Stewing Is Not Praying


A seasoned couple once had a quarrel. It was over a trivial matter, but their clash had not blown over. There was a sense of dis-ease in the air as they did the dishes in silence. 

Afterwards, the husband retreated to the den to read the newspaper. The wife marched upstairs to their bedroom and slammed the door. She could be heard pacing the floor of the room above, and her voice on the telephone was animated and punctuated with statements like, “And then I told him…” and “Then he said…” 

When the husband finally retired to their bedroom some hours later, his wife glared at him from the bathroom. After a few minutes of awkward shuffling, she said:  

“Well, I’ve been praying all night long, and…” 

The man interrupted her and said, “Now honey, I am sorry. I misspoke earlier and then I made it worse when I denied it. So there. But as for you praying all night long, let’s be clear on this: you weren’t praying. You were stewing.” 

Praying is not stewing. If it was, our righteousness would outshine the sun. 

Let’s face it, stewing is far more enjoyable than praying. When we stew on something, we replay an event over and over in our heads. We write a verbatim of our conversations. We craft the perfect script of our encounters. Our responses are pitch-perfect in our recreated histories. They benefit from hindsight and we are never at fault.  

This, brothers and sisters, is not prayer.  

Sometimes, we’re not able to showcase our talents, so we replay the hurts or sleights that we experienced in a never-ending loop. Like getting pleasure from pressing a bruise, we revisit the pain and feel justified in feeling sorry for ourselves.  

This, brothers and sisters, is not prayer.  

And then there are the moments when we can’t help but to talk about it with someone else. This tends to escalate the issue, doesn’t it? But at this point, we’re okay with the heightened state of anxiety because we’ve been able to highlight to others how we’ve done no wrong.  

This, brothers and sisters, is not prayer.   

Finally, we turn things over in our heads with such frequency that the experience feels burned into our souls. We worry, we fret, we stress; all with the intention of making sense of circumstances that somehow feel beyond our control. 

This too, brothers and sisters, is not prayer.  

It’s stewing. It’s running in place. It’s suspending progress in favor of the past.  

In the Gospels, Jesus encourages us to avail ourselves of prayer so that we can be honest and transparent with God. Jesus teaches us to depend on God, to pray for others, and to pray that we might have the strength to do as God commands.  

If that’s what prayer is, then let’s acknowledge that it’s hard work. It’s hard work because our faithful prayers often devolve into fantasies—fantasies about things that we wish would have been different in our past, and fantasies of things we desire for the future. When this happens—when our prayers become our stewing—our strength is sapped, and our souls are soured. And this is not what God wants for us.  

Paul’s statements that we pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and in all things (Philippians 4:6) lend themselves to a kind of stream of consciousness experience. And while that may be well and fine, let’s hear this cautionary note: God is not our journal. God is not our diary. God is on the other line, so to speak.  

Our thoughts and our musings, our reflections and our deliberations become prayers when they invite God to change and transform us. Our prayers transcend our stewings when we selflessly consider God’s will—not God’s providence, mind you—but God’s desire for His Kingdom.  

In this way, prayer looks like Jesus in the Garden. He honestly shares his desire, but he ultimately chooses God’s desire.  

May we have the strength to spend more time on the latter, rather than the former. Because, when our prayers focus on our desires, we’re just stewing.