It was a simple, innocent question from someone I've never actually met.

"You probably pray," my young e-mail correspondent wrote. "If you don't mind me asking, what do you pray about? And why?"

I didn't mind. Although prayer is a deeply personal religious practice, it is one about which I'm happy to talk. So I clicked on "reply" and prepared to be profound.

"You're right," I wrote, "I do pray. Faithfully."

Good start, I thought. I especially liked the double-meaning of "faithfully." I hoped my young e-friend would appreciate it.

"And when I pray," I continued, "I pray about . . . "

My mind started swimming. What DO I pray about? And what can I say about prayer that would have meaning to a young person who obviously isnt familiar with the role prayer can play in someone's life?

"I pray about . . . well . . . everything."

Duh! That doesn't tell her anything. Come on, Mr. Writer. Mr. Communicator. Mr. Holier-Than-None. Come up with the words that will help her understand what prayer has meant to you through 52 years of living in-and-out of intimacy with God (and you'll have to tell her the truth — there have been more outs than ins).

Tell her about the times you prayed and felt like your words were racing on Heaven's Autobahn right straight to God — a feeling exhilarating enough to help you through the times when you felt like your words were bouncing off the ceiling and crashing to the floor around you.

Tell her about the time your eldest sister felt impressed to pray for your eldest brother at precisely the same moment he was contemplating suicide 500 miles away, and how he was immediately filled with such a powerful feeling of peace that it literally saved his life.

Of course, you'll also have to tell her about the times you've prayed with all your heart and soul for stuff that . . . well, let's just say that you're still waiting for those answers. Or at least, you're waiting for the wisdom to see the answer that you obviously haven't recognized yet.

Still, I pray.

But why?

I pray because my parents prayed, and I saw how it imbued their lives with meaning and purpose.

I pray because I like how I feel when I pray: peaceful, hopeful and optimistic.

I pray because I have teenagers.

I pray because I have three married children, trying to figure out marriage at a time when so many around them have quit trying.

I pray because I have grandchildren.

I pray because I do dumb stuff . . . pretty much daily.

I pray because Im grateful for the possibility of recovery — eternally — from the dumb stuff I do . . . pretty much daily.

I pray because I want to do everything I possibly can to support our military men and women, our law enforcement officers, our firefighters and our NBA officials.

I pray because . . . well, who else are you going to thank for that sunset?

I pray because some of the people I home teach dont want home teachers.

I pray because Id really like to give peace a chance.

I pray because I have two sisters, their husbands and a daughters boyfriend on missions.

I pray because I can never get through to Bill Gates.

I pray because I know how much fathers like to hear from their children.

I pray because I believe, and I believe because I pray.

And when it comes right down to it, that's the answer that really counts.