Thoughts on Prayer

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

PrayerDuring lunch at a restaurant, I overheard a conversation at the other table where there were two boys with their parents. The little boy was complaining, “I don’t want to pray. Prayer doesn’t work!”

The father asked, “What are you talking about? What do you mean prayer doesn’t work?”

The little boy replied, “I keep praying for Kuya to be good, but he’s still bad. He still teases me. Prayer is no good.”

Then the mother said, “Remember your Sunday School lesson? Sometimes, when God doesn’t answer your prayer, he’s telling you to wait and be patient.”

It has been a while since I prayed, but hearing this little exchange made me reflect on prayer once more. I was brought up on the ACTS model of prayer – Adoration (praise), Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (to ask or to petition) ever since I was a kid. I followed this model methodically at first, then I learned to pray as if just having a conversation and I would talk to God at various times during the day as if he were always there beside me. Then I had a praise and worship phase. I would even lock myself in my room while playing praise music at full blast while singing and dancing to God. I went through a meditation phase where I simply sat in silent reflection and listening.

But I look at things quite differently now.

On adoration – I do not understand why a god would want people to constantly tell him how great he is, how majestic he is, how powerful he is, and so on and so forth. If you know you’re good, you don’t need other people fawning over you all the time. Sure, it’s nice to hear people praising you for this and that. For example, I like it when I get emails from people saying how they enjoy my writing. But if someone starts writing me three times a day, every single day telling me how good I am and how great I am, it won’t take me long to press the spam button.

On confession – I understand the value of this as there is some release of guilt being done here. However this can be done in non-religious contexts. One can, for example, confess to a trusted friend, relative or mentor. One can even confess to oneself. I think the primary issue here is not so much the confession but the willingness to let go and forgive oneself. Learning to forgive myself, to move on, and to accept full responsibility for my life was one of the best things I experienced so far in my short life. Ironically, I experienced it, not in church, but in a non-religious seminar series I attended around 3 years ago.

On thanksgiving  – I once wrote that the best prayer possible would consist of only two words – “thank you,” and that still holds true. Many of the people I admire the most have an attitude of gratitude. They are simply thankful for being alive, for the opportunity to breathe and experience life. There is a huge space of acceptance and openness to experience, even “bad” experiences like tragedies and loss – not that we are happy because of the tragedy, but that we are able to survive, move on and grow in spite of it. Being thankful, in its simplest form, is being happy with your life and enjoying every second of it.

On supplication – this seems to me the most discordant of these 4 types of prayer. If you trust in God to supply your every need and have faith that he knows what is best for you, why do you keep asking for stuff? If you need it, he will give it to you, and if you don’t, he won’t. That’s simple enough, isn’t it?

The usual answer I get to this is something along the lines of – God wants to hear you ask, like a parent who wants to hear his children asking for things. But that’s not a very satisfying answer. I give my children what they need whether or not they ask for it. It would be quite cruel for me, for example, to let my daughter starve until I hear her ask me for food – and even then, I would not let her ask me again and again until I give it to her.

And so I wonder at the oft-given advice that if your prayers aren’t answered yet, you should keep praying, keep asking, get other people to pray for you or with you, etc. Does God have a quota then of how many times you should pray or how many people should be praying before he grants the request? Does he have a sincere-o-meter or a faith-meter to gauge whether your prayer meets the desired sincerity or faith level (which is supposed to be just as small as a mustard seed)? I find this quite absurd.

What really works for me now is acceptance, forgiveness and responsibility. I do what I can to improve myself and make things better. I forgive myself and others for all the shortcomings and broken promises. I accept what life throws at me, and am thankful to be alive to experience it.

 

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. If you want to listen to or engage in meaningful discussions, I’m inviting you to the Filipino Freethinkers Davao meetup on April 27 (Saturday) at Café Demitasse, 730-930PM. See details at www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

TINK!

(originally published in: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/opinion/2013/04/11/uyboco-tink-277139)

I am an educator for life. Teaching does not end when the bell rings.
– Miguel Antonio Lizada

tinkI smiled when I read those words. How appropriate that they came from the son of the teacher who inspired me to be one.

It was June of 1989 when I entered my senior year of high school. I was all set to run the last lap before entering college. I was pretty sure of what I wanted back then. I was a math and computer guy. I would take up computer science or engineering. My dream job was to be surrounded by electronics, and to have as little to do with people as possible.

Being a teacher was the last thing on my mind. In fact, it wasn’t in my mind at all. You see, I had a speech impediment – one that had haunted me since I was in first grade. I stuttered terribly when I had to recite in public, even if it was just to introduce myself. Having a job that required me to talk in front of people on a daily basis was simply not in my life’s equation.

That first day of class would change everything.

The bell rang for English class and the teacher walked in. He was wearing a polo shirt (neatly tucked-in), jeans, and sneakers. He was tall, thin and had thick glasses. He didn’t smile and he looked like a very serious person. The class was quiet.

It took only around five minutes before that silence turned into wave after wave of laughter as we were introduced to the wit and humor of Sir Rene. When the bell rang, I found myself excited for the next class. For the first time in my life, I found myself liking English class more than any other.

Rene’s classes were enjoyable but they were never easy. He was relentless in making us rack our brains analyzing poetry and short stories. He would let us pore over every word, flipping our dictionaries for secondary and tertiary meanings, symbolisms and metaphors. He would never tell us the meaning of a poem or story, but he would listen to our attempts, and would either tell us we were on the right track, or shoot down weak and outlandish arguments.

But all this was done in a very light and easy environment. We could see that our teacher was having fun, so we were having fun as well. If this seems hard to understand, think of yourself having fun while being serious in your favorite sport or activity.

Whenever we were stuck, he would write “TINK!” on the board and patiently wait for us to squeeze more juice out of our brain cells.

To this day, he never gave the answers, content to let us either discard the unresolved questions or to continue discovering the answers by ourselves.

In the movie Dead Poets Society, the teacher Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) hops on his desk and tells his students to always look at things from a different point of view. “Things look very different from up here,” he says, “You don’t believe me? Have a look.” And one by one he tells his students to get on the desk and see the difference with their own eyes.

If there is one thing I learned from Rene, it is to think for myself, to find my own voice, and to realize that there is always something more than what we see on the surface, including ourselves, especially ourselves.

It would be dramatic to say that I decided to become a teacher after a year with Rene. It would also be untrue. I would decide that only a year before finishing college, with other reasons in the mix. But certainly, that had a major effect on my decision. I had a living example of the kind of teacher I wanted to be – a teacher who challenges minds, who touches lives and who has loads of fun doing so.

 

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. You may email him (for fun) at andy@freethinking.me.

Only the Mediocre

only-the-mediocreOnly the mediocre are always at their best.

– Jean Giraudoux

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