Prayer: Drawing Strength from a Personal Relationship with God
At the recommendation of a friend, I watched Netflix’s Messiah. My intention, in referring to this movie, is not to get into the debate whether the Messiah is a God-man or an anti-Christ, a fraud or a con artist, or even the geo-political nature of the movie. The Messiah is presented as one with powers to perform miracles. In one of the episodes, we are introduced to Staci who drives her daughter Raeah from Denver to Texas, with the hope that the Messiah will heal her daughter of cancer. She follows him to Washington and finally manages to force her way to meet the Messiah and he agrees to meet Raeah alone. He takes her into his living room and they just sit in silence. There appears to be no conversation between the two or what he told her was just for her. He sits with her and I presume he was praying with and for her; strengthening her and opening her heart to the will of God. Staci and Raeah return to Denver and eventually Raeah passes away. But now, as she faces death, there is peace in her heart. She met him with the hope of physical healing but returned with strength and courage to face the inevitable; death. Something transformed in her in that silent encounter between the two.
As I watched Raeah’s encounter with the Messiah, my mind recalled the person of Mary at the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. After Jesus’ circumcision, Joseph and Mary take the child to the Jerusalem Temple for the rite of purification and to present the child to God. Mary’s heart was filled with joy when Simeon prophesized that her son would bring salvation to people but soon her joy turned into sorrow when Simeon went on to tell Mary, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce … (Lk 2:35).” She came to the Temple to give glory, praise, and thank God but was told that she would suffer on account of her son. Mary proceeded into the Temple with pain in her heart but knowing Mary who said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word (Lk 1:38),” she would have returned home with peace in her heart knowing that God will keep His promise and all will be well. From a human point of view, it would not have been easy for her but from her faith based life, her ‘fiat’ was a total surrender to God and God’s plan for her; even if that meant living with pain and sorrow. The sword was not taken away from her but grace and faith carried her through life because her life was rooted in God. The strength to face the many swords in her life came from her relationship with God.
All this brings me to ask, “What is the nature and goal of our prayers and why do we pray?” If prayer is an experience and expression of love arising out of a felt need for a personal relationship with God, then prayer is entering into a life of communion with God. It is basking in God’s love; a love that yields inner peace and joy. Essentially, prayer is love seeking Love; it is losing oneself in Love. The ultimate goal of prayer is to enter into communion with Love and living our life from that beautiful relationship with God. Prayer of intercession is part of that relationship with God. It is out of this personal relationship with God that we raise our intentions and ask God to bless our material, mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. We ask out of strong belief and hope that God guides my life no matter what happens to me and that God will always hold me in the palm of God’s hands. Even if my physical, mental, emotional, and material needs are not answered by God, I know God’s love will give me strength to face the challenges of life, knowing that God’s plans will only be for my good.
With God by my side, in me, and with me, I can face anything in life. Nothing can destroy genuine love. Recall the words of St. Paul in Romans 8:35, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” and again in verses 38 and 39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is indeed the goal of prayer: a deep love for God and knowing that nothing in the world has the power to separate us from that Love. God’s love strengthens us and gives us meaning and a purpose to continue to live even when our prayers are not answered the way we want them to be answered. With God we will have the power to pass through mountains and valleys, vicissitudes and predicaments of life. Let us recall the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28)". Jesus does not say that all our burdens will be lifted up but that we will get enough rest (grace) to continue to move on with life in spite of our burdens. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will (Mt 26: 39).” His Father did not remove the cup from him, but as Luke points out, his Father sent him an angel to strengthen him (Lk 22: 43). This is what happens in our prayer too: God gives us necessary grace to comfort us and strengthen us when life takes unexpected turns.
Let our spiritual discipline deepen our life in God. Let us begin living a life that continuously flows from the fountain of Living Water; Jesus. Among various spiritual disciplines, Jesus’ Prayer is one of the practical ways to develop a life of continuous prayer. Recently a man shared with me the following, “I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and I was asked to go through a surgery at the earliest. To my surprise, I was least anxious when I received the news. I was calm and at peace. Even on the day of the surgery I was calm and peaceful.” I asked him, “What enabled you to remain calm and at peace?” He continued, “For the last few years I have formed the habit of praying the divine mercy so many times during the day that the prayer goes on in my heart even when my mind and body are engaged with other activities. Prayer is continuously taking place in my heart and as result of my relationship with God, I knew that God loved me before my diagnosis, God loved me as I went through the procedure, and God that would continue to love me no matter what happened as result of my surgery.” Prayer, prayed vocally in the beginning becomes prayer of the heart and the heart is in touch with God.
Normally our visits to a doctor or a pharmacy are conditional, depending on our medical needs. But our relationship with God can never be conditional because prayer is being with and living in God and without God life can never be meaningful. When prayer becomes an expression of love, then we can make the words of Job our own: “… The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job1:21)!” Material possessions, relationships, physical and emotional health … will come and go but the Lord will always remain with us, giving us strength, grace, peace, and joy. There will be storms all around us but He will be with us holding our hands right in the midst of storms. ‘In good health and sickness, in good times and bad times … is not just a promise we make to one another but it is also the promise that God makes to us when we commit ourselves to God. What else do I need in life?
God is not a concept to know but a person to be in love and love conquers all things.