The Punctuation of Prayer

I was thinking about prayer the other day and something just popped into my mind: I use a lot of “periods” when I pray to God. When I say “period,” I’m talking about the little dot that’s at the end of a sentence. When I write out my prayers they tend to be sentences that end in a period. When I speak out my prayers they tend to be spoken like sentences that end in a period. Even when I think my prayers, they are thoughts that end in with a period.

“God, help me with this.” “God, bless so-and-so with that.” “Lord, thank you for this day/food.”

Metaphorically, the “period” represents a closed-end prayer. It shows little expression. It’s just a statement. It kind of reminds me of Joe Friday on Dragnet: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Period. Just one-dimensional statements that I throw up to heaven.

Do you notice that about your prayers, as well?

But prayer should be our vibrant, relational connection with God; not this robotic “blah, blah, blah” that drones a bunch of closed-ended sentences at God.

I notice that in our good, deep, intimate relationships with people, we don’t just converse with periods. With my close friends and relations, I use all sorts of punctuation in my communication: question marks, exclamation points, semi-colons, etc. If we desire a good, deep and intimate relationship with God, shouldn’t we use all the “punctuations of prayer”?

What would that look like?

In reading the Psalms, I see all types of punctuations of prayer.

There are the Question Mark Prayers. These represent prayers of lament (“How long, O God?” “Why is this happening to me?” “What about people who get away with evil?”). As well, they are the prayers of seeking (“What is heaven like?” “How much do you really love me?”)

There are the Exclamation Point Prayers. These are the prayers of praise (“Hallelujah!” “The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice”). Or the prayers of celebration (“The right hand of the Lord has triumphed!” “My enemies are falling away!”). Likewise, they could be prayers of surprise (“What’s going on here!”) or prayers of anger (“I can’t believe You allowed that to happen!” “I am so upset!” “Smash in their teeth, Lord!”)

How about Semi-colon Prayers? When I use semi-colons in my writing (which, along with the dash, I use WAY too much!), it’s usually because my original thought needs more clarification or augmentation to be fully understood. A lot of times, what I want to express to God is more complex than a simple statement. My “pouring out my heart” prayers are many thoughts that are spattered with metaphorical semi-colons. It’s hard to for me to get to what I really want to say to God without a lot of digging, sorting through; even, rambling.

One of my favorite punctuations is the ellipsis (…). How about Ellipsis Prayers? These would represent those open-ended prayers, such as wondering prayers (“God, how did you …”) or pondering prayers (“When I think about how You created us just a little lower than the angels …”) or the prayers where you just can’t find the words to say (“God …”)

One type of prayer that I’m finding as a “go-to” more and more are the Quotation Mark Prayers. These are prayers that others have written; prayers that express it so much better than what I could create. Certainly, liturgical prayers would fall into this (The Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, Daily Office, Psalms), as well as prayers of the Saints (Prayers of St. Francis, St. Patrick, Teresa of Avila) or prayers of the poets (Ted Loder and Ann Kimmel are my favorites).

Finally, the Space-Bar Prayers (no, I’m not talking about a “watering hole” in outer space! It’s the long bar on the keyboard that you press with your thumbs). As the space bar puts space between words, Space-Bar Prayers are those prayers that create space in our hearts and souls; like “prayers without words” or silent prayers or waiting prayers. Or prayers with tears.

Though I’m using the “punctuation of prayer” as a metaphor, I share this to jar us out of the monotonous, uber-safe approach to prayer that is so easy to fall into. James 4:8 admonishes us to “draw near to God and He will draw near to us.” I believe that “prayers-that-only-end-in-periods” don’t draw us near to God. They keep God on the outside, at a distance. And, as a result, our relationship with God can become dull, cold and perfunctory.

Using the full range of punctuation in prayer, opens us up to vibrancy, life, color and depth in our relationship with God. It leads us into greater transparency and honesty with God. Likewise, we can then see and experience God’s transparency and honesty with us (BTW – God is always honest with us, but without our willingness to be transparent and open with Him, we will never see it). And that is what leads to intimacy with God; the Divine/Human “fire” that we long for in the depths of our heart. 

So, what are your thoughts to this metaphorical take, “Punctuation in Prayer”?

What kind of punctuation do you use in your prayers?

Do you know of any other punctuation signs that represent other types of prayers?

How does this concept inspire or challenge you in your approach to praying?

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2 thoughts on “The Punctuation of Prayer

  1. Great thoughts and very much a challenge to think about how we pray. I don’t spend near enough time in prayer so thanks again for these thoughts that can enrich how I approach it.

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