– Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director
Several years ago, my husband and I were presented with an opportunity to foster two children which would lead to adoption. It would be quite a change in our lives as we had been empty nesters for some time, but we felt it was a calling which we could embrace. We prepared mentally and physically for these children to come into our home and family. As it worked out, our approval was not given in time and the children went with another couple.
That period of my life was a time of intense praying, often in the form of begging and bargaining with God. I seriously examined the promises in the Bible, and claimed them for our circumstances. But to no avail. The children were adopted with this family a year later.
I was left with quite a few questions.
My prayer life has not been the same since.
In the intervening years, I have experimented with different forms of prayer, like centering prayer, the Examen, or contemplative prayer. I’ve practiced meditating on God’s word. But specific praying, and prayers of supplication…well…I had honestly stepped away from them. Asking for something from God became almost painful as my prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears, or seemingly ignored. (I’m not saying God was not hearing me or ignoring me, I’m saying it felt that way to me. Look up the Dark Night of the Soul)
Lately, as I’ve been studying the stages of the Christian journey through the book Critical Journey, I realized that I am in a stage which might be considered a transition stage or a stage of questioning. I was relieved to learn that my feelings about prayer and my other questions are actually a fairly normal part of this time. Many people have entered this period through a crisis in their lives or due to burnout. It is simply a part of the journey of faith, and we must move through this stage to be able to go on to the next.
All of this was quite reassuring to me, and it led me to take another look at prayer.
Prayer is so important in the Christian life. Prayer is a vital part of being a Christ follower. When it is broken, there is a piece within us that is left wanting.
I looked to Jesus who prayed often, and he encouraged his followers to pray.
When Jesus prayed, I don’t think he spent all night on the mountain asking God to do this or that. Some of the time, yes, but the rest of the time may have been in simple communion…listening to what God wanted him to know or sitting quietly in his presence. But he probably did ask God for things in prayer as we see in John 17. I thought that if Jesus prayed this way, perhaps I could re-do my prayer life.
I knew I needed to incorporate supplicating prayer into my life again. Not as an arrow prayer, but as something tangible where I could learn to trust God with those things that were important in my life. What I decided was to take some time and follow the way of the monastics. Their life is one of order and routine. They set times for eating, sleeping, working and praying. I tried to set aside a time of prayer throughout the day.
So I set the alarm on my phone for 9, 12, 3, 6, and 9. When the alarm went off, I stopped and asked the Lord for the same five things throughout the day. Things I had settled on in my early morning practice of contemplation. Nothing fancy. I presented my concerns. I didn’t offer suggestions on how he might fix it.
Several things happened as a result of this purposeful practice of re-aligning myself into prayer. What I found was by the next day I didn’t need the timer on my phone. Instinctively, I knew when it was time.
Soon my prayers began to expand, as they had so long ago when my practice of prayer was lifegiving to me. I began to see the places I needed to bring to the Lord: a friend’s illness, my church, my husband’s work issues, safety for another friend. Prayer became a ministry again. Almost a joy. And my focus changed from the need for answers of prayers to prayer for prayer’s sake. I was lifting things to God, and then letting them go.
When our prayer life is in working order, our lives are richer and more fulfilling. I believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit giving me a new outlook on prayer: He knows my heart, he took my desire, and he gave me fruit through the practice.
It seems that sometimes we need to have a re-boot of sorts in our faith journey. What works for me may not work for you, but it is a matter of finding the way to be in God’s presence that is life giving to you. And being able to let go of old habits that are not working anymore.
What practices are life giving to you? What practices are no longer helping you in your journey? Can you risk letting go of what is no longer working, and taking on new practices? Can you trust the Holy Spirit to help you in this journey?