throughout that memorable state championship run.
Now mind you, I’ve had selected faithful Titan fans tell me in passing how they were, in fact, “praying for a Titan victory,” but I would never echo such a sentiment. That being said, there was a deep compelling within to maintain my daily discipline throughout. This divine provoking even pushed me to the point of breaking away from the familiar faces tailgating with eager anticipation for the next game and hoping for a Titan victory to make my way to a quiet place to pray.
Having never prayed for a single victory, each came, still the same! A lesson learned, even as a Titan fan: No matter how big the victory, there’s always another one bigger and more far-reaching!
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.