Unanswered Prayers

piano
Please, dear God, don’t let him make any mistakes.

This was my hastily whispered prayer three years ago when my eleven-year-old son sat down at the piano to perform in the spring recital.  He was playing a difficult piece – one that he had been working on for months.  I knew he was nervous.  I held my breath as he began to play.

Despite my plea to God, there were several noticeable mistakes in his performance, including one heart-stopping moment where he seemed to lose his place in the music before picking it back up again.  My heart fell.  My son is a deeply sensitive boy and a perfectionist.  I knew he would be devastated by these mistakes.  And he was.  No matter how many times my husband and I told him he did a great job and we were so proud of him, he would not hear it.  With choked back sobs and tears of frustration, he could not get past it.

He wasn’t the only one who was frustrated. I had a bone to pick with God.  “Come on!!  It was a simple request!  You can move mountains and part seas!  Was it really so impossible to help a boy get through one piano piece?!?”  I felt rejected and a little bit betrayed.  I couldn’t understand why God refused to say “yes” to this simple prayer.

Fast forward two years.  We were back at the same music studio for another piano concert.  My son had chosen an even more challenging piece to perform.  He knew it by heart and he was ready. Before he began to play, his teacher got up to say the following words about my son: “When he chose this piece to learn, as his teacher my first instinct was to talk him out of it, because I thought it would be too difficult for him. But he was determined and he worked hard. And he taught me a valuable lesson. Never again will I tell a student what they can’t do.”

The lights dimmed as my son began to play. He did a beautiful job…his fingers flying over the keys as the melody filled the room and my heart. His performance wasn’t perfect. There were some wrong notes and another prolonged pause as he tried to find his place again. I sighed deeply. So close! I guess we’re in for another rough afternoon.

When the recital was over I rushed over to my son to give him a hug. He hugged me back, smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. “Did you notice I lost my place for a few seconds there?” To my surprise, he wasn’t upset. He was ok with it. What a difference from the wrecked little boy of two years ago! My mind jumped back to that moment when I believed that God had denied my prayer. With sudden clarity, I realized how wrong I was. This was God’s answer. This year, this moment, this beautiful evidence of growth in my son. God had been holding him and shaping him and working in him all this time.

I understood. God didn’t say “yes” to my prayer that day. But he didn’t say “no” either. Instead, his answer was “grow.” A lesson in faith to be learned not just by my child, but by me.

God is always loving us and working in our lives, even if we can’t always see it in obvious ways. Think back to the “unanswered” prayers in your own life. Was God really saying no? Or was there a greater plan He had in mind for you?

Pray Where You Are

Prayer Therapy
For many years I’ve been collecting a book series on spirituality called “Elf-Help Books” by Abbey Press. The series contains over forty mini-books on a variety of topics, each one accompanied by charming illustrations by R.W. Alley. Titles include: Trust-in-God Therapy, Stress Therapy, Forgiveness Therapy, Keep Life Simple Therapy, Be–Good-To-Your-Marriage Therapy, and many more. The books are beautiful in their simplicity. 35 to 40 short statements to help you reflect on each topic. Click here for more information on how to order Elf-Help books.

One of my favorites is Prayer Therapy, written by Keith McClellan, O.S.B. In the foreword he writes: “Real prayer is organic—it grows out of your own life, personality, needs, and rhythms. Each day and every moment are filled with opportunities for prayer. If we seize these moments, we open ourselves to the greatest enrichment—and most effective therapy—possible. Prayer isn’t for specialists. Prayer is for you and for me.”

I love this idea that we all have access to a rich prayer life if we only embrace it. Prayer is not reserved for only the most holy. It does not take place only in churches. It does not have to consist of poetic words. Prayer is simply a connection to God in whatever form that may take for each one of us. As Fr. McClellan suggests: “Pray where you are. God is everywhere.” In line at the grocery store. In classrooms. On a busy street. Deep in the woods. High on the mountaintop. In the depths of the valley.

You can bring any emotion or thought to prayer. God loves you and knows you best, and He wants to hear it ALL. Bring your gratitude to God. Your sorrow. Your anger. Your confusion. There may be times when you can’t even find words for what you’re feeling. Let your sigh become a prayer. Or your tears. Or a shrug of your shoulders. Or a clenched and shaken fist. God knows what your heart is experiencing and is listening and loving you.

If you pray where you are often enough, you’ll find it becomes a part of you. A “second-nature” response to every situation. This living, ongoing conversation with God will enrich your life in countless ways. Answers will come. Peace will come. Contentment will remain.

Fr. McClellan closes his book with this beautiful thought: “To pray is to breathe. Do it deeply and you will be filled with life.” AMEN!


 

Refresh Me, Remind Me, Release Me

autumn-leaves-close-up-600x400
Lord, there are days when my prayer life stagnates. When the old trusty prayers fail to inspire. When new words won’t come. Everything is dry as the desert. On these days, I ask you to come to me in a new way. Help me discover fresh ways to see you, to talk with you… to know you. Refresh my desert days with living water.

Lord, there are days when I forget to pray at all. When signs of you are all around me, but I fail to see them. Instead my mind focuses on the endless “to do” list. The daily distractions of the outer world. On these days I ask you to send me a reminder of your loving presence. Help me to see your authorship in all that surrounds me. Guide me from my wandering with a gentle reminder.

Lord, there are days when I find myself stuck. Clenching my fist tightly around a past hurt or a stubborn mindset. This holding on becomes a holding back. On these days, I ask you to grant me permission to let go. Release me from all that holds me in chains. So that I might move forward in love and action and inspiration.

Amen.

Finding God in the Storm

finding god in the storm

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

We hear this well-known scripture verse at the cross, when the Earth was covered in darkness, and Jesus uttered these words moments before he surrendered his spirit and died. But that’s not the first time we hear it… the line first appears in Psalm 22. Although the specific reason is not known, the author of the Psalm is clearly suffering. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The passage goes on to say:

Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

Have there been times, when you’ve felt like the author of this Psalm… that God was very far away? Perhaps during a time when you were experiencing personal suffering. Or maybe from the nagging worry that suffering may be just around the corner. We live in a world FULL of uncertainty and fear. Worries about our personal health and well-being and the well-being of our family members. Worries about the economic climate… will we keep our jobs? Can we “stay afloat” financially? Worries about global threats, war, and violence – terrorism, shootings, natural disasters, contagious disease.

How easy it would be to collapse under the weight of all these worries. How often do we feel like that’s exactly what we might do? How does this fear manifest itself? Sleepless nights, stress, anxiety. Living in this state of perpetual worry… how do we pray? 

Dear God, PLEASE don’t let me get sick.
Dear God, PLEASE don’t let anything happen to my children.
Dear God, PLEASE don’t let my husband lose his job.

We lovingly and a bit desperately bring our laundry list of fears to God… praying that He will protect us from anything bad. Dear God, don’t let this happen! We fear that if the worst did happen, we wouldn’t be able to handle it.

These troubling times can make us feel like we’re in the middle of a raging storm… beaten down by winds and rain, feeling like we might drown or be swept away. In the everyday trials and tribulations of life, the storm may not seem as life-threatening, but it still can be relentless and exhausting. The Scripture that always comes to my mind when I’m in the middle of one of these stormy times comes from Mark’s gospel:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Mark 4:35-41

It comforts me to know that the disciples behaved exactly like I would have in this situation. They were freaked out. They wanted the storm to go away. They didn’t trust that they would survive it. Jesus was right there in that boat with them… but still they didn’t trust. And can you really blame them? Here they were… caught up in a “furious” squall, and Jesus was SLEEPING ON A CUSHION! I love this translation, because that image of Jesus fast asleep on a comfy cushion perfectly captures the way the disciples must have been feeling. That God was far away. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

When I teach this Bible story to my Faith Formation students, they love it. It’s so exciting. They can picture being out on that stormy sea, and how awesome it was that Jesus calmed the storm with a simple gesture of his hand. It really shows his power and might. My students see him as a superhero. What I’d like to suggest to my students, and anyone who focuses on the ‘Jesus as Superman’ aspect of the story, is that maybe we’re missing the point. Those disciples weren’t going to survive because Jesus calmed the storm… they would survive simply because He was with them.   He would keep them calm and safe and secure in the midst of the storm. That’s what Jesus wanted his disciples to realize and that’s why he called their faith into question. I think the same point holds true for us today. What we should take away from this gospel reading is NOT that Jesus is here to calm the storms in our lives and make them go away. We don’t need Jesus to do this in order to survive… although, admittedly, it would be nice. But we need to know and truly believe that Jesus is with us in the midst of every storm… to help us get through it.

So maybe, instead of going through the laundry list of prayers that nothing bad will happen to us, we should simply pray that God will be with us if and when it does. For reasons we will never understand, God doesn’t always take away the storms in our lives. He gave us a world with free will, human choice, science, and laws of nature. What God can promise is to help us weather the storm. To ride it out. To get through to the other side, where the sun will once again shine upon our faces.

One Seed

seedling

ONE SEED

The kingdom of God starts small
What is small?

Individual acts of compassion
A gentle speaking out against injustice
A kind word, a sweet smile
One meal for someone who is hungry

One
One act
One word
One smile
One meal

Surely one is not too much too ask

One pebble tossed into a pond
Creates ripples that grow outward and onward
Creeping
Spreading
Growing
Until one is not small but ALL

A more compassionate people
A world free from injustice
A resounding chorus of loving words
Beaming smiles reflecting peace in our world
Abundant nourishment for all who hunger

Loving God
If you will plant—I will sow
A tiny seed of love growing strong within my heart
Until I am a mighty branch
Unshakable
Providing shade for the least and last of God’s creatures

AMEN.

Be Still

 

Be still and know that I am God

100_6952Mighty God, all I need to do is look at your marvelous and audacious act of creation to know that you are God.  Light and day.  Land and sky.  Seed and stars.  Bird and lion.  You created us from dust and breathed life into us.  In your image you created us.  Help me always remember this first and ancient moment of connection with you, my Divine Creator.

Be still and know that I am…

Loving God, when Moses approached your glory at the burning bush, he asked for your name. You responded simply “I AM.” Isn’t that just like you!  Giving Moses a name that is not really a name.  Be with me during those times that you are mysterious and hard to know. Do not remain a hidden God.  Draw me close to you in intimacy and companionship.

Be still and know…

Infinite God, I know that my human brain cannot begin to comprehend all that you are. Help me to know you.  Reveal yourself to me in your Word, in those around me, and in all of creation.  Infuse me with the spark of realization that you are All in All.

Be still…

Patient God, being still is not easy for me.  I have no problems stilling my body, but my mind is another story.  Racing thoughts about what must be done, what must be worried over, what must be controlled and managed.  Help me sink into the quiet, like a green meadow or a peaceful stream.  Let the stillness become a new way for me to hear you. Whispering to me.  Calling my name.  Singing me a love song.

Be…

You breathed life in me so many years ago so I could BE.  Not do, or accomplish, or fret, or undertake, or organize, or control.  Just BE.  Give me a glimpse of your heavenly dream for me. Help me be according to your will.

AMEN.