In preparation for a talk on prayer for catechetical leaders in our diocese, I visited the adoration chapel at the parish where I work. I brought a journal full of notes from a recent retreat along with my favorite spiritual book with sound advice about prayer. I leafed through these, but instead of focusing, my mind raced with a cacophony of anxious thoughts. “I could use this quote, And this! But how will I organize it? Oh! This is so good! No, that’s another topic! It’s all too much!!! How do I know what I’m supposed to share in a 30 minute talk?
When at last I stopped to gaze at Jesus in the Monstrance, his grace broke through. Deep in my heart I heard, “Close the book.” My first impulse was to doubt because how did I know I wasn’t making it up? But I was learning that Christian prayer involves dialogue; listening as well as speaking, so I calmed my doubts with an act of faith. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”, then closed the book.
A story came to mind. Catherine and I met soon after she had adopted a seven-year-old girl from an extremely abusive environment. The little girl, I’ll call her Gabriela, had suffered abuse and trauma in her family of origin.
For the first few weeks in her new home, Gabriela exhibited model behavior in every way. She said “please” and “thank you”, she made her bed, did her homework and promptly obeyed everything her parents asked. Catherine knew it could not possibly last. Her new daughter was holding herself to impossible standards.
Then it happened. Catherine had given Gabriela a folder with blank paper and a pencil to keep herself occupied during the homily at Mass. She noticed Gabriela had removed the paper from the folder and was kneeling in front of the pew using the pencil to puncture the paper. Concerned about damage to the padded pew. Catherine reached over and touched Gabriela’s arm whispering, “please don’t do that.” Gabriela let out an ear-piercing scream and ran outside where she hurled herself into a thorny bush. Scratched and bleeding, she refused to heed Catherine’s pleas to come to her. “It’s all right, you’re not in trouble,” she coaxed, but Gabriela continued sobbing and wouldn’t budge.
Finally, Catherine sat herself in the thorns with Gabriela, reassuring her, “it’s all right, I love you, everything is going to be alright.” After the sobs subsided she revealed the fear she’d been hiding behind her perfect behavior, “Are you going to send me away now?”
I asked Jesus about this story and why it came to mind while trying to prepare a talk on prayer.
He spoke to my heart, “You are like Gabriela. You’re afraid that if you don’t do everything perfectly, I’ll abandon you to your nothingness.” It was true. I was indeed terrified of having nothing to say about prayer and proving myself a fraud.
God longs for the trust that shines in the eyes of a little girl when she jumps into a swimming pool, confident that her daddy would never let her drown. He yearns for the faith a boy shows when he pedals the bike without the training wheels because his father believes he can, and he wants to prove him right. He craves the trust that allows us to breathe deep and simply rest in his love.
God made it clear that he’s not interested in my version of a perfect daughter. He simply wants me to trust him with every little worry and care.