On my prayer meter, yesterday moved the needle quite well, thank you. Although, I do wonder whether my liberal sprinkling of “but” and “however” tarnish the process.
[Lord, please make me your servant of evangelization but if you want me to make a killing in the private sector so that I can give all the money away, I’m good with that. However, can we decide on a direction soon? Things are getting a bit dicey on my end.]
It’s just that I was trying to be so spot-on precise––I was talking to God and I was keen on not messing up. But inevitably, I did. While on my knees, I had this random thought that I was spending way too much time talking about me and not praying for others.
So what did I do? I cracked a joke, which immediately triggered self-reproach because the last thing I needed was for God to think I was irreverent.
However, this is what stress does to me. I begin to worry that I’m failing at prayer––because life is not improving. And at the moment, it seems most of my anxiety can be attributed to no job and funds shrinking faster than a thoroughly doused Wicked Witch of the West. The worrying––clearly a lack of trust (sort of) in God’s will––is the mental manifestation of pressure. The physical is the flip side of the coin and from experience; it can be a very warped currency.
Let me explain. A few years ago during a particularly troubling time, I was sitting down for lunch at a friend’s house, I picked up my glass of cranberry juice and within milliseconds, I began to shake uncontrollably. I was like the courageous and admirable Michael J. Fox––bless his heart––on a bad day. As if I was raucously celebrating a Super Bowl victory with champagne, the juice was splashing and spraying everywhere. I could’ve been a fountain in some Roman piazza. I was barely able to get the glass to my lips.
I didn’t handle the grilled cheese sandwich much better; a clean bite was pure luck. It was like watching anti-poetry. Feeling conspicuous, my host asked if I was okay. I could only chuckle and say, “It sure as hell doesn’t look like it.” I didn’t hurt anywhere, but watching my shaking limbs was akin to watching a science experiment as an objective observer. It was a strange sensation.
I remember asking God later if He was aware of my luncheon performance, where invisible sadistic scientists had hooked me up to electric probes and manipulated me as though I was a dead amphibian. I asked God if this truly was His will; if He wanted me to blow apart due to stress.
I answered my own question. Of course not. Then it occurred to me that maybe it was a sign and if I was going to get out of this mess, I needed to recommit to a prayer life.
Such a commitment is required now as well.
We all—and for the moment I’ll exclude myself—are exceedingly busy. Administering life, juggling schedules, earning a dime, raising kids, battling the culture and filling the day with this and that. Some things we do are important, other things inconsequential. How would you characterize prayer and its relevance and role in your life?
Prayer seems so simple; like breathing. Even so, can one get it wrong? Can one’s prayers be at cross-purposes with their aims? I seem to be in constant conversation with God all day long although I’ll freely admit the conversations seem one-sided. However, my intuition tells me I have great room for improvement in my prayer life; that prayer is monumentally important. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church––the genius book that should be in arm’s reach of everyone––is the following:
“Prayer, which always presupposes effort, is a gift from God. Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God. But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or out of the depths of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that we do not know how to pray as we ought, are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. Man is a beggar before God.”
In prayer, discerning the voice of God can sometimes be difficult. Cueing off of St. Ignatius of Loyola, discerning the voice of God can be a battle between the devil and myself. I’m trying to quiet my thoughts to be receptive to God, yet the evil one and his minions are all about noise of the worst possible type. Therefore, it becomes a battle to reduce the bombardment of negative thoughts, whether they’re Satan’s or mine. I can’t be open to God if I’m distracted, skeptical, tempted, or even angry that my prayers (seemingly) aren’t being heard.
For sinful man, the following statement is truth; prayer is a battle. The Catechism (2752, 2753) does a splendid job of explaining the battles within ourselves and “against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. The battle of prayer is inseparable from the necessary ‘spiritual battle’ to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ: we pray as we live, because we live as we pray.”
“In the battle of prayer we must confront erroneous conceptions of prayer, various currents of thought, and our own experience of failure. We must respond with humility, trust, and perseverance to these temptations which cast doubt on the usefulness or even the possibility of prayer.”
On this question of whether God hears us, St. Augustine has sage advice: “Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer. God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what He is prepared to give.”
One way of looking at prayer, and there are many in my humble opinion, is that it’s an adventure of revelation; where one’s purpose according to God’s will is often discovered. Moreover, in prayer, finite man is lifted by God’s grace and is able to converse with infinite Love and eternal Truth; the Essence of all that is. That is extraordinary.
And my prayers for today? I’m forging words from thoughts because He wants me to––I’m seeking encouragement. I’m praying that he forgives my foolishness. That He opens my eyes so I can be in sync with His desires for me. It’s nothing grandiose, just an honest, simple conversation with my Creator.