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There's More to Prayer Than "Saying Our Prayers" | Mary Beth Bonacci

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A warm, loving environment can teach us a lot about a warm, loving God

I always thought I was a bad pray-er.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to pray. It was just that I never thought I was any good at it. My attention wandered. My brain jumped from subject to subject. I would try to meditate, but it never lasted long. ("The Annunciation. Where was Mary? What was she wearing? What am I going to wear . . .")

I suspect I wasn’t alone in this. (Please tell me I wasn’t alone in this!) When we’re kids, we learn to "say our prayers." We dutifully recite our "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys," but we never really learn to go deeper. Then we read about the saints and their other-worldly prayer experiences, and we figure we must just be missing the "prayer gene" required to reach such heights of contemplation.

I think we’re wrong.

My prayer life began to turn around when a spiritual director told me he wanted me to sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament for 15 minutes a day. "I don’t care what you do–just be there."

Well, if you’re going to sit and stare at Someone, you might just as well talk to Him.

And so I did. I told Him about my day. I asked Him questions. I wrote in a prayer journal, sorting out my thoughts and feelings. I read Scripture passages. I read Magnificat.

And, of course, my mind wandered. Talking to God about my day would morph into planning my day. But at least I was planning it in the presence of Christ. And somehow, knowing that He was physically present in the Eucharist, my thoughts didn’t wander as far.

At first, I didn’t see a big difference in my everyday life. I still struggled with the same struggles. But over time, I noticed subtle changes. I found myself craving that time with Christ. If I was depressed or confused or struggling, I was drawn to the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Issues I didn’t believe I could face alone somehow felt more manageable in His presence. Sometimes, I actually felt better when I left. And even when I didn’t, I knew in my head that the Lord of all creation, who loves me madly, had the situation in His hands.

I found that I experienced His presence in a particularly profound way when I would make an act of trust in Him. Just saying "I have no idea what’s going to happen here, Lord, but I trust you" brought me a level of peace that, well, "surpassed all human understanding."

So why am I telling you all of this? Just to "share" about my spiritual life? No. I’m telling you because the lessons I learned about prayer as an adult are lessons that all of us–adults and children–could take to heart.

First of all, I’m a big fan of the "15 minutes in His presence–no matter what" system. We don’t have to think about the sun to absorb its rays. I believe that the same thing is true of the Son. Placing ourselves physically in His presence changes us–even if we’re unaware of the change. Plus, once we’re there, it’s easier to stay focused on Him than it is at home or driving down the highway. I know 15 minutes may not seem like a lot. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s long enough to have a lovely conversation, but not so long that it becomes overly difficult to fit into the day. And once you get the hang of it, you’ll find there are days when 45 minutes fly by before you even notice the time.

Second, I think we need to teach children to pray this way. They obviously can’t get themselves to the Blessed Sacrament chapel, but a special place in the house could serve the same purpose. A picture of Jesus, surrounded by candles (lit by grownups and high enough to be out of reach of little hands, of course) would make a lovely setting to introduce little ones to God. The kids could kneel in front of the picture to "say their prayers." But that shouldn’t be the end of it.

Keep a big, comfortable chair nearby. Snuggle with your child in the chair. And then, by the candlelight, talk to Jesus together. Tell him you love Him. Prompt your child to tell Jesus he’s sorry for whatever infractions he’s committed that day. Pray for loved ones. Ask for help and guidance.

In that warm environment, safely wrapped in the arms of a loving parent, a child will learn volumes about a loving God.

And about prayer.

(This article was originally published on September 26, 2005 on www.RealLove.net.)

Ignatius Press books by Mary Beth Bonacci:

Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.

Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.

Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997.

Visit Mary Beth and Real Love Incorporated online here.

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