As you all know I was back at my old Seminary last week for a spiritual director’s conference. It was good to see the Seminary again without having to worry about getting a paper done or finish some assignment. The students had just finished the day I flew in so I was able to see some familiar faces. The guys graduating this year were in the first year the last time I was there so it was cool to see how they have developed and grown. I saw the guys from my old hallway and to my surprise they were super excited to see me. I say surprised because my last year there I was a bit of a surly bear but apparently that was never recognized by them, praise the Holy Spirit. We had a chance to catch up and I was even able to see some of my old classmates from the area.
The conference itself was great. There wasn’t much that I hadn’t encountered before, but it was great to be able to finally put some language on the things I have done for so long without realizing it. There was one piece in particular that I always have recognized but have never been able to express clearly, the “what” versus the “who” of prayer. In one of the talks it was addressed that the greatest struggle people run into in their life of prayer is that they pray for things rather than to Jesus. Things are good and all, but the basis of faith is not the making it through this life but rather the growth in relationship with God.
It is so foundational in fact that when people miss the fact that it’s true they often watch their prayer life wither and die. There is no real impetus to pray when everything is going well because we don’t think we “need” anything, and it is difficult to muster the energy to pray when things are going poorly because if the prayers don’t work it just causes more frustration, like when your computer won’t turn on or your power goes out, our connection with God has become a commodity. It can be likened to your relationship with Comcast: as long as the internet and cable are working they are doing their job and so we only need to be in contact if something goes out.
You can see how this can be problematic. Life is hard and doesn’t always go our way. Jesus came as our savior but for some reason didn’t take all our problems away, often times to our great consternation. No, he didn’t take away our sorrows and pains, but He did promise to remain in relationship with us forever. The problem we run into is that relationship takes two people and many times we are an absent party. Think about what your marriage would be like if your spouse treated you like Comcast, no problems—no need to communicate. We all know that treating your spouse like the cable guy is a terrible idea yet we often do that to God.
The conference made a big deal about shifting our prayer from praying for to praying to. This was something, like I said earlier, that I knew but never could really explain. If we focus more on the relationship than on the list of things we will find our prayer to be much more fruitful. They even gave us a four step method to good prayer: 1) Acknowledge the real feelings you have, 2) Relate those to God, 3) Be open to receiving His answer, 4) Respond to what you have heard. Hope it works.
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen