When I was little, my idea of prayer consisted of kneeling at my bedside and asking God to forgive me for feeding our dog my vegetables instead of eating them myself (I can neither confirm nor deny if this is an *actual* example or just a hypothetical :).
I didn't really grow up in the church per se (more like in and out) but as a high schooler, I started to go back to church at which point I started to understand a little better the purpose of prayer and how it should be done (which is, there are no rules and there is no "correct" way). Yet I still had a very ritualistic way of praying, perhaps a bit rehearsed and maybe not straight from the heart. I remember my Mom gave me a little book of prayers around this time and I picked a few of my favorites out and I said them over and over again, just hoping that God might be listening.
In college my relationship with God grew quite a bit and I started to really see prayer for what it is - a chance to communicate openly and freely with God - not just about the good things but about the sin in my life, the fears I had, the frustration I felt when things didn't go as planned.
As with most things in life, my prayer matured with age. Now my prayers aren't said kneeling at my bedside (kneeling makes my knees hurt... ;) and they aren't prayers that I read in a book (not that there is anything wrong with that!). But rather I pray all the time - a lot when I'm running or on my bike on those long 6 hour rides. I pray in the car and in the shower. I pray right when my alarm goes off in the morning, that God will give me strength to make the most of this new day. I pray when I'm making dinner. I pray in church. I pray before the gun goes off for a race and I pray during races too. Really, I pray any time I think to pray. The good thing about God is, He is always willing to listen.
What do I pray for? Well I definitely pray for my family all the time. I pray for Oscar and our marriage, for his very important daily job of shaping the lives of kids. I pray for my friends, whether they know it or like it. :) Sometimes I tell people I'm praying for them but I'll admit that sometimes I pray for people and don't tell them because I don't know how well it will be received. I've had people ask me NOT to pray for them because they don't believe it makes a difference and they don't believe in God but I still pray for them anyway (because I'm sneaky like that :). Chances are, if you've met me, I've prayed for you. :)
I pray for all the people involved when I see or hear an ambulance go past. I pray for a lot of the patients that I see. I pray for the doctors that I work with because their jobs are very hard and pressure filled and people's lives literally depend on them. I pray for my church, for our country, for our goverment.
And of course I pray for myself. I thank God over and over for all that He has blessed me with, which I'll admit is sometimes hard when things aren't going the way I had hoped, but really is an exercise in perspective. I ask forgiveness for my lack of humility, the selfishness that creeps into my life, and all the other sin that I fight but give in to. I ask for strength and guidance in making good decisions (all the little ones for that day and all the big "life" decisions as well). I pray for help in making sure that I do not squander the opportunities I've been given or the gift of Jesus' death on the cross. I pray when I'm scared, uncertain, happy and angry.
It sounds like a lot but it's really not. It's just a bunch of little mini conversations with God throughout the day. :) It's a way to keep in touch with God and to keep myself grounded. And prayer always helps me rest in the knowledge that God's got my back. He is always listening and always caring and always loving.
A quick story about prayer. This year right as the pro men were getting in the water at the Oceanside 70.3 and all the pro women were standing on the pier waiting to go, fellow pro Kristen Andrews turned to me and said "I'll be praying for you out there." She knew it was my first pro race and that I was likely scared out of my mind (I was) and that simple, small promise just meant the world to me. I almost started crying (seriously) but instead I think I joked something like "I'll definitely need it!" In all honesty though, her gesture just helped me to breathe and know that everything was going to be all right. She reminded me that God was there with us and no matter the outcome, He'd still be there.
So that's my take on prayer. :) And one other thing that I'll definitely be praying for - that after reading this, someone who never prayed before or perhaps hasn't prayed for a while, might strike up a conversation with God. I promise, He's listening. :)