Not long ago, by some small miracle, I found myself in a morning daily Mass without my 4-year old and I recalled a much needed lesson I had learned long ago.
Sitting in the peace of a pew all by myself, I recalled the first time I experienced this little taste of heaven when my older children were very young. I had a doctors appointment near our downtown Cathedral which offered a noon Mass, so when I got out of the appointment early with the kids all tucked away with a babysitter, it occurred to me that I could make the Mass without my regular entourage! Ordinarily, I would have chosen Target, y’all.
Please do not be impressed with my piety.
But, that one Mass—so many years ago—gave me both a respite from and an appreciation for the constant deluge of prattle and petitions from my own young brood. It also gave me a new perspective on prayer.
Unless you are a hermit, I think all of us understand what I’m talking about. Our phones are constantly dinging with notifications of all the things that NEED our attention—most of which don’t. At work, especially if we are trying to focus on something, there seems to be an endless parade of co-workers and work threads interrupting our thoughts and making demands on our attention. And, if your work is in the home surrounded by humans of varying sizes, you certainly have plenty of experience in fielding the endless stream of inquiries, urgent requests, musings, and such.
So, as I sat there in the peculiar quiet of Mass that blessed day, my mind ping-ponged in a strange volley between an attempt at prayer and an amusement at how my efforts so closely corresponded to the constant conversation that typified my daily life during that time.
“Mama, watch this!”. . . “Jesus, see me!”
“Mama, can I have a snack?”. . . “Lord, I am hungry.”
“Mama, I want to watch a show!”. . . “God, I want a break!”
“Mama, I don’t want to nap.” . . . “Jesus, I need more time.”
“Mama, my brother won’t play with me.” . . . “Lord, I need a friend.”
“Mama, my brother is so nice—he gave me a cookie!”. . . “Jesus, thank you for that person’s kindness to me.”
“Mama, I’m so sorry; I broke your lamp.” . . . “Lord, I am so sorry, I broke your heart.”
“Mama, my brother is a poopy face!”. . . “Father, that person is an @$$!”
“Mama, you are a poopy face!” . . . “Father, how could you allow this?”
“Mama, do dinosaurs have eyebrows?”. . . “Lord, I don’t have the answer here, tell me!”
“Mama, can I sit on your lap?” . . . “Jesus, can I just sit with you?”
“Mama, you are so pretty.” . . . “Lord, you are amazing.”
“Mama, read me a book!” . . . “God, I need to hear your voice.”
This little lesson helped me to understand what it means to become like a little child in my relationship to God and how I could pray without ceasing.
When my children (or friends or co-workers) lob a litany of thoughts and requests at me, they are acknowledging my presence. It’s grounded on an awareness of another person who is near enough to hear us and, most importantly, close enough to respond. It’s a reaching out of ourselves and toward another. This is the start of any real prayer life.
I am still working on what contemplative prayer looks like. But, we should never abandon prayer because we think it’s too demanding of God, too simple, or not enough. If we are to become like little children and go our Lord, it’s probably going to sound an awful lot like my preschooler.
We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, servant to his master; now asking some favor, now acknowledging our faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our fears, our projects, our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel. St. Ignatius of Loyola