Do you believe in God? Do you “know” how to pray? Do you feel a purpose and a power behind everything that happens and everyone you meet?
Don’t feel like if you answered “no” to any of these that you are a horrible human being, are going to be chastised by me, or worst of all – you shouldn’t keep reading. Because what I’m about to say isn’t a “bash-you-over-the-head-with-religious-doctrine” post. I think it’s more of a friendly invitation to find what works for you when it comes to God, prayer and whatever falls in between and outside of a relationship with the Big Guy upstairs.
Going to a Jesuit college for both undergraduate and graduate school has really given me the time to understand my faith and really live it! After all, what good is faith if you don’t live it? If you only call upon it when you need it, or rather when you think you need it? After going through the journey of the Spiritual Exercises I realized that my faith is something I do need, but not just for when something goes horribly wrong in my life, but when times are exponentially wonderful, and when they are just plain, old and mundane, too. In other words, I need my faith and prayer life strong everyday of the year, every moment of the day.
The summer of 2013, I began the journey of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Depending on how you do the exercises, you may go away for a month on a retreat, but for me, incorporating this into everyday life was necessary, so I did it over an eight-month period. I was at a point where I was starting graduate school and seemed to have more questions than answers. I just suffered a huge family loss with the passing of my grandpa and wasn’t completely sold on the path of education I was embarking on. More so I was unsure of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had just said goodbye to the security and comfort of college and almost all of my friends. I was entering the big league of sorts, and I needed to have my hands fully planted on the wheel so that I could steer myself in the direction I wanted.
So I decided to throw myself into the Spiritual Exercises. I wasn’t sure what they were, but I felt I had nothing to lose by giving it a try. The worst that could happen was I got nothing out of it, the best thing was that I could come out of it a better person. Much to what my heart, soul and gut told me, I embarked on was the most fulfilling thing I have ever done for myself.
The Spiritual Exercises meets self-reflection with Bible passages and certain spiritual themes all based on strengthening your relationship with God and yourself. Through different forms of prayer like meditation and contemplation, a person experiences prayer on a multitude of levels. You walk with Christ through his life, a man who was just like us, truly human, but also completely divine. You see how He is the example we should all try to follow and through themes of love, hope and faith the Spiritual Exercises can bring you to a place where communication with God is open and honest and a relationship becomes interpersonal and balanced.
I committed myself wholeheartedly to the Exercises. I prayed and reflected nearly everyday. Because I kept an open mind and spirit toward the exercises I began to find my passion, my calling in a sense. So where I doubted my decision on school I found resolution. Where I felt a lack of understanding, I began to see and find God in all things. I began to discern on the good things and the good emotions in my life and was able to not let the bad things and the negative emotions conquer me. I felt one with God. I felt like I had my best friend. I felt like I was my best self. I felt like I had a vision and I could run with it. I felt alive.
But then the period of the Exercises ended and I dropped the ball. My nightly prayer routine became rare. My journaling lacked frequency. God and I had a Ross and Rachel moment – we were on a break. God was Rachel, not wanting the break and I, like Ross, took it and royally screwed up.
I began to feel sad and alone. I doubted friendships and felt a lack of cultivation when it came to them. I felt distant from God as if I had never known him at all. I even began to feel as though I was a stranger to myself. My calling and my passion were suddenly questioned. I began to lose myself in work and going out. The things that fulfilled me I pushed to the side for things that gave me a quick minute of gratification and left me feeling as though something was missing.
That’s the power of prayer. When it is good and happening you reap the benefits. Your life is clear and your relationship with God is nontarnishable. But when you drop the ball, which is bound to happen because we are human, you can just as easily lose the focus, clarity, positivity, and connection. I learned how powerful prayer was when I opened myself up to a new experience and built the best relationship with God I have ever had. But I learned even more so how powerful prayer was when I abandoned it. Because during that period the negativity crept in. The doubts resurfaced, the sadness and stress trumped the happiness and peace.
I now know through good times and bad that prayer is the ultimate power source for my better self. Now that I know that and now that I know just who my better self is I will try my hardest to not let anything stand in the way. It’s incredibly tough to keep a healthy prayer life, just like its hard to exercise everyday, eat healthy and get enough sleep. But just like all of those things getting the right amount, even if its just a dose can leave you feeling so much better.
That’s prayer for me. It helps me feel connected to God. He’s my bud, after all and if I’m not talking to him, I’m not investing in that relationship. If I don’t pray I don’t get the pure, authentic honesty that God gives everyone. That honesty shines light on our happiness, our passions, our calling. It also allows us to see the things that push us off the path for becoming our better selves.
For me, I not only fell off the path, I fell and rolled over the river and through the woods, but instead of landing up at grandma’s house (or somewhere familiar) I felt like I was in a warzone of doubt, fear, misery, stress and unhappiness. It will take some work getting back on the path of prayer. But ultimately I know it will be one that will help my own prayer life become more honest and fulfilling.
So to see and feel the power of prayer, sometimes you need to lose it to understand its meaning in your life. But unlike most things, prayer is one thing that is perfectly your own and one thing you never truly lose.