I found myself struggling with prayer as Advent began. I didn’t know the cause other than that my personal life was full. Obligations in caring for my elderly aunt weighed heavily and my morning prayer was unfulfilling. I was mostly praying for courage as I met obstacles in my care for her. I became frustrated, hurt, and even a little angry when she resisted my carefully planned efforts, including the delay of hiring aides to assist her. I was feeling powerless and overwhelmed. I was also just plain tired.
Asking for help
I knew that I needed help. I signed up for an online directed retreat offered by the Ignatian Spirituality Institute, and asked my brother to check in on my aunt that week. On the day before the retreat, unable to pray, I sketched a pitcher and a bowl. I’m no artist, but I sometimes sketch to “get out of my head” or to pray when I am too tired for words. Sketching frees me from concentrating too much on my thoughts or my writing. As I drew the image of water being poured from a pitcher into a bowl, I realized that I was the bowl. This was unique for me. Previously, when I’ve prayed with Jeremiah’s story of the potter’s vessel, I have imagined that the potter (God) created me as a vessel that pours, not as one that receives. I asked God, “What is being offered to me? What am I meant to receive?”
Turning to Jesus
On a directed retreat, including those done online, you have a spiritual director who listens and helps you to notice where God is leading you. The spiritual director also offers Scripture, prayers, and other reflection materials to guide your prayer time. The first verse given to me was “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:30-31). Praying that verse and resting in those words revealed to me the cause of my listless prayer – I was tired. Bone tired. We’ve all been there, so tired that we don’t even realize how exhausted we really are.
In the verses given to me to pray, I watched Jesus. I noticed his interactions with others. I heard what he said to them. I heard what he said to me. I felt free to let go of understanding what Jesus meant and focused on him – his love evident in so many stories: Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary; Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead; Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
I saw Jesus humbly caring for his friends as he washed their feet. Although he was tired and he knew what awaited him, he took the time to tenderly care for those he loved. As I prayed, I knew that his love for me was no less than his love for his disciples. He is moved with pity when I am stressed, anxious, or tired. He wants to carry my burden and give me rest. I heard his words, “Come to me…and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30) and I knew they were directed at me.
When my 5-day retreat ended, I felt renewed. I had gained strength and courage from my time with Jesus. I am thankful that I had that time because on that last day of retreat, I made yet another trip to the emergency room with my aunt. As upsetting as that was, the peace I received fortified me and sustained me through the next two months as her health continued to decline. God graced those last two months. My efforts to help her seemed to line up better with her expectations and I know that she felt loved and cared for. She died in her sleep on January 25th.
Jesus feels what we feel
In many Gospel accounts, we observe the crowds surrounding Jesus, who responds to their needs. He heals. He comforts. He teaches. In chapter 8 of Matthew’s Gospel, we read several accounts of healing. Jesus heals a leper, the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and those who were possessed by demons, and then we read of Jesus sound asleep as the boat is tossed about in a heavy storm. Jesus experienced extreme fatigue. He knows how we feel and he gives us an example to follow – when he is tired he goes to a deserted place to pray. Or he sleeps!
The next time you are tired
Our prayer requires no more than being present to God so that we can receive. In my reflection on the pitcher and the bowl I asked the question, “What am I meant to receive?” God provided the answer – I was meant to receive God! What a difference that made for me and for my aunt.
My prayer for all of us is that we have the courage to be present to God, to let God give all that God desires to give to us.
Find your deserted place to pray. Ask for Jesus’s help. Let go of preconceived ideas of prayer. Talk to Him. Receive His love. Rest in Him.
- Pray with the Calming of the Storm at Sea
- Pray with the Gentle Mastery of Christ
- Consider reading:
- Ask Him by Jane Trufant Harvey
- Essence of Prayer by Ruth Burrows, OCD
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