When I think about my spiritual life, I tend to look forward. As in, when Chiara is in full-time school, I’ll have more quiet time and my life will be more sane and THEN I’ll be able to pray on a regular basis. Or, if I can just finish this one project, I’ll be less stressed and THEN I’ll be able to add Liturgy of the Hours back into my morning routine. Or, this would be a great time to pray — it’s quiet, there’s nothing going on, I’m in a good frame of mind — BUT I should probably fold laundry, make a bed, eat a snack, check Facebook.
In other words, I am very good at coming up with excuses for not praying, even when prayer time falls into my lap. I have allowed myself to get caught in the someday trap, thinking that there is a magical day down the road when all the planets will align and I will find myself with gobs of free time, so much free time that I don’t mind spending a chunk of it in prayer. Aha! That’s the crux of this, isn’t it? The reality is that praying is often hard work, harder than raking or cleaning or writing, and so even though I claim to want it in a big way, I always manage to put it off and blame my circumstances. If only (fill in the blank), I’d be more holy.
But I know deep down that spending time with God isn’t only about sitting down in silent prayer on a regular basis (although that would help immensely). It’s more often than not about learning to see my regular, boring, sometimes frustrating actions as prayers. Remember the post on the laundry last week? Same idea here. As I said to Dennis the other night, as I was lugging the umpteenth basket of laundry up two flights of stairs, if I really did make my laundry a prayer, I would finally know what it means to pray without ceasing. There’s that much laundry.
We don’t find God after all the work and other responsibilities are done, we find God in those responsibilities. But that’s not always easy, is it? I know it’s not for me. Logically I can recognize that I need to see Jesus in the eyes of my children, my husband, my friends, my business colleagues, the lady holding up traffic at the drive-thru window at the bank. But practically that can be a challenge. Smiling my way through difficult things has never been my strong suit. Even as a young kid, my one grandmother would often scold me by saying, “Don’t give me that look.” Yes, I have a “look,” an obvious expression of annoyance, anger, frustration, disappointment, you name it. Mother Teresa I’m not. So the idea of giving up the look and the sarcasm and the yelling for a serene smile is really not that appealing to me, and yet how do I become more centered, more spiritual, more God-focused if I let myself get carried away with the emotion of the day.
So, this week I’m trying to move beyond the laundry and the oatmeal, to a place where I really, truly try to see Jesus in the people around me. Again, it’s sort of easy to find God in a pile of laundry. Dirty socks can’t talk back. But can I see God in my whining 4-year-old, in my snarly almost-13-year-old, in the person in the grocery store who is rude for no apparent reason? Ah, that’s another story.
Pray without ceasing. Some, especially our Eastern brothers and sisters in faith, do that through the Jesus Prayer — “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner” — saying it over and over throughout the day in order to develop an inner stillness and an outer closeness with God. Even if we don’t say those words, however, we can nurture that kind of prayerful spirit, using everyday actions to turn work into prayer, struggles into prayer, joys into prayer, worries into prayer.
St. Paul said:
“We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 14-19)
So my challenge today will be to make lunch with a prayerful heart, to calm Chiara’s crying with deep compassion rather than strong words, to paint the front door with patience even when the painter’s tape fails, to meet Noah’s teen-aged glare with a smile rather than “the look.”
I found this quote from Mohandas Gandhi that seemed to fit the bill today:
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”