WHEN I was younger, I used to think that if I was truly reverent, the Bible's instruction to "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17) meant that I should be repeating some prayer all day long. As you can imagine, I was relieved to learn that this wasn't the case—there's a lot more to prayer than just saying (or thinking) the right words. Prayer, I've found, happens when we allow our hearts to be open to God.
In high school, I learned that prayer doesn't originate in your head. Whether I was challenged by an academic assignment or feeling troubled by sickness, I exercised this idea of turning to God for help and healing. The more I practiced this, the more I learned that prayer isn't like choosing a mantra. Instead, prayer is a spiritual listening. I've always loved this passage from the Bible: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).
As time passed, concerns about school and getting into college abated, when I began to enjoy the ways in which God was already caring for me and everyone. I realized that my humble desire to express purity, wholeness, to trust good, and to live my life in harmony with the rest of God's creation, was a kind of prayer in itself.
There were moments and times when my best plans and prayers didn't seem like enough. But as I relied on God for inspiration, I saw how it wasn't about mentally plodding along, "praying my way" to a certain place or goal. Mary Baker Eddy described this idea of prayer that exceeds human words and logic: "Audible prayer can never do the works of spiritual understanding, which regenerates; but silentprayer, watchfulness, and devout obedience enable us to follow Jesus' example" (Science and Health, p. 4). Healing and regeneration occurred when I'd catch the spirit and joy of prayer. This kind of prayer without ceasing was not laborious, but restful.
More recently, in my work as a teacher and boarding school dorm parent, I was reminded of my need to be simple and constant when I pray. Though I'd worked with young children and teenagers in different capacities, as a nanny and at summer camp, I quickly discovered that human advice or counseling was insufficient to meet the continual demands of my work. I had to venture deeper, with the desire to understand each child and situation spiritually, with deference to God. So, when a student was struggling in a class, being obstinate about completing their chores, or distracting other people during study hall, spiritual discernment helped me not to react or write them off. Instead of analyzing their behavior from a psychological standpoint, I'd think about how seeing their innate spiritual goodness could restore in all of us a responsiveness to being considerate.
One night in the dorm, I felt overwhelmed about a troubling situation involving one particular student. Though I'd been monitoring her situation carefully and additional guidance outside of school was being provided, things felt more complicated than ever. This student suddenly became extremely upset and inconsolable. When I tried to talk to her and comfort her, she wasn't willing or able to communicate with me. I didn't have time to retreat into my apartment and get quiet, though, because we needed to carry on with the normal evening routine.
Later that evening, I called a Christian Science practitioner for help. The practitioner encouraged me to keep my prayers simple by acknowledging the blessings that I could see in the students and my colleagues. We talked about "sticking to square one," not needing to whip up some intellectual or lofty prayer, but maintaining the spiritually fundamental facts about the situation: God was all. God was the Father-Mother, loving and caring for everyone involved.
The practitioner talked about not needing to whip up some intellectual or lofty prayer.
This Bible verse from Isaiah captured this idea of simplicity: "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me" (45:5). I realized that even as I sometimes felt unprepared to nurture the students, since I don't have children of my own, God was securing, surrounding, and preparing me to work through this situation. And that's just what happened.
That same night, the student calmed down, finished her homework, and went to bed. She was able to go to classes the next morning, as usual. I noticed immediate improvement in her demeanor and was able to be there for her as she began to make significant strides in classes. My fears about not being equipped to help faded, and I witnessed transformation in myself as well.
What continues to inspire me is that when I open myself up to listening to God, and not just spouting off something perfunctory, I'm surprised by just how perfect each divine answer is. I've learned how we're made stronger by following God's gentle will. The real gift or healing then is that we're free from feeling duty-bound and are able to let our hearts sing.
Ginger Mack lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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