Sometimes We Need to Pray With Our Eyes Closed

I was sixteen and every single one of my girlfriends owned a pair of Birkenstocks.

Nine of us in khaki shorts, polo shirts and Birks, all lined up in a picture that I still have, hiding our secret thoughts and individual lives behind a safe uniformity. We had a shared understanding that no one was to diverge too much from the norm.

I prayed with one eye open then.

Many of us were new to the notion of circling up for Bible Study. On Friday afternoons, we’d sprawl across a friend’s basement — the same basement where we’d crowded in to watch March’s basketball madness — with our new Bibles that had whole sections still stuck together, wearing our Birkenstocks and talking Jesus in between making weekend plans.

I prayed with one eye cracked, unsure of what I should be saying and what I should be praying and tuning my ear to the voice of others to help me find my own, in prayer.

My early years in God held the unforgettable gift of girlfriends also finding their fresh way in Him and the hard-to-shake belief that my prayers and my reach for God would often (or even always) look like the ones’ around me, wearing their Birks.

Glass Mug Cherish

We highlighted the same verses in our Bibles just like we carried the same water bottles to lunch. We started and ended our prayers with the same salutations. God was making the pursuit of Himself familiar — we were no longer sharing just friendship bracelets, but Him — in a way that each of us newbies so needed.

But as I grew, this understanding that I would always have those others in Birkenstocks, earmarking the same pages of their Bible alongside me grew up with me. I still prayed with one eye open. I watched how the others in the room held their hands when they prayed and I listened for what they said and how they said it. I learned from my environment — a much needed thing — but in the learning and the looking I also began to form evaluations: This prayer seems too far out there. This desire of mine, for Him, too deep. This lurking phrase that I can’t drop from His Word isn’t one I that hear others saying … I’m sure that’s not from Him, but me.

And I calibrated.

I coached myself, in the recesses of my mind, and so subtly I might not have ever noticed it: Don’t be too weird. Not too far-reaching or too raw or too hungry for God. Don’t be the kind of vulnerable that makes you seem crazy. Make sure you’re a normal enough Christian that you’re relatable. Relevant.

And I lost some of myself.

Boots MJ

I lost some of who He’d made me to be — a girl who, at times, is too deep and awkwardly vulnerable, irrelevant, but hungry for Him in a way to which He keeps responding.

He made me to pray with my eyes shut. Behind closed doors. In secret.


And it’s from that place that I find out who He is and He tells me who I am.

In giving subtle (unknowing) permission to those sides of us that would rather not be all that different from the crowd, we’ve made our Christianity far too conversant. Sterile. We’re “smart” about it. We have a language for why our pursuit of this dangerous God appears clean and tidy and conventional. But when all the noise outside is quiet and we’re honest, most of us would likely know that we never signed up to follow Jesus in the very same way our eight best friends do.

Just one eye open to what the person in the seat next to us is doing is one less eye on Him.

In a single hour of my day I can see the fruitful efforts of my neighbor’s lawn-care, a picture of the award that a friend’s daughter won in the fourth grade spelling bee, the article a college friend wrote for The Atlantic, and what my girlfriend in Texas is eating for dinner (and what she’s wearing while she cooks).

The world buzzes and hums with eye-candy: just enough to give me a rush, not enough to fill me.

If I train my eyes to inform my pursuit of Jesus by what it naturally sees within a day, I’m asking for greener grass, more successful children, fame, a full belly and super-cute clothes.

If I train my eyes to inform my pursuit of Jesus by what it naturally sees in a day, my prayers are far too small and my pursuit of this dangerously uncontainable God is far too conventional. I learned this in my Birkenstocks, with one eye open. I’m getting to re-learn it dozens of times since. To walk out a wildly-alive pursuit of God — that thing we really signed up for when we said “yes” to Him — I need to go into my room and shut my eyes to the very normal, very calibrated world around me, and ask Him to give me His vision.

He forms us when the door to the outside is shut and within the parts of our lives that only the walls witness.* God breathes on what happens when no one is looking. These secret prayers — the ones that call from deep within us but that feel too wild, too unkempt, too unconventional, too raw — are intended to catalyze our life in God.

In the midst of an alluring culture, we’re intended to have an internal fire for God. (Yep, I said fire. On the inside. For Him.)Lantern

We were made to burn for Him. {If you’ve read this far, you feel it. You know it — something deep within you is resonating.}

Could it be that keeping one eye open is dulling the flame?

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

*There are many passages in the Bible about the secret and unseen spaces of our lives — this hidden place. Study them for yourself, with hands open, asking: God, meet me in the parts of my life that no one sees. Here are just a few: Psalm 139:15 | Matthew 6:1-18 | Psalm 27:5 | Psalm 32:7 | Psalm 17:8 | Mark 1:35 | Luke 4:42 | Psalm 91

First photo by Cherish Andrea Photography. Second, third, and fourth photos by Mandie Joy. Last photo by @thrivephoto.