Thursday, November 17, 2011

My 2 x 4

There's a running "joke" amongst Catholics that sometimes when God gets tired of you not paying attention to His will for you....he knocks you upside the head with a 2x4. It's kind of silly to think that way, but there's also some truth to it. He wants us to listen to Him, obviously....and sometimes it takes more than just being tapped on a shoulder. I'm reminded of the classroom that won't quiet down, and a teacher who turns off to the lights. Or the group of people who won't stop chatting....and their leader who produces an ear-splitting whistle to get everyone to quiet down. As humans, we're easily distracted....and sometimes it takes a 2x4 moment for God to get our attention.

I think I had that moment last night.

I've been struggling with feeling spiritually distracted for the past month or so. I've been incredibly blessed, and am so very thankful for that, but when it came to trying to sit still and pray (and listen), I was feeling a bit ADHD. I couldn't seem to stop my brain or my thoughts and shut up long enough to listen to Him. Trying to discern His will in my daily life was quite a struggle, without being able to be quiet and still. I sort of felt like that gerbil on the exercise wheel who not only can't stop running, but can't remember how to get off of the wheel in the first place. It was not only frustrating, but extremely tiring, and I spent a lot of time stressing about what seemed like my inability to pray. Sure, I could recite the prayers of the rosary, but trying to meditate on the mysteries? Nearly impossible, it seemed. Trying to sit down and pray without reciting memorized prayers? I couldn't seem to sit still and focus.

Our oldest son is receiving his First Reconciliation this year, and due to that, I've been having to attend required parent sacramental nights for the past three weeks. Of course, they were on the busiest day of our week, and left me only 45 minutes to pick the kids up from religious ed, feed them dinner, get them to childcare, and get myself to the church in time for the meeting. It didn't exactly help remove the flustered/stressed feeling that I'd been consumed by recently. If anything, I felt more anxious by the time I got to the meeting.

Except for last night.

I walked into the sanctuary last night and felt an intense sigh of relief. That was a bit odd, I thought, considering just how busy and chaotic our day had been up until that moment, but I was willing to go with it. I thankfully accepted the release of the built-up stress...and found a seat for the meeting. Our pastor, whom I love anyway, informed us that the session was going to be on the topic "Prayer" and what it meant in our daily lives as parents.

Can it get any better than this? I thought. Not only did I feel relaxed for the first time in weeks, but we were going to be listening to our incredibly gifted priest talk about a subject that I'd been struggling with for at least a month. It wasn't the first time the topic of prayer came up in my life over the past few weeks......but it was the first time I felt relaxed and open to listening in recent times.

There were so many nuggets of truth that our pastor was throwing out at us that I don't think I could possibly mention all of them (without boring you all to death), so I'll stick to the main ones that struck me. He began by talking about the purpose of prayer, it's benefits, and then launched into a bit of a more "logistical" discussion about prayer: common struggles, obstacles, and ways to overcome those. What really struck me about his talk was just how much I'd fallen victim to some of the very same obstacles and struggles he was mentioning, without me even knowing.

A statement he made really stuck with me - so much that I wrote it on the back of my grocery list from that day. He said:

If we don't pray, we are confined to human wisdom.

Take a minute to think about that. It seems so simple, so obvious - - but yet, so easily forgotten. How many times do we drop our daily prayer time - our time with the Divine, in favour of filling that spot with something human? More sleep, more time online, more mundane errands, more time watching TV? We're giving up something incredibly amazing....for something incredibly mediocre. It doesn't seem to compute, does it? Why would we knowingly choose something of lower quality, instead of going for the best?

I think I know why: it's easier. It's easier to accept (or confine ourselves to) human wisdom. It doesn't take much brain power to live by human rules. They "make sense" to us, with our limited knowledge and understanding. try and live by God's will and His desires for us is hard. We don't understand, a lot of the time. It's a constant "going out on a limb" kind of thing - - and prayer is a conversation about that. Prayer challenges us to go out of our comfort zone, if we're truly actively participating in our prayer lives. Prayer pushes us to grow -- human wisdom does not.

Distraction comes in so many forms - but for me, it seemed that this one statement spoke to my largest distraction. I had allowed myself to be distracted and molded by human wisdom. Human wisdom says we don't need prayer. We are self-sufficient and don't need to rely on God for anything.....and therefore, we don't need prayer. Human wisdom distracted me to the point that I was focusing all of my time and energy on earthly things and concerns....and my ability to focus on Heaven was the first casualty.

As I sat there and reflected on this statement and what it meant in my own prayer life (which felt like a bit of a desert at the moment, mind you), it felt like this gigantic wave was washing over me. Everything that I'd been focusing my time and energy on - instead of my prayer life - was illuminated. The wave seemed to be washing all of those distractions, all of that human wisdom, was so refreshing.

Then, our pastor, told us we were going to be led through a type of prayer known as Lectio Divina. (For non-Catholics, I assume this is similar to what you might consider "praying with Scripture." It's a kind of "holy reading" exercise, where you focus on a particular Scripture passage). This has always been one of my favourite ways to pray. Growing up Catholic in the Bible Belt, I'll admit that my knowledge of Scripture was minimal, at best. As I grew in my faith, and was introduced to some faithful Catholics who led me along the way, I learned just how amazing this form of prayer could be. We were handed a paper with a Scripture passage on it. I flipped over the paper (it had been handed to me upside down), and actually laughed at the irony. It was one of my favourites......and again spoke to the very issue that I'd been struggling with.

The passage was from Romans, chapter 12. Verses 1-2 say:

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.

Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Seriously, I was hit by a 2x4 last night. While these have always been some of my favourite lines from St. Paul, God definitely used them to knock me upside the head in a new way last night. By confining myself to human wisdom....and not God's....I was doing exactly the opposite of what St. Paul is urging us in his letter. I was conforming myself to the wisdom of the day - distracting myself with human things and wisdom. I was building my life, my thoughts, my habits, even my opinions, on the "common sense" wisdom of the day. Instead of turning to God in prayer, I was turning to those around me, usually online through news articles and through social media (like Facebook). I let those distractions take over my mindset (conforming myself to human wisdom!)....and the first thing to go was the ability to sit and be quiet. I was allowing human wisdom and conventions to change my inner being....instead of standing strong against them and renewing my mind (like St. Paul urges us).

I think last week's deactivation of my Facebook was just the first step on my renewal journey. I've already noticed that my mind had been changed by that simple online "tool." I realized, as I went through the withdrawal symptoms (talked about here), that even my mind and thoughts had been formed by this culture of social media. My ability to focus on more than a short news article was pretty much non-existent (trying to read a book was hard, which saddened me quite a bit. Reading was one of my favourite things to do in the past - and now I couldn't focus for more than a few pages, no matter what type of book it was). Thoughts longer than a simple "status update" were few and far between, I'd noticed. I felt constantly distracted as I removed myself from Facebook. I'd never noticed it before - I suppose, because my whole social being revolved around a short, choppy, style of communication. When I stepped away from the website, I realized that my whole life/mindset had adopted the same short, choppy style, without me even realizing it was happening. It wasn't just my prayer life that I was too distracted was my entire life.

Last night's 2x4 helped me realize that renewal of my prayer life needed to be first and foremost on my priority list. Everything else would flow from this - if I focused on God's will and desires for me, and trying to discern that, I would find myself no longer bound by human wisdom. I would be transformed, as St. Paul said. Removing distractions (in my entire life) was the first came the hard part: having the discipline to commit to regular prayer and contemplation times.

God didn't stop there, though. The entire way home, every single song on the radio spoke to this exact issue, even down to using the same analogy I had during the experience (a wave). It was like He was adding a "P.S." to His message to me - I couldn't help but laugh.

I thought I'd share one of those songs - I've always enjoyed this song...but now it means so much more. Maybe you'll find it as inspiring as I did. Enjoy!

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