When It Hurts to Pray

palmsDuring the season of Lent, many times we start out with the best of intentions. We want to sense the presence of God in our lives. We long to encounter Christ at Mass or at Adoration. We teach our children, and rightly so, that God loves it when we pray.

And yet, this longing often goes unsatisfied. Depending on what is going on in our lives, God can seem very distant. It happens to all of us at times. It even happened to Mother Teresa, as her friend Father Brian Kolodiejchuk revealed in the book of her private letters and other writings that was published after her death in 1997, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta.’  He wrote of Mother Teresa:

“The smile that covered a ‘multitude of pains’ was no hypocritical mask. She was trying to hide her sufferings – even from God! – so as not to make others, especially the poor, suffer because of them. When she promised to do “a little extra praying & smiling” for one of her friends, she was alluding to an acutely painful and costly sacrifice: to pray when prayer was so difficult and to smile when her interior pain was agonizing.”

For Mother Teresa, joy was an act of obedience. Prayer was her daily sustenance. Now, I am no Mother Teresa; there have been times when I found it difficult, if not impossible, to pray. And yet, even in those moments, God lavished amazing graces upon me, until I became thankful even for the darkness that pushed me relentlessly toward the light.

I remember a time in my life, on a short-term mission trip to Poland, when I found it difficult to pray because of anxiety. As the leader of my team of nearly 30 college students (half American, half Polish), I had been responsible to get the group to the rendezvous point in Frankfurt Germany at the end of the trip. But as the weeks went on, the trip fell apart. Our accommodations fell through at the height of the tourist season. Our Polish team members were unable to obtain visas. We lost our “chaplain,” the only member of the team who spoke fluent German (which we needed to communicate with our Hungarian bus driver). Our interpreter, whose wife was six months pregnant, had to return home prematurely. Somehow we made it to the meeting point – where the director of the sending organization chastised me for “allowing” team members to discuss the gifts of the Holy Spirit with each other. I couldn’t believe my ears . No apology. No acknowledgment for how difficult the trip had been. Just, “You should have handled this.”

The injustice of this man’s silly accusations ate at me, and I became depressed, a combination of exhaustion and outrage. Returning home, I went back to the non-denominational “mega-church” I had attended and felt my prayers bouncing off the ceiling. Had God had abandoned me, too?

Weeks went by, going to church with a plastered smile, and returning home feeling empty and utterly alone. One Sunday, walking toward my church I passed a little mission-style Catholic parish, and decided to sneak in. I didn’t know anyone — frankly, at that point it was a good thing, since I didn’t want anyone to know where I was. But as I sat at the back and breathed in the aroma of incense and beeswax, my shoulders relaxed … and I knelt down to pray knowing that — in the last place I expected it — I had God’s attention.

Long story short, about a year later, I stood with my sponsor at the front of that sanctuary and received the sacraments. That was 22 years ago, and I will always be grateful to the people of Holy Family Catholic Church, who welcomed this little Prodigal Daughter, and patiently led her back to God.

Are you in a place right now where praying is hard for you? Are you in difficult circumstances, unable to see a way out? Do you pray, and feel your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling? Do you feel like a fraud in your faith community? Take heart. Listen to the assurances of another great saint, Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you.

All things pass away, God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks for nothing. God alone suffices.

Teresa-21

Heidi Hess Saxton is the author of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant).

 

“Part the Waters, Lord”

One of the best parts of my Evangelical heritage is the music–four part hymns, solid Gospel and contemporary Christian recording artists such as the Gaither Trio, Keith Green, Second Chapter of Acts, Michael Card, and Evie Turnquist. (In one of my most rebellious moments, I sneaked a contraband cassette tape of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours.” I don’t remember actually playing it — just having it in my room was enough.)

My taste in music is quite a bit more eclectic now — from Big Band sounds to Top Forty with a smattering of alternative and international and show tunes. Give me a little Cole Porter or Jennifer Warnes, and I’m a happy girl.

Unless I’m not — and then I drag out the big guns.  Like this one:

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

Knowing You love me through the burden I must bear,
Hearing Your footsteps lets me know I’m in Your care,
And in the night of my life You bring the promise of day,
Here is my hand, show me the way.

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

Knowing You love me helps me face another day.
Hearing Your footsteps drives the clouds and fear away;
And in the tears of my life I see the sorrow You bore,
Here is my pain, heal it once more.

When I think I’m going under, part the waters, Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord, and hold out Your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

by Charles F. Brown

(If you’d like to hear it, here’s a YouTube version I recently came across.)

Last week was a difficult week. A time for letting go of a lot of things, some of them easier to relinquish than others. To add to the challenge, a dear friend of mine was faced with one of the most difficult choices of her life, the consequences of which were serious indeed. I prayed with her, then asked my friends to join me in praying for a miracle.

At times like this, when someone else is really hurting, it really puts things in perspective. I may not have gotten that job that I wanted so very much (still haven’t heard yet, but it doesn’t sound promising) . . . but I do have a husband and kids who love me dearly, no matter what.  We have enough to pay the bills (if we’re careful), and I’m almost done with the degree, and even if I don’t get THIS job I’m confident the right opportunity will come when the time is right.

Sometimes when I ask the Lord to “part the waters,” it turns out the puddles weren’t all that deep, after all. And that, too, is a kind of mercy.

A Blessing for Not-So-Holy Families

It was like scratching an itch that had been building up for years. Then, the day before Christmas, the proverbial straw landed. Finally, this ol’ camel scratched in the form of a carefully worded e-mail.

Ahhhh . . . camel crap.

We’ve been shoveling it for days now, with no end in sight. Someday I’ll get around to sharing details, but for now I’ll summarize it this way: Nothing, not even righteous indignation, feels good enough to justify hurting someone you REALLY love. And sometimes even the most justified comeback can have consequences you never intended.

In this case, the easy “Sorry” won’t work. You know, the one-size-fits-all apology married men discovered this eons ago. …

  • “I’m sorry I agreed with you that those pants make your butt look fat.”
  • “I’m sorry I said your laugh reminds me of your mother’s.”
  • “I’m sorry I didn’t bring home the milk you forgot to ask me to pick up.”
  • Why not? I offered, and Craig said it would only make things worse. So instead I’ve decided to turn this into a little life lesson, about the importance of keeping one’s saddle clean-swept. Of talking things out before the straws get too thick. Of tending to relationships in the short term, so the occasional bump won’t matter so much in the long term.

    This week, on the feast of the Holy Family, I offer this blessing for not-so-holy ones.

    Father God, we are all your children.
    And sometimes children squabble.
    Teach us to play nicely,
    and to use our words carefully, kindly, and at just the right time.
    In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

    St. Anne’s Miracle: On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

    Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the day in the Church calendar when we remember how God intervened in the course of human relationships to create the perfect vessel to contain the Word of God — the New Ark of the Covenant, if you will.

    According to Tradition, the names of Mary’s parents were Joachim and Anne. They were a devout, childless couple. Both these facts did not escape the attention of those around them, since infertility at that time was regarded as divine judgment. Most especially, they did not escape the attention of the Almighty.

    So when St. Anne conceived an infant, their joy was so great that they immediately dedicated the child to the service of God in the Temple. The child they had prayed and longed for all those years, with great spiritual courage they returned to God, just as Abraham had offered Isaac. And in the same way, God returned the child to the parents — with the understanding that this child was no ordinary child, but would be forever destined to accomplish something remarkable for God.

    Isaac became the father of the Hebrew people. Mary became the mother of all mankind, the New Eve, when from the Cross Jesus gave his mother to his beloved disciple, and through him to all of us.

    St. Anne also had a remarkable job to do. It was her task to raise the woman who would become the Theotokos, the God-bearer. And hers the task of relinquishing, little by little, all mothers hold most dear. At the age of three, Mary was brought to live in the Temple. A few years later, she returned home to prepare for her adult life … and was soon found to be pregnant. No doubt this caused many a sleepless night for Mary’s parents, just as it did for Mary’s betrothed. And yet, ultimately they held on to the fact that they had offered Mary to God when she was young; whatever happened, she belonged to Him every but as she belonged to them.

    And so, on this day when we remember Mary’s beginnings, we offer a prayer for our own children as well. No matter how our children came to us — through birth or adoption, or through simple association — they are not ours to possess. Ultimately they belong to God. It is us simply to take care of them as best we can, as long as they are with us.

    St. Anne, patroness of small miracles, pray for us.

    Prayer Warrior … ing

    This week at Mass we read what has become one of my favorite “prayer stories.”  It might seem a little obscure at first, but as I listened to the story, I got a flash of insight over a situation that has been bugging me for some time now.  So bear with me, and maybe it will help you, too!

    In Exodus 17, Moses and Joshua led the children of Israel against the Amalekites. This was not the first time the Chosen People had encountered this wicked nation. In Deuteronomy 25, we read of an earlier encounter between the Amalekites and the Israelites, in which the Amalekites slaughtered the weak and defenseless left behind in the camp as the Israelite men went into battle.

    It could be argued, therefore, that the account in Exodus 17 was divine retribution for Amalekite’s cowardice and cruelty.

    Have you ever noticed how often in the story of the Hebrew exodus, conflict is preceded by some dramatic encounter with the Almighty?  Following God’s orders, the people marched in silence for seven days around Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down. Prior to this, the Hebrews evaded Pharaoh’s troops when Moses lifted his rod and divided the Red Sea so the Israelites could make their escape.

    In this story, Moses sends Joshua and the troops into battle … but he and Aaron did not venture into the fray. Instead, they climbed to the top of a nearby hill, where they could clearly see and be seen. Moses raised his arms in prayer … and the battle began.

    As long as Moses continued to intercede for the people, all went well. But as he tired, and his arms began to sag, the Amalekites began to win. Aaron and Hur noticed what was going on, and they quickly intervened, bringing a stone so the prophet could sit and propping up Moses’ arms so they stayed upraised. Through their ministrations, the prayers continued to ascend to heaven. And in the end, God’s people won the war.

    Okay … so what’s the big deal? 

    In this story, everyone had a particular job to do. Some fought this powerful-yet-cowardly enemy in person, and others fought in the spiritual realm. Both were necessary. That was true in the Hebrew story … and it is true in our time as well.

    Without going into painful details, I have an Amalek in my life, someone whose thoughtlessness and selfishness has created great hardship for my family in general, and my husband in particular. While there have been periodic truces in the battle, they never last for long … and the attack always seems to strike hardest when he is feeling most vulnerable and alone.

    Early on in our marriage, I would get outraged and attempt to orchestrate the outcome of each confrontation. Invariably, it made things worse.

    But this week, listening to the story, I came away with a different approach.  Instead of going into battle, I need to climb a hill, lift up my hands, and pray for divine intervention. And when I feel discouraged and weak, instead of giving up and indulging in unhappiness … I will ask others to pray for me. For him. For us.

    I don’t know why God allows Amalek to torment his children.  Maybe it’s all supposed to be an exercise of faith. God promises to be father to the fatherless, and husband to the widow.  (Did you notice that the Gospel reading was also about how God listens to the prayers of the poor?)  I don’t know why. But Jesus, I trust in You!

    Lord God, in your justice protect us from destruction, and be our advocate in times of adversity. In your mercy, work in the hearts of the cold and indifferent, that your love will prevail over all.

    Sweet Mysteries of Life … and Faith

    Welcome to the “Carnival of Catholic Parenting” hosted by Maman A Droit! This month’s submissions are inspired by Hebrews 12:1-2:

    Therefore since we are surrounded with such a great cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.

    .
    After you read this great post, you’re encouraged to check out some of the other contributions to this month’s carnival through the links at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

    For the past couple of weeks, I’ve wanted to head up to “Cross in the Woods” to the St. Peregrine Shrine, to light a candle and pray for my father’s recovery (St. Peregrine is the patron saint of cancer sufferers). I have two other friends whose fathers are similarly afflicted right now, so I went this weekend with the intention of interceding for the health of all three men.

    When I arrived, all the candles in the shrine were either lit or broken. I stood there a moment, dumbfounded, wondering what to do. Having driven so far to get here, I didn’t want to leave without doing what I’d come to do.

    An elderly gentleman on the bench behind me seemed to read my mind. “Don’t worry,” he said. “God knows your heart. Just say your prayer, and trust God for the rest.”

    It seemed like good advice, so I touched three of the candles and asked God to bless the men they represented. And I left my offering, just in case St. Peregrine was watching.

    Earlier that day Father Michael had spoken of invisible realities of faith … How we can’t always explain how God does things in ways that satisfy our human understanding. The reason for this is simple: His scope of understanding is infinitely greater than our own.

    When I think of the great love of God, there are lots of things I don’t understand. Starting with, why would the Father send His Son to become one of us? Why would the Son condescend to die a criminial’s death … then continue to come to us through the centuries in the form of bread and wine? How does God bind us together as family through the sacraments, empowered by the atoning death of Christ, with bonds so strong, not even death can separate us? Why did Christ spent so much time healing the masses … knowing that they would still need to experience death? And why does he continue to provide in the sacraments the means of physical and spiritual healing … even though our final destination is not in this world, but the next?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions. They are true mysteries. But I believe God uses my prayers, combined with those of the saints, through the infinite merits of Christ.

    And THAT, dear friends, is why I light a candle, say a prayer … and trust God for the outcome.

    Image: Flickr – Creed 400

    Don’t forget to check out these other great Carnival of Catholic Parenting posts:

    • Julie @ Journey to the Simple Life talks about her struggles to be a positive witness through her speech in her post, Finding a New Way
    • Kate @ Momopoly discusses the importance of timing in Maternal Pacing
    • Heidi @ Extraordinary Moms Network reflects on why she turns to the cloud of witnesses in Sweet Mysteries of Life & Faith
    • Cassie @ There’s A Pickle in My Life talks about the temptation to let others’ choices distract us from our own families in her post, Running the Race
    • Maman A Droit compares the people who help her be a better parent to the people who helped her be a better cross-country runner years ago, in her post, Run Faster!

    Prayer for Catechists (when the year is almost over)

    Yesterday was the last day of religious education classes — my fifth graders and I went out side to play “Baseball Review.” I lobbed questions (gently), one at a time … and if the “batter” got it right, s/he took a base. If s/he gave the wrong answer, the question was given to the “catcher” on the other side. If the catcher got it right, the first player was “out.” If not, the “batter” got another question.

    I was amazed to discover what answers they got right — and what questions they missed! After months and months teaching about prayer and the sacraments, they could name the sacraments, and could come up with eight out of ten of the commandments. However, they couldn’t tell me the name of our pope — or name even one of the Joyful or Sorrowful Mysteries. Hmm… more work still to do!

    Suddenly I found myself empathizing with the hundreds of religious sisters from decades past, who labored to teach thousands of Catholic schoolboys and girls the mysteries of the faith (and watched helplessly as those students left the Church later in life). The kids could recite the Catechism … but had they caught the Spirit?

    It’s an unfortunate reality for parents and catechists alike: Our influence in the lives of the children entrusted to our care is not something we can wholly control ourselves. They may look up to us, and on a good day they may even appear to be listening to us … but what they recall is altogether a different matter.

    For good or ill, children are watching us. Learning from from what we say … and especially from who we are. If we do our jobs right, years from now when they are grappling with issues of faith, they will remember our carefully prepared lessons. They will also remember us as men and women of faith who showed them the love of God.

    An authentic religious education does not stop with the mind. It perseveres, until it reaches the heart.

    Prayer for Catechists as We End the Year

    We have run the race, we have finished the course.
    We have guided these children, gathered before us.
    Our worksheets completed, our workbooks read.
    Our rosaries prayed ’til our fingers bled.

    And now … It’s all up to you, Holy Spirit.
    We release these little souls into your care,
    Knowing they are safest there.
    Make them good, and pure, and true.
    Show them how much they are loved by you!

    Taking Time to … Breathe

    This morning when the phone rang, I wished very hardthat I had been able to find my Daytimer yesterday. That way I wouldn’t have been so surprised when my friend Pat Gohn (left) asked me if I was ready to interview for her podcast “Among Women.”

    I wasn’t, not exactly. My husband was conducting business in the living room, and when I moved to the bedroom to conduct the interview he started moving around, getting ready for work. If I’d remembered, I have shoveled out my office enough to talk to Pat in peace and quiet. As it was, all I could do was … breathe.

    Do you ever get like this? Feel like you’re going through life in auto-pilot mode, one step ahead of the lions? With kids to feed, home to clean, posters to make, meetings to attend, columns to write, e-mails to answer, books to read, and much else to do … Taking a moment to breathe seems like inexcusable luxury.

    But that is exactly what we need to do sometimes. Breathe, so we have the resources to keep running.

    Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhew!

    Today at AnnArbor.com, I’ve posted a little article about another important way to keep perspective, at least at our house. It’s the family rules: 30 minutes of together time every single day. No computers. No agenda. Just … together. Talking. Singing. Even grumping. It’s all good.

    In the interview with Pat about “My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories,” I talked about how we can never hope to have a relationship with God if we don’t spend timein His presence. It would be like running into Grandma’s house, shouting at her from the door, “Hi-Grandma-how-are-you-I’m-fine!” and running back to the car. That’s not the way to build a relationship.

    So, c’mon. Breathe with me now.

    Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.
    Make me aware of your presence, right here and now.
    As close and as warm as the air I breathe.
    Fill me, calm me, and strengthen me. Amen!

    Blog at WordPress.com.

    Up ↑