Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A New Commitment

I went to a school of prayer in an earnest desire to learn how to pray in a new way.  When the interviewer asked me if I was committing myself to this, I said, "with all my heart".  When I first met with my retreat companion last week, she asked me if I was willing to change my prayer pattern, I nodded vigorously, claiming in my heart that I was giving this my 100%.

Less than a week later, that commitment has been thrown out the window.  Or at least momentarily shelved.  I, eager student, was monumentally distracted, and I gave in to the distraction.  I was consumed by it.  Well, almost.  I realized that I had a choice, that I could rise above the distraction, no matter how painful and throbbing.

My SD said that the Spiritual Exercises are precisely that - exercises.  Just like when we're learning how to play a new sport or instrument, we have to exert effort.  This analogy struck me because just recently, for the first time in my life, I took my health seriously and got myself a personal trainer in the gym.  It turned out to be a worthwhile investment because I had a coach who encouraged me to lift weights when I thought I could no longer raise my arms, and who reminded me of our appointments with a dedication worthy of a soldier.  Many times I have been a difficult client - canceling at the last minute, being late for my warm-up, cheating on my diet - but for several months now, I have been going back to the gym.  I cannot fit into my dream dress yet, but it's helping me cope with stress and making me feel good about myself.

What pride I had, however, regarding my spiritual readiness for prayer.  Unlike in gym work, I thought I was well-versed in prayer, and I would adjust in no time to the new pattern being given to me.  I was dead wrong.  I was, for the past week, at times rebellious, indifferent, miserable, and anxious, and all these made for great excuses not to pray the way I was being encouraged to.

This morning, I tried again.  And I reflected on Jeremiah 29:11-14.  I had taken this passage to prayer during retreats and discernment periods in the past, but I dreaded to face it again.  

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare [2] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

What struck me about this passage was that the Lord was the one with the plan, not me, and it was a good plan.  This line alone merited a few minutes of struggle.  I asked Him what I had to do to cooperate, and the answer was, to seek Him "with all my heart".

Then I had a vision of me going to a room where I had hidden my heart.  Inside the room was a vault where my heart was kept under lock and key.  I saw an ugly creature holding something in its hand - my heart!  Somebody was trying to steal it.  Jesus Himself went to the room with me.  The heart-thief disappeared, and I cried in Jesus' embrace.  He gave me back my heart.

He had other promises, and I will try to trust them again one by one, with a new meaning, with a new hope.  My eyes too need to be reopened.  

It was a rough start in this chapter of my prayer journey, but it was a start.  I ended my prayer in surrender to God's saving work in my life.  I may not easily believe and obey as I did before, but I trust that the Lord Himself will bring me back.  For He said as much.

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