Prayer: A place of openness and surrender

It’s not a coincidence or an accident that the three classic “practices” of Lent (Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving) begin with prayer. Prayer is where the Christian life has to begin, a place of surrender, a place of openness to mystery, a conscious and intentional response to the gift of God’s invitation to an intimate relationship with us. Prayer is our way of saying “Yes” to God, and only when we have said “Yes” can we honestly move into all of the other spiritual practices – in the case of Lent, fasting and giving alms.
How would you describe your relationship with God these days? Are you happy with it? Is it better or worse than other times in the past? Some people’s image of God is a distant and aloof presence, one who created the world but has left us to our devices. Another is a fearful figure, always ready to put us back in our rightful place, even relishing opportunities to scold, not unlike a state trooper hiding behind the bushes and always ready to pounce. Still, others look at God as a sweet “Teddy Bear” with whom we can cuddle and feel comforted.
Who is God for you today? What do you want/need from God this year?
Lent is a good time to ask these questions because the whole season is an invitation to some healthy self-examination and even a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. To be honest, our image of God usually needs some healthy readjustment during these 40 days, and part of that readjustment has to do with turning our will and our lives over to the care of God however we understand God, and allowing God to remove us from those obstacles and character defects which seem to get in the way of the flow of the Spirit.
Another aspect of this has to do with a word I mentioned above – surrender. To be people of prayer means letting go of the desire to fix, manage and control everything and everyone around us. And it means humbly asking God to enter into the chaos of our lives and remove our shortcomings. Notice this: I didn’t say that God will help us to remove our shortcomings; I said instead, ask God to do the removal. In this sense, I really want to challenge one of the myths of the spiritual life, namely that “God helps those who help themselves.” Think about that statement. Yes, it may be a good way to teach discipline to your children (“Be responsible, do your homework, clean your room,” etc.), but that notion is not helpful in the spiritual life. God doesn’t help those who help themselves. They’re helping themselves! What we really believe is that God helps those who depend on God, and that is what prayer is all about.
So my prayer for you this Lent is, in the words of St. Francis, “Pax et Bonum” (Peace and Everything Good). I pray that God will bless you with a constant and overwhelming sense of his loving presence of Peace, and I pray that God will remember every Good thing you’ve ever done, and give you a blessing for it.  

Father Ed Shea, OFM, is an associate pastor at Cathedral of the Holy Angels, Ss. Monica and Luke, St. Joseph the Worker and St. Mary of the Lake parishes in Gary.