Prayer Process: Get Out of Your Own Way

     A cold & overcast morning encompassed those of us alumni who were fortunate enough to be at the Jesuit Retreat Complex. Our task: to pray with nature, to set aside the distractions that normally govern our minds and souls, and to focus on God’s presence in the beauty of nature around us.
     Not wanting to subject myself to the challenge of unfamiliar terrain, nor the winters elements of January, I opted to stay indoors.  I found a comfy sofa near a large tri-panel of windows. Beyond the glass I saw trees, hills, and land stretching as far as I could see.  I gazed out upon a particular tall tree, in full winter, leaves long gone, branches and limbs reaching upward and outward and reacting to the frigid gusts that randomly swept through the area.  The tree reminded me of FAITH, standing strong from wear and tear, from elements, outside pressures and time.
     I really wanted to go deeper into that tree, and message that God wanted me to hear and learn.Then the winds picked up, distracting me.  There were strong winds sweeping through the area, and my focus was broken.  Back to the tree I said!  But then two creatures, birds, with long wings stretched out, flew into my view and once more I was distracted.  I became transfixed on their flight, their pattern, and the wonderful aerial dance that they were performing before me.  Back to the tree!!  Must concentrate on God!  But then droplets of rain began a rhythmic beat on the building I was in, and this further distracted me!  Back to the tree I implored!
     And then I paused and a laugh stirred within my soul.  For in my determination to focus on the tall tree as my choice for God in this prayer exercise, it struck me that in fact ALL of the things in my experience were manifestations of God’s message to me.  I acknowledged that tall tree as the rock of faith. The wind is the Spirit constantly coming and going and flowing through my life.  The birds were the reminder of the hopes and aspirations, I had yet to realize.  And finally, that rhythmic rain represented those in my life, given by God, who repeatedly remind me that they need my prayers, love, and attention: my wife, my daughters and my family and friends!  I had inadvertently tried making this whole process harder than it needed to be.  Lesson learned: When it comes to prayer, conversing with our Heavenly Father, sometimes just get out of our own way, and surrender.  A wise priest friend of mine has pointed out, “If praying seems painful or difficult, maybe you’re doing it wrong.”

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