Recently, at my children’s school, a fellow parent asked me about where I pray when I’m on campus. He was genuinely interested and it even felt like he wanted to talk more about prayer and how beautiful he found the Muslim practice to be. I was so grateful. But at the same time, I found myself trying to shut down the conversation as quickly as possible. Instead of talking more and just asking all the questions I had about how he discovered prayer and what made it interesting to him, I felt like I needed to just smile and change the subject. I walked away so confused.
Why is it so hard for me to talk about prayer? Or to pray in front of people who don’t pray? When I pray in public I find myself so distracted and just wishing to finish quickly. I worry about people walking up to me and talking to me while I’m praying. I worry about looking weird or crazy. The entire experience is anything but spiritually satisfying.
At first it seems like it’s just an embarrassment having to ask for the time or the space. I need to take time away from my commitments so that I can go do this thing. I need to ask for a quiet space. I need to communicate needs that others aren’t asking for. Even more, and especially when I’m out in public, praying with my child next to me makes me feel negligent. I need people to be patient or just understand that for a few moments I need to turn my attention away from my kid. On the surface it seems that I’m worrying about inconveniencing others, but I know that’s not the full answer.
I found the courage to eventually talk to that same parent again. He seemed incredulous that I should feel that I have to hide this practice. “It’s obvious [you’re] not bothering anyone” he said so surely. I knew he was right. It doesn’t make sense – especially if I’m literally praying outside in a field by the school building – that I should think I’m bothering anyone by doing that. Further, it wouldn’t make sense that I don’t even want to talk about prayer. Yet, prayers always feel like something I need to hide from people who don’t pray.