Yesterday I asked Facebook friends to pray for my friend’s 93-year-aunt Frances. She was just diagnosed with cancer and her house is currently under water, thanks to Harvey. I prayed for her too, but if I’m honest, I spent more time writing the post than I did actually praying.
I don’t actually pray, a lot.  
My son has been battling shin splints for a year. I’ve prayed for him but spent much more time researching remedies and worrying. I’ve been praying for a few friends who have kids leaving for college, too. Inevitably though, my mind wanders and I start thinking about dinner, bills or important things like my new hairdo.
My biggest obstacle to actually praying is the hamster wheel inside my head. It’s a wheel that turns quickly and constantly and there are a variety of “hamsters” that spin it: Anxiety, control issues, doubts, stress, my to do list and apparently my hair. 
So how do we actually pray?
Pray about praying.
When I asked God to help me actually pray and turn off the noise in my head, He’s answered in a variety of ways. When praying for Frances, God reminded me about a doctor I read about who was struggling to muster up hope or empathy for his elderly patients. The doctor then imagined one very sick, aging man as one of his own sons. How would he want someone to care for them? Would he be okay with a doctor going through the motions with one of his children because the doctor had decided their end was near anyway? Suddenly God allowed me to pray for Frances as if she was one of my daughters going through cancer treatment and being homeless.
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Casey’s shins? I’ve been praying for over a year that everyone in my family would have a love for Christ isn’t neat, safe and sterile, but that’s passionate, deep and life-changing. What if shin splints had a bigger purpose? How should I pray about shin splints then?
My friends whose kids are leaving home? Praying with more focus has revealed something else about my prayer life. Actually praying forces me to enter into people’s pain and I don’t always want to. I’m so thankful Hannah is commuting this year. I can’t and don’t want to imagine her room being empty. Actually praying means praying with compassion, intentionality and energy I don’t always want to expend, but that is the heart of God and the point of prayer.

How do we actually pray? By asking God to turn off our hamster wheel whenever we pray. Martin Luther said, “Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth; help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart.” Actual prayer moves me into the presence of God. It involves my heart more than my mind. When God turns off the noise in my head and I actually pray, nothing, including my heart, remains the same.