A Catholic priest friend began a blog while he was still a deacon. His intention was to help his readers grow closer to Christ through prayer. For one of his blog projects, he asked several friends to share their personal prayer testimonies. He asked us to focus on three questions: how do you pray, what is your relationship with the Trinity and have you ever had an intense prayer experience. Below is my story.
My Guest Post
My mother asked me a question which has reverberated in my head for years now. I was in the 7th grade and had just received the Sacrament of Confirmation, when she asked if I’d felt the Holy Spirit. She recalled her own confirmation day and said she’d detected a noticeable change within herself. She’d, literally, perceived the movings of the Spirit.
As for me, I felt nothing. And, quite frankly, that troubled me a little. In fact, I was embarrassed because why, I wondered, had I not been graced in that same way? This question has come up again and again throughout my faith journey.
The Noise Inside My Head
More recently, a dear friend shared how God spoke to her in adoration. With complete confidence, she recounted His instructions to her. Her testimony pricked that sensitive part of me and inspired my envy.
Perhaps, she was closer to God, I thought. Perhaps, my mother and she were favored daughters who were getting this prayer thing right; whereas, my petitions sounded like banging cymbals. Maybe my head was too noisy to hear any still, small voice because, admittedly, I struggled with distractions (really, sometimes I’m no more attentive than my preschooler).
The rosary had long been my favorite form of prayer. I liked the repetition and the clearly outlined pattern. When my mind drifted, there was always a place to return to. The Blessed Mother had always been near and dear to my heart. As the daughter of a single mother, I found it easy to tell her all of my hopes and fears, to hand her my petitions. Indeed, the rosary is a powerful and perfect form of prayer which I still love, but what I didn’t recognize was that I was actually using it to avoid something.
A Dark Night in My Soul
During a particularly desperate time in my life, when the weight of my crosses seemed crushing, I began running to adoration. Honestly, every chance I could, I jumped in the car and drove thirty minutes in any one of three different directions to reach an adoration chapel.
My faith seemed to be on the line and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to draw another breath. This was my dark night of the soul in which I felt less than the nothing I’d felt before. Surrounded by my sweet brood of children and my patient husband, I felt only an aching loneliness.
With no money to pay a counselor, adoration was my only therapy. On the trips when my eyes stung from tears and the lump in my throat throbbed so painfully that I couldn’t utter a word, I simply prostrated myself before the Blessed Sacrament and gave Jesus my emptiness.
“I feel empty, Lord,” I would whisper in my mind. “This is all I have to give. Please, accept my emptiness and fill it with Yourself.”
Each time I waited for something, something tangible and jolting to occur, but it never did. However, by the end of every hour there was a distinct sense of peace in my soul (temporary reprieves from my anguish).
A Stumbling Block Between Us
One particular afternoon, I sat across the desk from my priest, my tears falling with abandon. I poured my sorrows out. He listened and then, quite unexpectedly, inquired about the bond with my earthly father. Confused, I shared that it had often been contentious between us. Gently, my priest submitted that this brokenness may have created a stumbling block in my path to God, the Father.
Suddenly, a narrow stream of light penetrated my darkness and God began to heal me; to rebuild the relationship I’d unknowingly walled off. Like clay that becomes soft in the hands of the potter, so was my heart now ready to be remolded.
Providentially at this same time, I was led to a spiritual director. Our time together would be brief, due to a relocation on his part, but that didn’t matter. At our first meeting, he created for me a new image, a visual picture of God as a loving Father. He placed me on my Heavenly Father’s lap and used words like beloved daughter and little princess to describe God’s feelings for me.
I’d Never Felt So Loved
Until that moment, I had never felt so deeply loved by a male figure before. Based on my life experiences, I had carried around the distorted idea that men loved conditionally and I’d stamped God with that label as well.
The something I’d avoided by praying the rosary was actually a Someone. Understandably, the Trinity is truly One, but in my prayer life I had unconsciously separated the Three Persons because I didn’t feel worthy to speak directly to my Father. With a beautiful, new image burned into my memory, I finally felt free to let down my guard and run, without constraint, straight into the arms of God.
Looking back on this time, I can clearly trace the outline of God’s hand in my life. He made me anew and drew me closer to His Sacred Heart than I’d ever imagined possible. He shared His cross with me and I learned to embrace the bitter-sweetness of suffering. I’d like to say, I discovered the secret to praying well, but I’m still just a work in progress.
Adoration is a Staple
My formal prayer times are scattered, but I find my thoughts are often centered on God throughout the day. Whether I’m explaining a Bible story to my kids, ruminating on a verse that’s popped into my thoughts, or attempting to craft a blog post about His work in my life, I find it easiest to simply chat with Him here and there as though He is a member of my family.
Adoration is my staple now and my family has committed to a weekly holy hour together. I relish that time even if, admittedly, it is rarely devoid of distractions with my kids in tow. But I simply offer it all up to God because I know He wants us all there, so that He can shower each one of us with His radiant, unconditional love and unfailing mercy.
Father Ian Van Heusen’s blog, where this guest post originally appeared, has grown into The Art of Living Well. It is full of great insights and spiritual resources. Be sure to follow it.