In my research on Asperger’s and reading about how the brains of many autistic people work and thinking about how my own brain works, I realized that I am actually a very visual thinker. I had always imagined that I was a verbal thinker because I was always very good with words. I was a voracious and early reader and I have always journalled. Sometimes voraciously. I am very good with text. I seem to be completely without the ability to imagine visual images that I have never seen before or remember things with motion, just still pictures. I thought that meant I was a verbal thinker. But I am coming to learn that I am kind of terrible with spoken words. I don’t come up with them easily and they don’t make it from my brain to my mouth very well. I absorb information as pictures and I can only really process a lecture if I take notes, either actually or in my head. What really shed a glaring light on this was the act of prayer.
I became a Christian just shortly before I started really looking into autism as a possible characteristic of my son, by about a year or so. I knew that prayer is hugely important to Christian life and, more importantly, it is an awesome thing that only a fool would pass up. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out with God?!? But I found myself having trouble doing it. I kept reading that it was like having a conversation with God. Well, I often have conversations going in my head, so I figured that would be easy. But I found that it took a lot of effort. It would (and still does) constantly deteriorate into an imagined conversation with someone else or just a parade of pictures and emotions. Then I got into a community and started trying to pray with other people, first my husband and children and then other women. It basically went from bad to worse. For over a year, I was simply incapable of praying out loud without crying. Now I can do it, but only if I rehearse in my head first and keep my eyes open so I’m not really thinking about the words I’m saying and they are just coming out, because I basically have them memorized. To think of what I am praying about and who for and who to and also make the words come out of my mouth is an effort that I simply can not describe. It leaves me shaking and crying, most times, from less than 5 minutes of prayer. I felt like a horrible failure as a Christian.
Then I started to realize in my day to day life that I can’t really think in words and see pictures at the same time and the former takes MUCH more effort than the latter. And then I noticed that the times when I felt like I had really been at God’s feet was when I just soaked in his presence and let my prayers be more of a string of images and emotions: people I wanted to pray for, feelings about the things that I wanted for them, that sort of thing. But nothing that I read about prayer ever described anything like this. Everything I read said that if you wanted a more powerful prayer life, you need to pray SPECIFICALLY. Tell God what you want. Name the things you are thankful for. Keep a prayer journal and have it with you when you pray so that you can pray for your friends specifically. Petition God. Speak to Him. Present your adoration. Bear your soul with all the words of your heart. And the constant:
Pray these words. Pray these words. Pray. These. Words.
But I couldn’t pray those words. I could only read those words and if I was reading them, I couldn’t pray. And if I memorized them and just recited them mindlessly, well, that didn’t seem good either. So I was again saddened by my failure as a prayer, or pray-er, I should say, for clarity’s sake. In fact, I felt a bit lazy. Like if I could just put enough effort into it, I could pray like everyone else. Just focus, Brain, this is for a way better cause than having a conversation or making a Bible lesson plan. This is like the most important conversation about the best Bible lesson ever. But it was still such a struggle and I kept failing miserably. And I know that our prayer lives should be intentional and mindful, but it doesn’t seem like every prayer should be a knockdown drag out wrestling match, not with God, but with your own mind.
But then, as I’m starting to write this, That Weird Kid from the Gas Station sees the title and says to me: “Visual Prayers. Like the wordless groaning of the Spirit in Romans.” And I say, “Oh, yeah. Like the Jeremy Camp song.” =) Anyway, after a quick Google search I find this:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. -Romans 8:26-27
The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with wordless groaning. God searches our heart and knows the mind of the Spirit. And even when I don’t have any words, the Spirit will intercede for me. It seems to me that if the Holy Spirit prays with wordless groaning, then it’s a good thing to do. And if my will and my heart and my mind and my thoughts are reaching toward God with waves of emotion and visual praises and petitions, I think that God will know my heart with or without words.
I do have conversations with God, but those aren’t the times I really enjoy him. Those are mostly the times when I am whining or ranting. And I am not saying that everyone should pray like me. All I’m saying is that I think I have finally figured some things out. God made the Brain, God understands the Brain.
Also, praying is not a test, or a contest; it’s a relationship.