Does Prayer Work?

I am a man of three score plus 13 years. I have been searching for my understanding of God or a Higher Power all my life and have never been able to truly deep down within my head or heart believe that someone or something is actually pulling the strings on this puppet.

As a young boy, my parents never required me to go to church. There was no religion taught in school nor was I schooled about it at home. Never the less I have always felt inadequate or less than the majority of people on earth who say they believe in God and pray. I couldn’t come up with a concept of God in my mind nor did I know how to pray. I was always plagued with the thought that I was the only one who did not get it. How could I be the only one who could not have the faith and belief that God truly existed?

Once I left home and had the freedom to pursue my journey in life, I started to investigate by attending services at different churches and denominations. I was confused by the different messages they delivered, especially by the Catholics. The majority Catholic service in those days was in Latin. I just didn’t get it and I didn’t see my place in it.

Away from home for the first time, lonely, and in the military, I accepted a friend’s invitation to go to church with him. Alt-hough I felt comfortable at first, it seemed I was inundated with advice and guidance from the congregation much of which I didn’t necessarily agree with. Reluctantly though with pressure from the Preacher, I agreed to be baptized. For the next couple of months I attended services on a regular basis. During that time it seemed that more and more rules were revealed that seemed to relieve me of every day freedoms and autonomy I currently enjoyed. My parents were rather strict in my up bringing but never to this extent. I was becoming very uncomfortable with my decision to join their church.

Fortunately I was transferred to another duty station on a small island in the mid-pacific. There were Catholic and Protestant services available for those who needed or wanted it. There was not a church available of the denomination I was baptized in. I felt I had just been given my freedom. I was relieved that the pressure of the church leadership was gone and never attended that church again, nor any other church for that matter.

I am now 19 years old and alcohol has taken a firm grip on my life. It seemed to give me the courage to damn all the believers as weaklings and no accounts. My belief was that I was either atheist or agnostic. I didn’t believe in God and certainly didn’t believe there was proof. I didn’t care any longer if there was a God or not. I considered I was not a believer and very happy with my commitment for the next 24 years.

That is when I entered a treatment center for alcoholism and was about to start my journey in Alcoholics Anonymous. In treatment they told me I should develop a concept of a Higher Power. Fortunate for me, they said I could use anything my mind could conjure up. I chose the chair in my room. Many looked at me quizzically but I was never rejected by my peers nor did the treatment center throw me out. For the first time in my life I had a Higher Power. Did I really believe? No, not really. I only acted as if and did so because they said I could.

And so it was for the next 31 years in Alcoholics Anonymous I spent searching, probing, looking, combing, asking, sharing, and listening. I found I was able to share that I believed in God, or that I did not believe God, that I didn’t know if I believed in God, or that I was at least willing to accept their was a God even if I didn’t believe it. I was never once questioned about my weird concepts of a Higher Power, such as a chair, a doorknob, the group, or swirling planets in the universe. Not once have I been asked by the thousands and thousands of people I have met over the years in A.A. to leave the meeting or take my thoughts and ideas elsewhere. How could one not love that? The bottom line is the fact that I have never been comfortable with my wishy washy thoughts regarding a Higher Power, but thankful that I could remain sober with them.

The love my A.A. camaraderie and their acceptance of my shortcomings did not lessen my search for my concept and understanding of a Higher Power. I continued to search and read and ask questions. At this point I have many doubts if I will ever reach the level of understanding that others seem to enjoy.

One day I received a phone call from my sponsor who lives in a different city. We talk via email and telephone on a regular basis. He said I had been heavy on his mind for the past few days and wanted to know if I had time to chat. He has always been keenly aware of my on going struggle of belief in the God concept.

Rather cautiously he asked me if I ever got down on my knees and prayed. I think he was afraid I would hang up on him. I reminded him that I don’t know how to pray and if I did I wouldn’t get down on my knees to do it. He asked if I would do him a personal favor and for the next week to kneel and pray by my bed at night before I went to sleep and again in the morning when I awoke. All he wanted in return was to know my experience from it.

I told him if I was to do something like that, he was the only person in the world I could think of, that I would do that for. Like a good sponsor he seized the opportunity and pressed me for the commitment and I accepted.

After hanging up the phone, my first thought was… what the hell have I done! My second thought was… I’ll tell him I did it when I actually didn’t and he won’t know the difference. The honesty I learned in the program washed that thought away immediately. Shall I call him back and opt out? Pride kept me from that. Crap! The program is working I thought.

Then I remembered in the book As Bill Sees It, it says we have three choices. 1. A rebellious refusal to work upon our glaring defects, or 2. Settle into a comfortable but often-dangerous mediocrity, or 3. Continuously try hard for those sterling qualities that can add up to fineness of spirit and action. The Big Book also says in the Spiritual Experience Appendix that there is a principle, which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation. How could I claim I am a member in good standing of A.A. and not at least try to practice those principles in all my affairs?

This was a perfect chance to be a man of integrity, unlike all those chances I had and ignored in my drinking days. It felt good that I was actually going to kneel and pray by my bed at night until it came time to do so that evening. The feeling was akin to taking medicine. It didn’t taste good but I felt better afterwards. The time was here… I felt awkward and stupid but hit my knees anyway. I was mostly quiet for the few minutes I remained there. I had some fleeting thoughts but finally said ‘thank you’ and went to bed.

I continued the process as promised and as days passed, I felt less awkward and self-conscious. The quietness slowly vanished and after a time I began chatting both to someone and no one. I asked if I could have tolerance and understanding of my fellows. I asked for forgiveness of those I had harmed. I asked for guidance to always do the right thing and I said thank you for my life and loved ones. The thought crossed my mind; if this is praying, it isn’t so bad after all.

So what was my experience? At worst it was a positive. At best it was many things. Did it change my opinion about my belief or understanding of a Higher Power? Not really, it might but only time will tell. It certainly didn’t make me feel less than or ashamed. In fact I felt good because of it.

Not knowing or understanding how to pray, I took guidance from the Big Book. In the morning I planed for the day ahead and asked for guidance to not only do the right thing always, but also to have my thinking directed, and that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest, or self-seeking motives. I asked to be kind toward my fellows, and be aware of all my character defects, especially intolerance and anger. And finally that thy will, not mine be done.

In the evening it gave me time to consider and review my day. I asked if I was resentful, selfish, or dishonest? Did I owe an apology? Was I kind and loving towards all? What could I have done better? Was I thinking of myself or was I thinking of what I could do for others? It also gave me a chance to ask for forgiveness.

Most importantly it gave me a chance to review my character defects and maintain a high awareness level of them. This awareness gives me the ability to act on those defects as soon as they surface rather than to wait until they fester into resentment. In the past I never thought of my shortcomings on a regular basis. Morning prayer has given me a chance to do exactly that.

In the past, I only thought about my character defects or shortcomings when they reared their ugly heads. By that time it was too late because I already embarrassed myself or unknowingly cast a stone in someone’s direction. I have felt many times that I had placed the cart before the horse. It always seemed to me that there must be a better solution. How could I be more aware of those character defects before they surfaced? Well I have found that through this prayer business!

So instead of reminding myself, or not, of my character defects periodically, now I can remind myself of them on a regular basis through daily prayer. This revelation is probably old business for those who are believers and who regularly pray. However, for me it is just another miracle of the program.

I have also found that quiet meditation and prayer in a more comfortable position seems to work just as well and saves wear and tear on the knees. I plan to continue the use of prayer in my daily routine.

For me this is brain flossing at its best. So to all those doubters out there, may I leave you with this; “Good things come to those who wait, if they work like hell while they wait.”

~ Alan L.

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