When I was a child, I used to pray the rosary before I fell asleep. Many nights, I fell asleep with my rosary beads in hand.
I prayed not because I was so religious. I prayed because I was scared.
My mom was sick, and she prayed her rosary plus a stack of devotional prayer cards and booklets. I felt that if I prayed, she would be ok.
It was an unspoken deal between a 7-year old and God. If I prayed, she would not die.
This made some mornings very difficult. There were those nights when I fell asleep the before without getting through all of the prayers that I felt that I needed to say.
I carried a guilt that was from an unnecessary pressure that I created in my mind. Good intentions yes, but unnecessary as that is not how God works.
I understand prayer differently now.
Prayer isn’t negotiating with God.
While I can appreciate the above story from my past as being a comforting action in an attempt to control and change a bad situation as a child, it is tempting to get caught into this deal making relationship with God.
Consider when something bad occurs, such as that dreadful call in the middle of the night. We start to negotiate with God.
“Make him better and I will go to Church more.”
“If she doesn’t die, I will give my money away to the poor.”
In less dramatic situations, prayers can still be confused as what I call the genie relationship. We may begin by thanking God for the blessings of our life, but we soon follow with our wish list.
Some of these wishes may be quite serious and important. Others not so much.
As I grow, I am starting to see prayer as something different.
Earlier today, I was at Mass for All Saints Day. I started to pray for my wife and I first asked that God be with her.
I caught my language.
I do not have to ask God to be with her because God is already with her. God is within her, as God is within you and me.
My prayer changed.
I quietly said, “God, may she know you are with her.”
As the book of Romans says, “if God is with us, who is against us.”
This doesn’t imply a war or competition. It simply speaks to that by recognizing God in our life, and following God’s call for us, we are on the correct path. We are then with God.
I also love this image:
The message is a positive one- God is constantly knocking on the door of our heart. We just have to let God in.
I have used this image with students countless times in searching for a depiction of God’s love and presence.
The one challenge with this image is that it depicts Jesus outside. While I love this image, it would be more accurate for Jesus to be inside, as God is already within us.
We just don’t take the time to be silent and to listen.
Reflect on some of the great teachers from our past:
“The inspiration that you seek is already within you,” said Rumi. “Be silent and listen.”
Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is within you.”
“Silence of the heart is necessary so you can hear God everywhere,” said St. Mother Teresa. “In the closing of the door, in the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers, in the animals.”
Thomas Merton adds, “Let me rest in Your will and be silent. Then the light of Your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for Your glory. This is what I live for. Amen, Amen.”
“Silence isn’t empty,” said Buddha. “It’s full of answers.”
It is in silence that we shut out the noise and listen to God.
Yesterday, I took the bus. I don’t take it often as I walk to work and I am fortunate to have a car for more distant travels.
While sitting on the bus, I listened to music. It struck me how I could not hear anyone or anything. The noise was shut out.
We are invited to shut out the noise each day as we listen to God. This is prayer.
When we know God, we receive clarity and strength. We begin to understand. We are nourished and refreshed. This is why we pray.
Prayer is not about making deals. We should not leave prayers feeling as if we met or missed a requirement.
Prayer is a relationship, giving space and time to our Source. Once we can do this, we, like the great spiritual teachers, can be a source of light for others, reminding them of the role God plays in their life too.
We also pray for others and for outcomes. I believe in the power of prayer, but it remains a mystery why some prayers are answered and some are not. There are blessings in unanswered prayers, and a trust in God’s presence in all we do and in all we are.
Finding peace in the mystery is the challenge of living a life of faith. Turning more to the God that lives within us allows this mystery to simply be is only possible when we can trust God as not a distant, judgmental power, but rather as a loving creator.