By Barb Arland-Fye
Pope Benedict XVI described prayer as a journey, “I would say a climb,” in a visit with seminarians in Rome last week. “Yes,” I found myself nodding. But what he said after that, according to the Catholic News Service story, caused me to pause and reflect on my own prayer life:
“We increasingly must learn what things we should pray for and what things we shouldn’t pray for because they are expressions of our selfishness. I cannot pray for things that will harm others. I cannot pray for things that add to my selfishness or pride. In this way, before God, prayer becomes a process of purifying our thoughts and desires.”
Every morning, I take off on my run or walk with a mental list of petitions to God that will consume the hour-long activity. The petitions themselves don’t change much, but I have reworded some of my “requests,” perhaps at God’s nudging. One example is my prayer for immigrants. I pray for “safe, just, fair, timely and compassionate immigration laws in the United States and around the world.” I also pray for the reunification of all immigrants and their families in a safe, just and timely manner. Previously, I ended that petition with a laundry list of things I thought immigrants needed to live a fulfilling life.
But a nagging feeling persisted; am I asking God to tell immigrants how to behave? So I revised the end of the petition to say: “I pray for all immigrants to live satisfying and fulfilling lives with their families in the countries in which they choose to live.” It’s nothing less than I would ask God for my own family, and it is by God’s grace that I live in a country where I am able to flourish with my family.
If I were to categorize the other petitions I make to God, how many would be labeled “selfish?” Probably more than I think. Then there are the two prayer chains I am a part of. Many prayer requests are for people who are dying, who’ve been diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness, had a terrible accident or are facing daunting personal trials. Recently, a middle-aged person we were asked to pray for died after a sudden illness. All I could think about was: “What if that had been me?”
Prayer, at times, has been a climb, especially when I’m struggling with the fairness of an issue affecting me and my family. That certainly sounds selfish.
But my prayer life is also a journey, and the miles I’m logging — spiritually and physically — are drawing me closer to God. The more I pray, the greater my gratitude for God’s gifts. I appreciate blessings great and small and that, in turn, inspire me to pray for others to be equally blessed.
What’s really cool is that my prayer life may be rubbing off on my sons. As I was anticipating the February session of my graduate class, my older son Colin said, “Mom, I’m praying for you to have a good class.” My younger son, Patrick, preparing for confirmation, told our pastor how he plans to model his prayer life after St. Patrick, who turned to God to get him through tough times.
And I believe that God is leading me on my prayer journey every step of the way.