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A president's prayers

Religion | President Obama shares aspects of his private spiritual life at the National Prayer Breakfast

WASHINGTON-Providing the nation with a rare glimpse into his religious beliefs, President Barack Obama on Thursday said "these past two years, they have deepened my faith."

This deeper look into Obama's private spiritual life, given at a speech during the annual National Prayer Breakfast, seemed designed to confront the controversy surrounding his religious beliefs.

"In the wake of failures and disappointments, I've questioned what God had in store for me and been reminded that God's plans for us may not always match our own short-sighted desires," the president said at the Washington Hilton before an audience of more than 3,000.

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Trying to assure Americans that he is a man of faith, Obama joked about how "the presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray." He then outlined his daily prayer life in surprising detail.

"When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people," Obama said. "And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord, and I ask him to forgive me my sins and look after my family and the American people and make me an instrument of his will."

While acknowledging that he did not grow up in a religious family, the president described how the faith displayed by leaders of the Civil Rights movement eventually led him to work as a community organizer for a group of churches in Chicago. It was during this time 20 years ago that Obama "came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my Lord and Savior."

Obama's sharing of his personal testimony comes after many have debated his religious views-polls show that some Americans think he is Muslim. The first family still hasn't found a permanent church home in Washington, having attended services here just a few times during the past two years. The president on Thursday did single out Camp David's Evergreen Chapel as a place that has provided spiritual nourishment for his family. In his speech, Obama admitted that his "faith journey has had its twists and turns," adding that he has heard the doubts about his religion.

"My Christian faith, then, has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years, all the more so when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time," he said. "We are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us, but whether we're being true to our conscience and true to our God. 'Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you, as well.'"

The president thanked those across the country who are praying for him, and then continued with his detailed explanation of what he prays for: humility, wisdom, the ability to show compassion and help those who are struggling, and that he might walk closer to God.

Obama's speech continued a nearly 60-year tradition of presidents speaking at the annual breakfast. The event welcomed thousands of lawmakers, local leaders, and representatives from more than 140 nations. Other speakers included one of the rescued Chilean miners, Jose Enriquez, who recounted how the trapped miners prayed together during their ordeal. Lawmakers read from Scripture, and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., assured the attendees that "members of Congress do pray."

The breakfast ended with brief remarks by NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of shooting victim Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who is still recovering from the head wound she received in last month's Tucson shopping center attack.

"This event, horrible and tragic, was not merely random," Kelly said. "Maybe something good can come from this."

Undercurrents of that Jan. 8 tragedy flowed throughout Thursday's prayer breakfast as various speakers bemoaned the nation's polarizing politics.

"We have a lot of work to do, and prayer is the best place to start," said former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat from Arizona.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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