Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Everyday Grace: Parents at prayer
by Lori Fontana
(From the May 3, 2001 edition of the Inland Register
I have been a praying person for over 40 years. For 21 of those years, I’ve prayed in the midst of, and at times in spite of, being a mother.
Parenthood brought new, extreme challenges to me as a praying person. Before I had children, I easily scheduled blocks of quiet prayer and spiritual reading into my daily routine. My time was mine; I had freedom of movement. I spent precious hours at the college campus chapel, praying the rosary, resting in reflection and adoration, or singing before the Blessed Sacrament. Or I would sit serenely under a deep pink umbrella of blossoming crepe myrtle to read Scripture or the life of Dorothy Day or St. Clare. Oh, it wasn’t perfect, but I did have a rich and regular diet of prayer.
Then we had Steven. Nothing personal, Steve. It could have just as well been Clare or Mary, Kate, Andrew or Colleen. The point is, our lives were turned upside down by a tiny, squalling, wetting, hungry, cherished and beloved new person, our child. Life, and particularly my prayer life, would never be the same.
Since that lovely fall day in 1979, I have struggled with prayer: when to pray, where to pray, how to pray, how long to pray. As I reflect back over these 20-some years, the only common thread for me is that I kept at it. There wasn’t one particular method or secret formula that “worked” all the time for me. Just when I thought I had a good prayer routine down, we’d be blessed with a new baby, or move, or our home would become an infirmary treating bouts of pink eye or bronchitis which hit everyone in the house, one at a time, of course, thus requiring weeks of round-the-clock nursing care. Through it all, I clung to my belief that prayer is essential for every Christian.
Prayer is essential because God is essential to my life, and prayer is my time with God. What I’m recently more aware of is that God is always here with me; but in prayer, I notice God’s presence. I turn my eyes and my heart to God and bask in the loving gaze of the Trinity, though it’s not always that clear — sometimes the basking is by faith alone.
St. Teresa of Avila says, “Prayer is nothing more than an intimate conversation between friends.” So simple, but not as easy as it sounds. With a dear friend, we take time and give focused attention. When a friend pours out her heart, I’m going to sit very still and alert, in order to be a listening presence. God deserves nothing less.
With three children under age four, how does one “pay attention,” any attention at all, to the Holy Trinity? Through the years, I’ve searched for the method. I’ve read books, asked other women and men, listened to tapes, tried various times, prayer corners, formulas, but always I kept praying, even when my efforts seemed very small and hopeless. I’d say the rosary, sing the psalms, recite the Jesus prayer as I rocked a whimpering baby in the middle of the night. I clung to God’s promise: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have called you; you are mine.”
As I look back on my life, I don’t feel like an “accomplished” prayer. But I’ve tried; I’ve persevered. I’ve used many different prayer forms; some I’ve liked more than others. But when my efforts at focused, sustained prayer have been thwarted by a screaming 2-year-old, I’ve fallen into the loving arms of God. “I’m here, Lord, that’s all I can manage.” And God does the rest.
Sister Wendy (of PBS art history fame) wrote a lovely article on “Simple Prayer,” with a daunting challenge to us all:
“If you desire to stand surrendered before God, then you are standing there; it needs absolutely nothing else. Prayer is the last thing we should feel discouraged about. It concerns nobody except God — always longing only to give himself to us in love — and my own decision. And that too is God’s, ‘who works in us to will and to effect.’”
The two simple guidelines she mentions are universal, whatever way we’re drawn to pray. The first is to give God time, even scraps of time if that’s all we have to give, and that’s often all a parent has. The second guideline is that if we stand before God in loving attention, God will show us “what to do”: sing, read Scripture, meditate, ask forgiveness, give thanks, or “just be” in God’s presence. The Holy Spirit will prompt us.
I still read, I still ask others, I still search for prayer helps, but more and more I find myself just being still with God. My task is to give time to prayer, out of love for our Creator. The rest of the work really is God’s.
(Lori Fontana works in evangelization ministry for the Diocese of Yakima.)
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