Sunday, February 23, 2014

Do You Suffer From Proseucheglossophobia?

Do your hands start to sweat and your heart start to pound when Bible study moves on to “Prayer Time”? 

Do you find yourself reaching a near-panic state as the group leader looks around for “someone to close us in prayer”? 

Do you miss out on half of the spoken prayers because you are berating yourself for not speaking out to uphold a friend in prayer, running through all of the reasons that everyone is better off if you DON’T open your mouth, vowing to pray TWICE AS HARD tonight before you go to sleep to make up for not participating YET AGAIN in the prayer circle?

If any of these situations come close to your own, you may in fact suffer from proseucheglossophobia.

[That’s pros-yoo-khay-glos-o-fo-bee-ya.]
The term may be fiction, but the malady is all too real.
Experts estimate that as much as 75% of the population experience glossophobia, or the fear of speaking in public, to some extent.  I’ve added “proseuche” to that term to represent the fear of PRAYING in public, because “proseuchomai” in Greek means “to offer prayers.” 

Hence, proseucheglossophobia, is the fear of praying in public.  Say it ten times fast.  (Just not in public!)

I’m no psychologist, and cannot offer an analysis of why so many of us are afraid to pray out loud in front of people.  But, as a fellow phobic who has come far in overcoming the limits of that fear, I CAN share with you my own path to breaking free (a little bit!) from the phobia.

Pray About It!

Whenever I am facing some difficulty in my life, or working on some area of weakness, the first thing I try to do is to take my effort to God. 

I take seriously the passages in the Bible that remind me that my help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:2), and that I can do little apart from Him (John 15:5).  I take seriously the reminders that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippans 4:13).  I take seriously the promises that a fervent prayer can accomplish a lot (James 5:16). 

When I noticed that I was having so much trouble praying out loud in front of people, and that I just couldn’t bring myself to participate during prayer times, I asked God to help me to overcome my fear.  I asked Him to remind me to focus on my conversation with Him, rather than putting my focus on how I might look or sound to the people listening to me.  I asked Him to remind me that my ego was so much less important than the work that I should be doing to bring the requests and needs of loved ones to Him in prayer.

Pray With Your Children

I knew that I couldn’t teach my children how to pray without modeling prayer in front of them, and I couldn’t very well close my eyes and bow my head and sit in silence, expecting them to learn anything about prayer from that. 

I started using a little book of devotions with them, and said aloud the one-line prayer provided in each day’s passage.  As I got more comfortable hearing my own voice, and as I thought of more things I wanted to pray for in front of my children, I prayed a little more “off-the-cuff,” using the pre-printed prayer as the first line, and adding additional thoughts of my own. 

Similarly at night before bed, I started with a one-sentence prayer, thanking God for our day and asking Him to protect us as we sleep.  Over time, I started adding to the prayer, asking for His blessings for our family, thanking Him for the day’s food and our home, asking for healing or comfort for some member of the family whom the girls knew was facing an illness or injury.  Then I added, “Please forgive us for our sins, and help us to make good choices.”  Occasionally, the girls ask me to pray for something, like a tummy ache or a cut on their finger or summertime mosquito bites. 
I found that praying aloud with my children was a very low-pressure, low-stress approach to getting comfortable with the overall idea of praying in front of others.  I started with a feeling of obligation (“I really NEED to be doing this for the spiritual development of my girls!”), and I started small (“They can only sit still for a sentence or two, so that’s where we’ll begin.”), and from there I got more comfortable, started to involve them in the content of the prayer, and added to the length of what I had to say. 
I think one reason this step helped me in my development as an “out-loud pray-er” is that with children I HAD to keep my words simple and my thoughts clear.  If I sat there and started praying about holiness and  sanctification, and “thou art,” and “thy sovereign this or that,” it would have turned me tongue-tied, and utterly confused the kids!  And once I started praying in front of other people—grown-ups—I didn’t see any real reason to switch gears and pull out the fancy Christian vocabulary. 
God knows my heart, and He knows what I’m trying to say, and if I’m going to bother speaking those thoughts aloud, they might as well be understandable!  God gave me this voice, and I try to pray aloud with the same voice I use when I pray inside my head.  There is no need for me to try to sound like anyone other than myself. 
Pay Attention

When I started to recognize that praying out loud is a skill, something that I could learn, I started really listening to people whose prayers I admired.  I started paying attention to how they began their prayers, how they addressed God, and what they said first.  I listened for the words and phrases they used to pray for people who needed healing, comfort, or encouragement.  I took note of what they said to bring their prayers to a close.  It was almost like I was creating a “word bank” in my mind with words and phrases I could use in my own prayers.  I could always hear if the things that other were saying didn’t sound like ME, though, and, as I said above, I always pray in my own voice, rather than taking on the voice of someone else I’ve heard as a prayer model.

Put Yourself in Positions Where You HAVE To Do It

I found myself in the position of leading one of the Bible study/prayer circles at my church.  I COULDN’T back out of praying now!  It was in MY job description (so to speak) to open our meetings in prayer, and to start off our prayer time at the end.  Yikes!  It was “do or die,” to put it melodramatically.  Facing this didn’t mean the phobia disappeared, not by a long shot, but it put me in a position where I could not avoid facing my phobia, and I had to figure out how to overcome it (by the means described above) in order to not be miserable internally and do what I considered would be a disservice to the women in my circle.

Avoid Comparisons To Others
More than anything, overcoming a fear of praying in front of others requires us to get rid of this pervasive and so-damaging practice of comparing ourselves to others. If it is truly just me talking to my Heavenly Father, why would I ever fear?  But when you add a handful of women to the equation, some of whom look like Giants of the Faith compared to where I am on my own faith journey, women who open their mouths and pour out eloquence in support of their sisters’ concerns and challenges, women who can incorporate scripture to support their requests…well, you can feel the pressure mounting as well as I can, can’t you?

But the fact is, no matter who is sitting in that room with you, your conversation is truly between you and God.  The rest of us sitting there are in solidarity with you.  Do you REALLY think that while you lift up your brother in Christ facing heart surgery or your sister in Christ trying to extract herself from an abusive relationship that someone in your circle is internally critiquing your word choice or snorting that you stuttered AGAIN?  And if they are, then woe to them, not to you!  Praying is not a competitive sport.  Some people will have a smoother delivery with finer words and deeper thoughts.  Others will be more stilted and halting.  All are approaching the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:6), following Jesus’ example and obeying God’s command to pray. 

You're Not Alone!
If you are nervous or fearful about praying out loud in front of others, be aware that you are in good company.  I found online references to “praying out loud” workshops to help people get more comfortable doing it.  Some pastors feel uncomfortable praying out loud, even though it is a fundamental part of their job description!

The most encouraging thing to keep in mind that praying out loud is a skill that you CAN learn, and its potential for allowing you to bless others makes it a skill worth developing. 

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