Praying in Public

I hate praying in public. I will avoid it at all costs. I’m too conflict avoidant to say “no” if I am directly asked by someone in a class or at the dinner table to pray, but I refuse to volunteer for prayers. When my significant other and I sit down to eat I usurp his right to preside (and ask him to pray) so that I won’t have to do it.

I know I need to get better at this–I love prayer, and I think prayer is not just important for developing an individual relationship with God–it also plays an important role in communities (it can help establish spiritual unity, it reminds us that we are all supplicant children of God, etc.). However, I think until I understand why I dislike praying in public, I’m not going to be able to change my attitude.

I have some thoughts on why it bothers me, but none of them seem sufficient:

  • Praying is a sacred activity, and I’m generally slightly uncomfortable doing sacred activities with other people (I still sometimes have a hard time going to the temple with people I know).
  • I get self-conscious.
  • I feel like I need to do more than just say rote prayer phrases, but I’m not good at coming up with eloquent expressions on the spot.

Anyone else have similar inclinations? Any thoughts on why you (or others) might dislike praying in public?


  1. I hate praying in public for the same reasons you do, although I would phrase reason #3 slightly differently. I’m not a very articulate person, so praying in my head is much easier for me than trying to pray out loud. I swear that when I open my mouth to speak, my brain completely shuts off. It’s embarrassing. It’s the same reason I’m really bad at arguing with my husband (who’s a great off-the-cuff speaker), but that’s another subject. I also have a reason #4, though, which is that I don’t feel very connected to God in the first place, so I’m conscious of feeling that I’m talking to myself.

  2. Seraphine, I don’t enjoy praying in public either, for all of the reasons you mention. I’ll do it to help out the poor souls who are presiding and conducting, but it always ends up feeling somewhat artificial to me. I find it much easier to pray in private.

  3. I have in fact refused to pray at church when asked, but now I’m in a position of having to ask others to do it–and since I appreciate it when they do, I’m thinking I should probably be willing to do it myself. I never really feel like I’m talking to God when I pray in public, though; I’m always too self-conscious. Oddly enough, I’m fairly comfortable teaching or giving talks, so it’s not exactly the “in public” bit that gets me. But praying seems so personal.

    I met regularly with an evangelical for a while a couple of years ago to discuss religion, and she at one point suggested that we pray together to find out which of our traditions was correct. I wouldn’t do it. (I don’t know if she thought I was just a heathen, or too scared of the possible answer, or what.)

    Sometimes I wonder if it would be worthwhile to occasionally read prayers in church. There are some beautiful prayers, and much of our public prayer ends up being rote anyway.

  4. I also hate praying in public. And I think most of my reasons match up with yours. When I tend to speak, in general, my words get all jumbled and my brain tends to shut off. You add the fact that I am addressing God in front of a group of people that will certainly heighten my anxiety. Also, I always want my prayers to be meaningful, not “vain repititions.” When I pray publicly, it is hard to make it meaningful (I think). When I pray alone, it is easier to stop and think, and pray specifically about my life, my family, my current spiritual situation, etc.
    I wish I were one of those on-the-spot eloquent speakers, but, alas, I’m not.
    I always ask my husband to pray too. I think he’s caught on to the trick though.

  5. This is where a tradition of beautiful recited prayers would come in handy.

    My family has passed down a memorized prayer from the Old European religious tradition that our ancestors belonged to before my grandfather’s conversion to LDS. In the original language. It is the only prayer I still feel comfortable praying out loud in public.

  6. Seraphine

    I have similar inclinations. Praying in public seems to lessen the personal and deep aspects it can have. In fact, I end up just regurgitating “vain repetitions.” I had a question I wanted to ask you and wanted to know if you wouldn’t mind emailing me. my email is aldenstout at gmail at blogspot dot com.

  7. madhousewife, I can definitely see how not feeling connected to God would make things even more difficult. I have a hard enough time having individual prayers when I feel disconnected from God.

    cmac, my significant other has caught on too. But I think he’s more amused than anything else. 🙂

    Lynnette and Beijing, I love the idea of reading recited/written prayers.

    johnny, I’m totally fine e-mailing you, but I’m confused by your e-mail address (do you really have to “at” signs in your address)? If you go to the “about us” page, my e-mail is listed there–feel free to drop me an e-mail.

  8. Seraphine, me, too! People are always surprised, too, because I’m so not shy, not afraid to teach or speak in public.

    I caused a flap and made people mad at me because a few months ago, I insisted on praying first in our meeting, rather than be nervous the whole meeting. I think the men in our stake have too much time on their hands that all they have to worry about is if a woman opens the meeting.

    I’ve decided nobody really listens to or remembers the prayers or who said them, five minutes after they’re said. I’m just going to fake it from now on.


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