I received an email asking me lots of interesting questions about prayer in general and my prayer life in particular. I share the answers here for the perusal of all, and, if you are motivated, you are welcome to reply to some or all of the questions in the comments.
I will be posting my answers one at a time, to prevent teal deer overpopulation as well as to help keep the discussion on track.
1. What does prayer mean to you?
2. What do you consider to be the mode/communication method that God communicates with you (other people, gut instincts, random thought or events, Bible, etc)
3. What does your prayer life / devotional consist of?
4. What extras do you do (ie fasting or persistent prayer) have you done [sic] and how effective has it been for you?
5. How, what, when, why do you find yourself reading the Bible? (4 questions there)
6. How do you notice and identify the small things that shows you God’s love specifically to you? (such as what events occur that make you stop and think)
7. Are your prayers more conversational, spontaneous, Scripture based, or the ritual Mass prayers?
8. How has your prayer life changed? Beginning – middle – now
9. How do you deal with prayers and the concept of ‘Thy will be done’ and that prayers might be going against that?
10. How do you distinguish between a ‘no’ and ‘maybe later’ answer from God?
2. What do you consider to be the mode/communication method that God communicates to you (other people, gut instincts, random thought or events, Bible, etc)
Let’s start with how I wish God would communicate with me: ENORMOUS NEON SIGNS. However, God is classier than Las Vegas. It seems to me that He prefers the subtle kind of obvious. I do not think God limits himself to any one mode of communication with us, His people. Reading the Bible, and most especially the various lives of the saints, makes that very clear. As for me, I have experienced God communicating with me in many ways. In fact sometimes it seems as though He is trying to hammer home the same message using all sorts of different methods. However, it also depends on me to have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is trying to get across to me. I have to make sure that I am aware of my surroundings, that I am actively engaging God in prayer (because if I’m not in conversation with Him, then I’m probably not paying attention to what He might be saying), and I definitely have to make sure that I am letting myself see and hear, particularly if I think that what He has to say is not what I want to hear.
We have to be honest with ourselves, just as we have to be honest with God. I think Simon and Garfunkel put it best in The Boxer when they sang, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” This does not merely mean that we hear only part of the message because we don’t want to have anything to do with the rest. It also means that we can make ourselves hear what we want to hear, even when it isn’t really there, and we can disregard what is actually being said because we don’t want it. God’s messages will be consistent with Him. God is all goodness and light. Will He tell us that it’s ok to do wrong, thus confirming us in our sin? No. It is very important to cultivate a relationship with God so that we know more about Him as He is, and not how we want Him to be. That’s how 80,000 different Christian churches get started. “I don’t want to worship a God who tells me that X is a sin, or that I should be doing Y. Hey! I’ll start my own church, and worship a God who tells me X is fine, and that I don’t have to do Y if I don’t want to!” Poof, there appears on the street corner the First Southern Church of the Affable God and His Non-Threatening Sheepfold.
Ok. Back from the tangent. I have a rather thick head sometimes. It may be from not wanting to hear the answer, or not looking hard enough, or not reflecting on stuff that happens in my life properly, or from just being plain lazy. Therefore, in my life, God has sometimes had to SURROUND me with the same message in all different directions.
For example: I’m taking medieval Latin right now. It’s a secular class, but we have to translate Catholic stuff because those are the texts we have in Latin from the Middle Ages. We work with what we have. Anyway. We translated some stuff from the Vulgate, which is the Bible in Latin translated by St. Jerome, and the Biblical standard for a very long time. Translating Bible verses makes me think long and hard on those verses! It is imperative that I understand the sense of what is being said, otherwise I cannot render that sense into appropriate English. At the same time, there was some stuff going on in my life, as it tends to do. Now, the verses we were translating were standard fare, such as creation, some common psalms, bits of the Gospels, and 1 Corinthians 1-13. I would have considered myself familiar with the English. Now that I was translating them, I saw tremendous insights, shades of meaning lost when forced to pick the English word or phrase that best fits without writing a paragraph for each word. I would never have considered them applicable to the particular situation that was going on, but they WERE. I didn’t find answers – God doesn’t let me cheat like that – but the guidelines for how to think and act were unmistakable. I followed them – and I knew the answer. It was there all along. The answer is generally there all along, because God is there all along. He takes a personal interest in us. He is far more involved in our lives than we will ever know. These basic Bible verses, randomly chosen by a secular professor for our translating practice, were God’s letters to me. They came at just the right time and in just the right way to point me in the right direction.
At the same time, I was also becoming better friends and having deeper conversations with certain people. They, also, were there at the right time, and said the right things, to make God’s will clearer and clearer to me. The answer wasn’t even all that obscure. I was making it harder for myself, and of course Satan jumps all over the opportunity for people to wander around in the dark, confused, so that he can better get them to stumble into sin.
Still at the same time, I was going to daily Mass, and that was also nudging, pointing, and directing. Add to that the conclusions that I reached while I was pondering to myself, that I probably would not have been able to reach without God’s direct enlightening assistance.
God doesn’t give up on us. He really wants the best for us, so He doesn’t give up on us. That’s why He keeps telling us the same things over and over again, through whatever channels we might be receptive to.