Why Public Prayer Is Like a YMCA Locker Room

locker_room_google_0151I’m bad at prayer.

This sounds like an intimate confession, but it’s not. You probably feel the same anxieties I do—especially when praying in front of other people. That’s why I’m starting this short series on prayer.

When my Bible study leader asks for volunteers to pray, the signs of prayer fright are everywhere. The stifled gulps, the averted eyes, the tensed posture.

And it’s not just at Bible studies. Prayer fright can happen anywhere:

  • At a youth retreat. Everyone is sharing prayer requests around the fire when the youth pastor asks you to pray for all of them.
  • At your friend’s wedding. The other groomsmen circle around the groom to pray for him before the ceremony. You wonder if he’ll remember your bumbling prayer for him the rest of his life.
  • On your patio. Fifteen minutes into your morning quiet time, you realize you’ve been doing nothing but think about Seinfeld while murmuring “Lord, have mercy.”

For years, I thought I was alone in feeling awkward about prayer. But then I made a common sense realization–most other people are terrified too.

We’re all just trying to play cool.

Praying in public is like getting naked in the YMCA locker room. Deep down, we’re all insecure about the way we look, and we suspect everyone is judging us. But we also know that we need to pretend that everything’s fine—nothing draws attention like the guy hiding behind his locker. So we end up with a room of people who are acting casual, but secretly ashamed.

Because I thought I was the only one that felt awkward praying in front of other people, for most of my life my prayer anxiety was a dark secret.

Surely, I thought, everyone else in my church was good at prayer, and I was the straggler. Whenever I had to pray during youth group, I fretted that everybody was scrutinizing each syllable. They were weighing my prayer, measuring it, and finding it wanting.

This prayer series is for people who, like me, have spent years in bumbling, self-conscious prayer.

Lesson 1: You’re not the only one who feels prayer anxiety. We’re all in this together.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can get on with the series. Now let me drop the towel and be honest….

When do you feel the most prayer anxiety? Or are you one of those people who feels comfortable praying in public?

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