Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

“Breaking my Addiction to Religion”

My name is Mark. I’m a recovering religious addict.


You should know this on day one of this blog about prayer. Truth be told, launching “Prayer Plain and Simple” with Nicole Symmonds is part of my treatment. We want this to be a forum of discovery, a place where we can discuss the spiritual discipline of conversing with God in down to earth ways, moving beyond pious posturing to real authentic and honest relationship.


Hopefully, knowing that others will be reading and responding to posts about my personal encounters with God will hold me accountable to my sobriety. Please, if you catch me stumbling back into religiosity, call me out. I know from experience it can happen very easily.



My biggest challenge is my career: I am a pastor. Like a sober alcoholic working as a bartender, I’m around my drug of choice 24/7. This makes life very dangerous. As a pastor, and the son, grandson, and great grandson of pastors, religion is a kind of family business. I understand the gig. I know the theology of talking to God. I’ve developed reasonable answers for most of the questions people have about prayer. I can teach others how to relate with God, and the principles do generally work. All this earns me kudos for my work because being a pastor is a task to perform, a task that falls out of my words and deeds with natural ease. So it seems. 



That’s the danger. Because I can look religious, my personal relationship with God can easily take on a posture-position without me realizing it. My prayers can end up with a double purpose – for God and the ears of others around me – and therefore cease to be prayer at all. God help me!


Actually, my relationship with God is the most important relationship in my life. I want it to be real, vital, fresh and natural. I struggle to keep it so because I can’t easily break free from the formulas I’ve mastered, and masquerade.


So I make these commitments on day one:


·         Behind all my talk about talking to God, I will first talk with God, secretly.

·         I believe God answers prayer and that he does so in surprising ways. I’ll continue to expect this and to look in those surprising places for his responses.

·         I’ll remember to speak with God naturally, in and through the ordinary rhythms of my life – while I’m brushing my teeth and on the borderlands between waking and sleeping.


·         I’ll look for God to answer with more conversation and more questions, not merely with the actions I request. In other words, I won’t merely pray “to do” lists.

·         I’ll converse, and I won’t be impatient when God keeps the tennis match going without seeming to do what I expect.


You have my permission: Ask me how I’m faring resisting the urge of religion. I want to know God and to be known. That’s all. If you smell piety on my breath, intervene.


Question: Do you ever feel like a religious addict? Is it hard for you move beyond posturing into true prayer? Do you ever want a more genuine relationship with God? Let’s talk about it…


  • BibleAlsoSays

    You sound like a man torn between your long family history that served, no doubt, to inculcate you from birth, and doubt, whether you care, or dare, to admit it or not. Add up the family pressures, peer pressures and the economic pressure you feel because it is your occupation of choice (assuming you had no pressure in that direction) and I can see the source of your distress.
    So, if you cut what you obviously believe to be an unhealthy “Belief” in half? Is it healthy then? What percentage of your current belief is “healthy”? You are right to equate religion with a drug. It is insidious and very powerful and made even far more potent when mixed with the influences above. I do not envy you. The trap you are in has a VERY tight grip!
    One thing the religious believe is that everybody, all of us, agree that the “default setting” for humankind is that of belief, the we all agree there is a God and that those of us that are non-believers, atheists, agnostics are simply “rejecting” God. We cannot “reject” what we don’t acknowledge as being there in the first place. Our “rejection” is merely from your point of view.
    “Belief” is NOT the “norm”, belief, as you have experienced, is acquired usually through childhood inculcation, sometimes, but rarely, through choice, or a decision made later in life, but, it is an altered state not the “default setting”. We are born without “God”! We are taught and pressured (in many ways) to “Believe”. One can live without religion and suffer absolutely no harmful side effects, contrary to popular believer’s belief.
    Let’s be honest Pastor, you are having a full blown “crisis of faith” a’la Mother Theresa! You just can’t allow yourself to admit it due, again, to the above noted pressures. That would be very costly! You are living a lie and suffering from cognitive dissonance. Your mind is making excuses that would allow you to remain “half pregnant”. It won’t work! Sooner or later you will have to face the fact that you don’t really believe as much as you and everybody around you thought you did.
    Face the challenge head on! It can and has been surmounted by others. There are places for you to find help. The one place you will NOT find it is in church and among your current peer group. You know this to be true. The truth and cure you seek is outside and away from your current reality.

  • Mark Herringshaw

    Dear BibleAlsoSays,
    Thank you heartily for the complimentary therapy session.
    The “full blown crisis of faith” you mention actually happened for me about 25 years ago when I was in college. It was then, after a “full blown exposure to intellectual skepticism” that I reawakened to my old childhood simplicity of faith. And that was the crisis. It came with a happy ending I’m still discovering today.
    The painful journey you have attempted to read into my account was in fact quite the reverse process. My childhood up until about age 12 was marked by what I now know to be profound “spiritual experiences” the likes of which my religious/clerical upbringing was never capable of understanding or explaining, despite their best intentions. In my childhood, communication with God was both free, intimate and wondrously adventurous. This is what I lost along the road toward “maturity” and the conformity that religion demanded of me. You are incorrect, at least in my case, in imagining that the church imparted the deception of God into me. In reality my religious community had no framework for experiences that came seemingly at random. The liberation I needed was from those constraints which kept me from the simplicity of childlike joy and playfulness I knew as a result of a genuine relationship with my Creator.
    I have turned that corner now, thankfully and I’m on the way back, education, responsibility and duty aside. I am learning to be a grown man and a boy all over again as I reawaken to my pre-religious-conditioned state. I’m loving every minute of it!

  • Alex Ness

    Religion to me is different from Spiritual. Finding religion could mean many things, such as faith, or a new fashion to believe something, or it could just be believing in something because others do. Religion itself is not the thing.
    Some of my issues as a flawed and practicing Christian from other Christians is their insistence that I perform their duties and rituals, when I do not share their belief in the efficacy. Some of my other issues come, of course, from being born of flesh, and being small compared to what I perceive is the immensity of God.
    But the people I connect with are not all Christians, are not all religious, but are almost all Spiritual. The point here is not to poo upon other faithful or the non believers, but rather to say, when we connect it isn’t upon points of sight, where we can see our common goals, but upon the soul, the spirit, the concept of spiritual that runs through out human endeavor and existence.
    A tree doesn’t KNOW the chemical content of the rain water it needs, or ground water it needs, but it needs it none the less. Religion is fine, but, when its reach goes beyond the spirit and soul’s reach, it is a hinderence to truth rather than guide post.

  • Alex Ness

    when religion cannot reach beyond the spirit and soul, not when it reaches beyond them sigh… not enough caffeine.

  • Mark Herringshaw

    Religious systems in themselves are not “bad.” Like good wine they can be rich and full of life and succulent – and all the other elastic adjectives wine mavens use. But wine can be dangerous as well. Faith in God must take forms we can taste, touch, feel and smell. We are earth bound creatures. Religion is our way of pulling down the spiritual to make it physical so we can in turn become spiritual. That’s the difference I see in Jesus. He reverses the flow. Instead of asking us to become spiritual, Jesus became physical to bring the spiritual to the material completely and perfectly and permanently. We Christians believe Jesus is himself – literally – pure and complete religion. The problem with religious systems comes when, as some do with good wine, we turn it into the main course and the end itself. It’s dangerous stuff in that role on the menu. We become dependent and eventually addicted. Not good. Jesus keeps things simple, and as he says again and again, “childlike.”

  • mrsmemyselfandi

    Religion is used as a cop-out for some people-haters who like to give themselves an excuse for not having to get physically close to anybody! I know, I dealt with one for almost 3 years now! He gets intimate once in a blue moon and all other times deprives me because his ‘conscience is bothering him!’ Religion builds walls between two people perfectly capable of creating and enjoying sexual bonding together!

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