by Annwen Stone
My first memory of prayer was being sat in a small Welsh chapel in a hard wooded pew. I remember the smell of the furniture polish, the plush flower arrangement at the front of the church and the need, no matter what, to sit still. I remember reciting the words of the Lord’s prayer; I knew it off by heart. I remember how saying the word ‘bread’ made my mouth water and my stomach rumble as I sat, quietly, waiting for the end of the service. I was 4 years old.
I’m grateful that I have a memory of praying at such a young age and I’m grateful that I have a family that took me to church but I have to admit it took me a long time to understand what prayer was and why on earth I should do it.
Roll on 16 years and my wayward heart had returned to the Father. I was passionately in pursuit of Him. I was reading the word and committing to fellowship. I was genuinely trying to live out a life that was following Jesus in my everyday life and yet I still struggled with prayer. I wasn’t sure how the memorised-pew-days matched with this new found love I had experienced. I was desperate to do the right thing and yet every time I sat down to pray it felt so strange and formal and it left me feeling so uncomfortable that I slowly retreated and backed off.
It was in one of the hardest seasons of my life that I actually fell into friendship with the Father. The first church we led had an acrimonious split over methodology prior to us starting. Think bad divorce and you will have a good picture of what it felt like to be part of the church at that time. We were fresh faced and full of enthusiasm having just graduated from Bible college. We were honestly so naive to the spiritual dynamics at play. As a young pastor’s wife I had to sit in the middle row on a Sunday morning. If I sat either to the left or the right of the pulpit it was perceived by the main players in the conflict that I was on a ‘side’. This was a lonely couple of years. I really didn’t know who I could trust or reach out to for friendship or community.
It was the kindness of the Father that allowed this valley. He starved me from community voices so I could discover His. I started writing letters to the Father. I found a journal and began with the words ‘Dear Father’ and then from that launchpad I would pour out my heart to him. It was real and raw. The Father got the unedited version of me. It was in this journey that I started to hear his voice. I had received very little teaching on the prophetic or hearing god’s voice and yet a holy frustration welled up inside of me; there must be more. Once I poured out my heart to Him I would wait. I would wait with expectancy that if He was my Father He would speak to me. He always did. I didn’t always get answers, sometimes I just got the gift of peace, but many times he would give me scriptures or point me to books or Godly voices that had the exact key I needed in that season.
This journaling process developed a friendship with God. It developed a deep understanding that prayer was a two way relational interaction, not a forced recited liturgy. It developed a longing for the voice of the Father above every other noise and distraction. In my early years of faith I could never understand how it was possible to ‘pray without ceasing’ as the apostle Paul instructs us to do but in this season I found a key. It was the simple truth that He is my friend and I am His.