A while back, I was talking to my church coach about my frustration over my prayer life and how it always feels… not enough. It doesn’t feel “enough” especially compared to my parents’s and my parents in-law’s (and all first generation Koreans, really) prayer life.
Korean Christians, if anything, pray.
I lamented that I don’t feel like I can match that intensity.
After that conversation, my mind drifted towards Sizzler’s.
Yes. The restaurant.
Growing up, Sizzler’s was a special occasion restaurant. It was fancy.
We never went to Sizzler’s on a whim. It was reserved for special moments. Celebratory moments. Monumental moments. Benchmarks moments.
Steak at Sizzler’s? Whooo… That meant I made it. I did extremely well.
I went to the Sizzler’s that we went to as a child as an adult.
It… well… it’s Sizzler’s. The nostalgia was there. I was filled with mixed feelings.
Like — I can’t believe that this was reserved for special occasions. Sizzler’s??
But also, my heart broke to realize just how much my parents were struggling raising 2 boys on a pastor’s salary in a country where they barely spoke the language.
I think the intensity of the first generation Koreans prayer life has to do with the need to survive. The coach asked me to reflect on when I felt that my prayer life matched the fervor of my parents — it was when shit hit the fan and God was my only way out. Desperation makes almost anyone pray regardless of belief.
Thanks to the leg work of those who’ve gone before us — many of us are better off than our first generation parents. We don’t need the church as much as our parents did — or like our parents did. We don’t need to be dependent on the church for our social survival. We speak the language. We can find community outside of the church.
We may not even need God as much as our parents did.
We are — generally speaking — a tad bit more comfortable.
So yeah, perhaps the first generation’s prayer life is fueled by survival — something that’s lost in translation for those of us living off of their sacrifices.
I also admit that what I’m writing is a gross generalization.
But from personal experience, both my wife and I are better off than our respective sets of parents were at our age navigating through the Land of Freedom and Dreams.
I’m not worried about “surviving.” I’m worried about being “successful.”
The coach brought up Henri Nouwen’s quote about praying as “wasting time with God.”
Basically, don’t get caught up on how and when and what to pray — but rather, be in communion with God. Even if it feels like a waste of time. What better way to waste time than with God.
Nouwen also tells this story:
Three Russian monks lived on a faraway island. Nobody ever went there, but one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit. When he arrived, he discovered that the monks didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer. So he spent all his time and energy teaching them the “Our Father” and then left, satisfied with his pastoral work. But when his ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water — in fact, they were running after the ship! When they reached it, they cried, “Dear Father, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us!” The bishop, overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, “But, dear brothers, how then do you pray?” They answered, “Well, we just say, ‘Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!’” The bishop, awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity, said, “Gob ack to your land and be at peace.Spiritual Direction
There is a difference between learning prayers and prayerfulness. The prayerfulness of the heart is deeper and ultimately more important than particular prayers that are said.
Wasting time with God is far more important than finding the right way to pray.
And. I’m grateful for my parents and am in awe of their audacity to not only survive, but thrive.