One Sunday morning I get to church early enough for the pre-service prayers. Following the pastor’s instruction I turn to the person beside me and hold his hands; we are about to pray a prayer of agreement. The pastor warns before we start, saying something like, “This is not one of those prayers that you will pray quietly, eh-ehn! You are going to open your mouth and you will cry out to the Lord in a loud voice such that the earth will shake and the heavens will hear you. You will say ‘Faaather…!’”
I sigh as I repeat the pastor’s words, not in a shout but in my normal talking voice, which is quite small. I almost never shout, whether I’m happy or upset, panicked or excited.
The people shout; the pastor is not satisfied.
“I cannot hear you ooo,” he says, and the people get the implied warning: if I, standing right here before you, cannot hear you, then God, all the way in heaven, most certainly cannot. They scream louder.
I know that God hears me. But I worry. I worry that the brother holding my hand does not know that God hears me, even when I whisper; that he is silently judging me for not being louder. This brother shouts, exactly the way the pastor wants. And when the pastor gives the command to “Now pray!”, my prayer partner spews off a loud barrage of words that distract me and drown out my own thoughts. He squeezes my hands, shakes them up and down, punctuates every “in Jesus’ name” with an emphatic tug on my arm. This dance tires me, and I worry that my prayer partner will think me selfish, because he is praying so fervently for me while I stand there with my quiet words, no tugging or squeezing or spittle flying from my lips to show God that I mean serious business.
The pastor speaks into the mike again: “This prayer is one of violence. Remember, the violent taketh it by force. If the person you are holding is not praying very well, leave them and find someone who has the Fire!”
We carry on with the prayer I keep waiting for my partner to let go of my hand. With all of his fire, he deserves someone just as fiery for a partner.
My partner does not let go of my hand until the prayer ends. But two prayer points later, when the pastor calls for hand-holding again, he quickly turns to the person to the other side of him and grabs his hand. The person to the other side of me pairs up with the person to the other side of her.
So there I am in the middle, bereft but somewhat relieved, with no hand to hold and no pressure. It’s not the best feeling, but it will do for a time. Until I get comfortable enough with being myself that I don’t feel like I need to put on a show.