Archive | February 2015

Prayer, prayer, where for art thou prayer?

Prayer. Its powerful. We all have heard and read the stories about those who have had amazing things happen when engaged in deep prayer. Amazing conversions, great cures and wonderful deep seeded peace which nothing can shake. Yet, there is a lingering question for many of us, how do I pray?

St. Jane Frances de Chantal used to say, “The best method of prayer is not to have one, because prayer is not obtained by artifice but grace.”

This sounds beautiful and when I read it I thought I would feel relieved. Grace, wonderful! No technique necessary, great! There is just one problem. I still have no idea how to pray! Every time I sit or kneel down to pray the prayers slip through my fingers and all that remains are fragmented worries of life.

In my college years I had been blessed with an awesome relationship with God. Adoration was offered in three different places on campus and I frequented it often. I went to daily Mass and took theology classes. I was getting to know God and it was awesome. Prayer flowed from my heart freely like a girl to her closest friend. He was my companion when friends abandoned or misunderstood me. He was my comfort when my heart was broken. He was my soul’s friend and I was at blissful peace.

Then I graduated, got married, had kids and life shifted from having a permanent seat at church to figuring out what it meant to be the domestic church. I longed for the relationship I had lost. I no longer knew how to pray, how to be silent (without falling asleep from exhaustion) or what to say to God that would reveal my heart fully to Him and allow Him to respond in a short 2 minute period between boy squirms and the calls for dinner.

My prayers look drastically different now. It is a struggle. I spend the first two minutes trying desperately to clear my mind of the demands that are constantly on me. Then some odd form of prayer gurgles forth in something that goes like this:

“Thank you God for this day, for my kids, where are my kids? Did something just crash downstairs? They’ll be fine. At least until someone tries to take a plane. Please Lord, just give me five minutes to focus on you. Thank you for this day…do I smell a dirty diaper. Ugh, Lord, I’m trying here. I offer you all my frustration right now. I’m sorry I can’t give you more. Help me get through this day. Stop yelling at your brother!”

Not exactly the Te Deum.

In these sporadic minutes I do not feel the joy I once had speaking to our Lord. I recently picked up a small booklet called, “I wait for you” by Sister Josefa Menendez. It is all about Jesus waiting for us in the Eucharist. My heart broke reading the words of our Lord reaching out with so much love for love from my soul. Mother Theresa’s famous “I Thrist” discourse hits me in the heart every time. Jesus wants us, He wants our love, He wants to have a relationship with us. He is at every Eucharist shrouded in bread and wine with arms full of graces waiting to bestow upon our souls.

How many of us recognize our savior week after week? Even for a millisecond from the pews. I know I don’t. Yet, I know this is the equivalent a bride leaving her groom waiting at the altar. Or a bride who comes forth without looking at him, touching him, offering him her love at every second of the ceremony. I will never forget looking into the eyes of my husband on our wedding day and how I barely blinked. Joy was my oxygen. I was completely enthralled with his love for me and the gift that God had set before me. (This is something we will revisit later)

I long to look at Our Lord the same way I look at my husband.

Yet I struggle to find my footing in the few fleeting moments of my day where I have a chance to slip a “Lord help me” to my guardian angel to lay before His feet. These small cries to Him seem like nothing to me. The were like insignificant wilted roses which were meant to be something beautiful but died in their potential.

Then I picked up a copy of “Answers not Promises” by Mother Angelica. In it was a wealth of assurance with a good smack in my face.

[…]we sometimes forget that plain conversation, like thanking God for your friends, or praising him for the health of your children, is equally important. We fail to recognize that God longs to hear, in our own words, just what’s on our minds. (Mother Angelica, Answers Not Promises. 92)

Aw, great consolation for tired mamas or those in the desolation part of prayer struggling through the darkness. Prayers don’t have to always be planned or elaborate. It is okay to pray in spurts and in the midst of our anger, frustration or despair. God wants to hear the smallest detail of our day with love and excitement. Now for the smack in the face:

 But God isn’t just a 911 emergency number. He wants to hear from us all the time, not just when the chips are down. 

There many reasons why prayer is hard for us.

– We think it is an empty ritual instead of a real communication with God

– We only remember to pray in times of distress

-We feel distant or unworthy, as if God doesn’t have time for the little things that are important to us

-We don’t know what to say to Him

 (Mother Angelica, Answers Not Promises. 92)

  In the following posts I’m going to spend some time examining prayer, why we do it and the God we are praying to.

Mother Angelica #2

Lent. It is not a coincidence that it is a four letter word. Goodness knows that at any point in time during these 40 days of fasting, abstinence and sacrifice a person raises their mental fist to the sky and growls ‘Lent!’ or shouts ‘Why Lent? Why?”

Mother Angelica 3

Lent is to be a time of prayer and growing in holiness. But there is a catch when praying for something (patience, humility, to be a better person, etc.). Sometimes, God gives us what we ask for. Just like in Sacred Scripture, God uses other people to help bring about our holiness. I have a word for these people, hair shirts. Just like the penitential garb worn by saints holier than me, these hair shirts take the form of all sorts of people and irritants to try to help me on the road of virtue. For my husband it can be the wadded up washcloths in the bathtub. My kids it can be their lack of ability to focus, pay attention and just flat out listen to any word that comes out of my mouth. Strangers it could be cutting me off in traffic, coworkers speaking badly about me behind my back, evil looks shot at me during Mass because my child made a peep, etc.

Then God smacks me with another four letter word. A word that is at the heart of Lent:

Love.

Sure, holiness is hard when other people get in our way. Some are there to give us a ‘softball’ chance to knock an opportunity for virtue out of the park. Others are there to be the subtle chance we have to be looking out for. And a select few are the up front, in your face, I’m going to dare you to act virtuous in this situation.  Others do in fact make our holiness harder to achieve. Yet it may be truer to say that holiness is harder when we get in our own way. What if I loved people more? What if my love for Christ and His creation overpowered my sarcastic tongue, wounded heart and frustrated frazzled mind?

Christ loved to the point of death for those who loved and cherished Him as well as those who were lukewarm or despised Him. Since I know I am not at the point of being willing to accept bodily death for those around me can I accept a death to myself? Can I love them to the point of prayer?

Reflection: Saints often wore hair shirts as an extra sacrifice to God for souls. St. Terese befriended a nun who was her ‘hair shirt’ to the point that many in the convent accused her of favoring her over all the others. How do you deal with your hair shirt? What specifically irritates you? How can you deal with that person lovingly? While on earth Jesus addressed many of those who were against his ministry and sought to teach them on many occasion. Here, the Lord of the Universe who knew each of his opposer’s hearts and had perfect words could not crack the hardness of their wills. They refused to love Him. How can I learn to love my hair shirt? Best yet,  in what ways am I someone’s hair shirt? (If you don’t know, ask. You’ll be amazed at the list that willingly comes forth)

Challenge: When someone or something irritates you this week, offer up two prayers: One for you and one for them. Holiness is about perspective. Is our perspective frustration or is it love?

Mother Angelica #1

There are some people in this life that have a way of getting under your skin–in a good way. You know that person. Maybe it is a coworker, a sibling or a friend. Whoever it is, when you see their face your life becomes better. No matter the weight you are carrying a huge sense of relief comes when they appear. Their smile is infectious, their words profound and their life a beacon of joy and hope for all to see. They are a person you wish you could become more like. When we love someone our lives change for the better.

When I first set eyes on my future husband I was hooked. I wanted to show him the best of me. So, I would run back to my dorm room in between classes and change clothes right before I saw him. Vain? Yes. But I wanted to attract his attention and for him to see me and not my usual oversized hoodie. My routes to classes were now filled with side glances to see if he was coming. Meal times in the  cafeteria was like a life sized ‘Where’s Waldo’. I wanted to see him–to feel wanted by him. To catch him looking at me or to just get a casual chin-up gesture would have made my heart race like Flo-Jo in the Olympics. That affirmation that he saw me and was happy to see me gave me joyful contentment. When I met him, my life changed. I changed it for him.
Mother Angelica #1

Reflection:  One day it hit me like a fly ball in left field. Did I feel the same way about God as I do with my husband? Do I go out of my way to make God proud of me? To get His attention? Do I change my routines so I can see Him or draw near to Him? After the depressing answers came the biggest question remained. Am I willing to make those changes now? With Lent quickly approaching now is the time to answer that question and to do something about it. Not just for 40 days but for every day after. What things can you change in your life to make more room for God? How can you prepare your heart too encounter Him at Mass every week?

Challenge: This Lent do something that will change your relationship with God. Get to know Him through prayer and reading. Pick up a spiritual classic like the Imitation of Christ, St. Faustina’s diary or even the Bible. Find time to talk to Him throughout the day. If we plan on going to heaven we better get to know the One we will be spending eternity with 😉