“What the what? Those are so opposite!” is the usual response to my majors, but to me they seem intricately linked. After all, Biology deals with the spirit of nature, and English Literature deals with expressions of the human spirit. One is an outpouring of God’s creativity, and the other is an outpouring of man’s creativity. Though, if we’re going to be real, the Holy Spirit very often works through us, so even much of literature may still just be God’s creativity.
Anyway, the main thing which I would like to discuss with this blog post is a major problem of mine which I imagine many others share. Hopefully we can work through this together during the course of this year.
The name of the game is distraction.
During the school year I find my mind abuzz with tons of new information (mostly from classes) as well as preoccupied with my extracurricular commitments. Last year I even tried to optimize mental efficiency by reviewing flashcards or reading as I was simply walking from one place to another on campus. I have generally cut down on doing this to give my brain some down-time, but if you see a girl with a mane of curly brown hair and her nose stuck in a book meandering around campus it’s probably me.
The problem is this: if my mind and body are forever occupied, where is there room for God? How is it that I can allow myself to get so wrapped up in this world that I lose sight of the hand behind it all? Every now and again I stop whatever I am doing for moments of introspection, and in these moments I chastise myself for chasing my tail like a dog.
I need to stop thinking of finding time for God like I am finding time for homework, because indeed I so often think of prayer as yet another obligation, or yet another box to check on my to-do list. Perhaps this reflects my own difficulty in properly praying, as I so often simply spout a formula (thank you... I’m sorry... please bless...) before falling asleep each night. Static formulas tend to lull us into a kind of complacent fog, allowing us to fulfill our prayer duty with half a mind and without the true fervor of being in God’s presence.
Now, there is a great variety of ways to pray; indeed, as each individual is different, there may be as many ways to pray as there are people in this world. Nonetheless, I have discovered that one of the most effective types of prayer is simply to quiet your mind and to allow yourself to be still for a period of time. You could perhaps find a particular prayer space where you mentally decide to leave everything you have been thinking about at the door so that your commitment to be alone with God is sincere. Your relationship with God (and mine) ought to reflect our relationships with other people: we set aside time to be with our friends, but we are not concerned with the passing of time while we are together. When we are in the company of some of our very best friends, no words must necessarily be spoken; you feel your heart glow with joy simply by being in their presence. This unspoken flow of love between individuals mirrors God’s form of communication with human beings. A perfect example of this may be found in a quote by Saint Therese the Little Flower while she was dying:
Until two days before her death Therese wished to be alone at night; however, notwithstanding her entreaties, the infirmarian used to rise several times to visit her. On one occasion she found our little invalid with hands clasped and eyes raised to Heaven.
"But what are you doing?" she asked; "you should try to sleep."
"I cannot, dear Sister, I suffer too much! then I pray..."
"And what do you say to Jesus?"
"I say nothing, I love Him!"
(See this site for more quotes by Therese of Lisieux http://www.littleflower.org/abouttherese/learn/loveGod.asp)
Now, don’t get me wrong: it is certainly difficult to simply drop everything you are doing to sit in silence and contemplate the Lord lovingly on a daily basis, but we must be persistent and consistent, as we would be in developing any human relationship, in seeking out God’s company. Here are a couple useful tips which I just came up with:
- Set aside a block of time for prayer like you would set aside time for a lunch date with a friend.
- Find the proper state of mind to prepare for prayer, remembering to leave those Earthly burdens at the door.
- Perhaps begin by meditating on something beautiful which directs your attention to the glory of God (i.e. nature, scripture, loving relationships).
- Make a conscious effort to maintain your focus on the Lord and block distractions which will creep in.
- Keep in mind that very often distractions will inevitably sneak in anyway—do NOT let this discourage you! I very often forsake my whole attempt at prayer when I find my thoughts wandering; rather than doing this, simply recognize that your thoughts have wandered, and gently direct them back into your happy place. When in doubt, you can always shoot a request up to God to ask for a bit of help in focusing. God loooves when we humble ourselves enough to ask for help :)
- Open yourself to not only giving love to God, but also receiving God’s love for you.
If you ever feel like God is too far away (there’s this crazy misconception that he just resides somewhere up in the clouds...) or too busy to really be present with you in prayer, just remember this: God the Holy Spirit lives in your heart and He never leaves to make day-trips elsewhere. He has always been there, and He will always be there. Our spirits are interwoven and God knows us better than we even know ourselves. In this way, our relationship with God is legitimately the most intimate relationship that we will ever experience.
God knows everything about us and about our lives, but He still loves when we talk to him about everything that is going on (or better yet, we place our futures in His hands because we have no idea what we are doing) because these conversations build our end of the relationship. God’s end of the relationship is already intense and unconditional; the latter point is especially significant when you think of our wavering and inconsistent nature since, to God, it doesn’t really matter how often we are distracted. In His eyes we are precious, and every single moment spent in prayer is deeply cherished.
God bless, and I hope you have a wonderful week :)