A Plan We Don’t Understand

I preached a homily a couple of weeks ago about persevering in prayer and shared this story with the congregation …

I used to belong to the “Clean Car Club” at a local car wash. As a club member, I could get my car washed as often as I wanted. I valued that little luxury because a clean, professional looking vehicle was important to the image I was trying to portray for my business. I don’t belong to that club anymore. After losing my job 18 months ago due to “job elimination” I have recast my priorities and my wife and I have been doing our best to enjoy life while scrimping on some of the luxuries we previously took for granted.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was about to begin work on a temporary consulting contract I decided to “splurge” a bit and took my vehicle to the car wash for a much-needed cleaning. The man who writes the orders greeted me with a smile and commented on how he hadn’t seen me in a long time. I told him briefly about my employment situation and how the family had been tightening its belt to make ends meet. He commented on the importance of putting family first and encouraged me to hang in there and trust in God. In his words, “God’s got a plan; we just don’t understand.”

These simple words touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. It was good to be reminded that we are not alone in our struggles and that God has our best interests in mind. It was good to remember the importance of trusting in God – even when His plan doesn’t match up with what we believe should be happening in our life. That was the central message of my homily: You have to believe, trust and persevere in prayer.

I used a couple of examples to explain perseverance to the Youth Group and other members of the congregation at the Mass. I stressed three points:

1. Making prayer a regular priority in your life
2. Using prayer to grow in relation with Christ
3. Having patience as God leads us

Someone told me that prayer is like breathing. If you don’t breathe, you die. I think that’s right. The rhythm of regular prayer helps us stay balanced in our spiritual and emotional lives. Regular prayer can help us discern what God is calling us to do in our lives and can help us grow in relation with God. But, while breathing is an automatic function controlled by our body, prayer is not automatic. It is a choice we make. And if a choice, it can also become a priority.

Like anything that is important in your life, whether it be keeping a clean car, making sure that your family’s needs are taken care of, or attending Mass each Sunday, prayer needs to be a focus in your life; a high priority item that needs to be a part of your regular routine. Prayer is the way we communicate with God. If we don’t take time to pray, we won’t hear what He longs to share with us.

Notice how I ended the last paragraph. I didn’t say that prayer is about talking. No, it’s more about listening. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Phillippians:

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” – Phil 4:6-7

I’m one of those people who can fall into the habit of making my requests known to God and then repeating the same requests over and over in prayer. It’s like I’m not convinced God has heard my prayer because he hasn’t answered my requests in the time period or method I prescribed. I think what St. Paul is telling us to take the advice of the kitchen tool inventory, Ron Popeil: “Just set it … and forget it!” Make your requests known to God. Then listen and wait. Don’t be anxious. Be thankful. Swim in the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Be confident in knowing that God will guard our hearts and minds.

I told the Youth Group that not engaging in regular dialogue with God through prayer was like having a best friend but never talking to, or listening to, that person. It’s not a good way to develop a strong friendship. It’s not a way to grow in relationship with God. Prayer is dialogue. It demands a high priority. It takes time. It takes trust.

For me, prayer comes easily, but patience does not. I am an idea person and an activator. I have an abundance of creative juices and am always coming up with ideas to solve problems. I love to “connect-the-dots” and identify resources that can be joined to tackle an issue. And I am a person who wants to take action right away to get things going. While these strengths are an asset in many situations, in prayer they can be an obstacle. I need to pray more with my ears and heart than with my mouth. I need to calm myself and allow God to take the lead.

One of the best ways I have found to do this is through an online prayer site sponsored by the Irish Jesuits. The site is called Sacred Space and is located at www.sacredspace.ie. What I like most about this site is that it helps me calm myself, and rest in God’s presence. Then, through reflection on scripture, prompts me to enter into dialogue with God. It reminds me of the “Empty Chair Prayer” where you imagine sitting in a chair with an empty seat beside you. Jesus comes and sits in the empty chair beside you and you engage in dialogue as you would with any intimate friend – sharing what you are experiencing in your life and listening to what your friend tells you in response.

If we believe and trust in God, if we allow God to lead us; if we persevere in prayer and allow prayer to be a dialogue more than a rant, we can grow in relationship with God. If we give prayer a priority in our lives, we can develop healthy “breathing” habits and allow the Holy Spirit to flow through us. If we allow God to hear our prayers and guard our hearts and minds, we will learn to live better, to love more, and to better understand the plan that God has for our lives – a plan of love, peace and spiritual prosperity.

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

This Blog Post Copyright Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved. www.deacondan.com

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