Prayer: How is it different from talking to yourself? by Stephanie Kammerer

Lately, I've been trying to work out exactly how 'talking' with God differs from the kind of talking we might do with other people or even in our own minds.  

After all, prayer is a kind of communication; we can't help but 'talk' to God through the thoughts and words that we make as humans.  And yet, in prayer we seek to direct our attention to a God who is completely beyond human understanding.  So prayer does involves some 'talk,' but is it only that?

I'll be honest: I don't initially like the chattiness of prayer.  I guess there's a part of me that fears feeling like I'm talking to myself.  After all, I already spend a lot of time in my own head, and it's not the best place to be... Isn't it all too easy to get caught up in circular, petty debates with oneself? Worrying over problems.  Rehashing conversations from earlier in the day.  Second-guessing myself and others. Yikes!  How could any of that be helpful in the spiritual life?! So I have long idealized and tended to prefer more contemplative, wordless forms of prayer with God... surely it is better to aim somewhere beyond myself!

But last week, a spiritual director was encouraging me to be more 'chatty' in conversation with God.  I was on a silent retreat last week where I met daily with a priest to talk about how my prayer was going... and after a couple of days, he noticed that I was moving too quickly from what I really felt about aspects of my life, to what I thought I was supposed to feel.  

And so Fr. Paul made a case for being more chatty and getting into the weeds more with God:  Of course, we sometimes end up having conversations with ourselves! This is part of being human, that we always have an inner dialogue running - "ugh! I'm not sure what to think about this... Did I really mean that? But what about...!?" -  and we can't seem to turn it off.  But the only way past this, is through it.   It's only by airing the inner dialogue that we figure out what we really feel, and can truly turn it over to God.

I think this comes more naturally to some people than others.  For example, my husband Josh is a verbal processor.  He just says things, for better or for worse, and then continues to refine or adjust or reject whatever he just said once he's heard himself say it; so I think Josh finds chatty prayer similar to the way he converses in general.  However, it's hard for me to express something unless I already know what I think or feel, so it is a huge adjustment to try to bring my still-amorphous and still-unformed feelings to God.

Fr. Paul's point to me was that it's only by bringing our messy reality before God that we can make the crucial turn towards God's even deeper reality.  Whether we process it verbally or internally, we all inevitably have some inner dialogue running all the time.  Perhaps today my reality is that I'm frustrated because I really want some things I'm not sure I can have... I want to go back in time and go to a different university!  I want a better academic adviser!  I want God to take care of me!  Fine!  Often it is only in voicing where we're at that we can then turn to the deep realities of faith: God, you are a God who takes care of me.

How about you?  Is your prayer with God pretty talkative, or more contemplative? Do you struggle with your own 'inner dialogue' or have you found a way to helpfully harness it for conversation with God? How does it work for you?