Gifts are only useful if they are received, opened, and used. The gift of prayer is no different. Imagine a friend arriving at your door with a colorful, neatly wrapped, shiny bow on top of gift. It is not a special occasion nor have you recently tackled or completed anything present worthy, so you decline the gift, and send your friend away. Who would do that? Certainly not me. I would have the gift opened before the friend even made herself comfy. If the gift happened to be a bottle of wine, the top would be popped and glasses poured before we’d finished with our initial greetings. Like gifts, prayer should be gratefully received and not left unopened or unused. This week’s reflection will focus on The Gift of Prayer section in Walk in Her Sandals written by Pat Gohn.
Gifts are Meant to be Used
“What is the gift of prayer?” is the first question asked in the Walk in Her Sandals’ journal with regard to Pat’s reflection. Personally, I see prayer as part of what I’ve dubbed, “The Grace Trifecta.” This trifecta consists of one engaging in prayer, participating in the Sacraments, as well as reading and reflecting on Scripture — prayer, Sacrament and Scripture. It truly amazes me that God allows us to communicate with Him in this intimate way. What a gift that he allows us to enter into conversation with Him.
When I was a child, my mother would wrap every single item in our Christmas stocking. Opening each individual present was what I looked forward to the most about Christmas; I enjoyed it so much I continue that tradition today with my own children. This is how I have experienced prayer in my life — as many small gifts. The first prayer gift to be unwrapped was opening up a more frequent line of communication with God. This came after reading St. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which reads:
pray without ceasing;
in everything give thanks;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
After contemplating St. Paul’s words, I decided to change my self-absorbed habit of constantly talking to myself to a more productive conversation with God. As a child of the seventies, I grew up hearing the phrase, “Father knows best.” Since I claim God as my Father, it made sense to turn to Him in everything. Ten years later, this practice has become second nature. Although I’ve not exactly mastered “praying without ceasing” that subtle change of talking to God instead of myself has significantly increased my prayer time.
Inner prayer time is not the only discipline I needed to develop. Pat asks the reader to consider both the gift of prayer and the discipline of praying. Interestingly, discipline means “to teach” and has at its root the word – disciple. Teaching myself to dedicate time each day for prayer would certainly make me a better disciple. As I worked on building prayer time into my daily routine, I quickly learned that my priorities were often out of order. Not that my duty to feed the children and having clean undergarments aren’t important, clearly they are. However, when I put God first, even if it was only five minutes before starting into my daily tasks, the spiritual benefits were quickly felt.
Waiting on an Answer from God
Pat’s second question for reflection asks us to consider a time when we had to wait for God to answer a prayer and then ponder the response to that answer. I immediately thought about the over 2 year wait to be matched for adoption with our daughter, Faith, followed by the even more difficult 6 months delay to bring her home from China. Every time I looked at her little sweet face in the picture shared from her foster home, I would be filled with equal parts joy and anxiety. Unlike my pregnancies, she was not with me in the waiting. I could not rub my belly and be assured of her existence, or have the jarring reminder of her impending entry into our family every time I felt her kick.
The waiting was very difficult. My sons and I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 pm to help us grow in trusting the Lord and His plans in this unusually long travel delay. Although I will never know this side of heaven, exactly God’s plans, we were given a few glimpses. First, if we had traveled to China when first matched, the odds of being quarantined due to the Swine Flu Epidemic were nearly 100%. Second, during a frequent visit to our Parish’s Adoration Chapel where I prayed for my daughter and for comfort and peace in the waiting, I had this strange thought. Perhaps, I thought, this isn’t about me at all. Faith had been with her foster family for three years; maybe, they just needed a little longer to help them let her go.
When we were finally allowed to retrieve our daughter from China, I was handed some paperwork that provided a little information about her life in the foster home. The report included sleep habits, her favorite meals, and explained the close bond she had with her foster father. Sometimes the waiting has a purpose and a plan that has absolutely nothing to do with you – at all.
So Why Pray
As the Prophet Isaiah instructs us:
“For My [God] thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
While I will never “figure God out”, I believe prayer prepares my heart to receive special, sweet insights to guide my life. Prayer creates dialog between God and me, which in turn builds a relationship. If I only see a friend twice a year, say at Christmas and Easter, the likelihood of our being close is not very good. A daily conversation builds a strong, beautiful, and fruitful bond. God is a generous giver and the gift of prayer is just one of many treasures he lavishes on us. May the excitement to tear into the surprises wrapped up for me each and every day never fade from prayer.
All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2017