My Conversation With God
I am finally getting what prayer is. On a recent weekend retreat to the beautiful Gonzaga Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, I spent a lot of time in adoration in the lovely chapels.
One evening as I sat with the Lord, I tried to quiet the turmoil within me. God does not need a lot of words, I told myself. He already knows what’s in your heart and what your needs are. I remembered the advice of a wonderful retreat leader from several years back. He said just tell God you love him and thank him. So instead of reciting learned prayers and a list of petitions, I said, “I love you,” and then added “thank you.” I concluded with “I’m sorry.” I sat quietly for a while and then imagined God’s response to my prayer. “I love you, too”, and “you’re welcome,” he replied. And he ended with words that soothed my soul: “you’re forgiven.”
I knew I must have been on to something because I felt immediate peace. Not the “flooding of peace” that you sometimes hear about when people say they have had an encounter with God, but a restful peace. It was release and relief, a let go of some of the hurt within me. Tears came—a lot of tears. I remember the wetness as they flowed down my cheeks and onto my neck. I did not feel the need to wipe them away, nor did I feel any embarrassment that others in the chapel would notice. Something special had happened and the tears were a testimony.
A little while later I went into Mary’s Chapel in the next room. I pulled out my journal and wrote down my prayer. Could it be that simple I wondered? Yes. Yes, it was that simple. I did not always have to go into a lot of detail when I spoke with God. Sometimes you may want or need to be specific but other times you are tired and your lists are too long and you worry about forgetting things.
That evening, I knew for certain that God knew every single thing within my heart. There was no need for me to say “Thank you for this beautiful retreat house with all its nooks and crannies; the loving parents you blessed me with; a kind, caring and patient husband; precious siblings, nieces and nephews; a large extended family and many aunts and uncles and cousins who are dear to me the ribbons of pink that laced the sky at sunrise this morning and the brilliant stars in the clear evening sky; the lullaby of the ocean I can hear from my room; the devoted retreat directors and the warm spiritual direction I had received that afternoon; the astonishing variety of creatures you put on Earth; my legs and hands and sight; a comfortable home; a job and the means to go on weekend retreats; surviving breast cancer and all my wonderful doctors and caregivers; a purring cat to sit on my lap; the companionship of friends who comfort and encourage me; my safe travel on the hour drive to Gloucester; the incredible library at the retreat house and for even putting it close to the dining room where I can drink endless cups of tea …”
If I had tried to list everything I was thankful for I would have done all the talking and would not have allowed space for God’s voice.
There was also no need for me to be specific about all that I was sorry for. A 30-day retreat would not have been sufficient time to list all I needed to be forgiven of. God is already quite aware of all my faults and shortcomings. He knows I have a short temper and sometimes say words I regret. He knows all my fears and weaknesses and how my mind often wanders when I pray. He forgave me long ago for putting him aside when I was younger and preoccupied with friendships and making my way in the world. He knows I worry too much and need to trust him more.
The beautiful sacrament of Reconciliation gives pardon, but in every day prayer, how healing to know that all I need to do is say “I am sorry” and to truly mean it with all my heart. Let God fill in the rest. He is, after all, God.
The next morning I sat upstairs in Saint Joseph’s chapel for adoration. I reflected on my experience the evening before, the brightness of day caused a restlessness that pushed me to add one more sentence – or rather just one more word – to my prayer—“Please…”
Again I knew I did not have to add “please take care of my nephew, the Marine, about to be deployed to Afghanistan; watch over my siblings and bring happiness to them and their families; grant peace to my departed loved ones, especially my dearest mother who had recently passed; help me cope with a difficult boss; give strength to a beloved friend; let my upcoming mammogram be fine; cure a friend’s niece who is soon to have surgery; bring healing and insight to all the others on retreat this weekend … “ My please requests would most certainly have no end. What a relief it was to know I did not have to list every single petition and fear that if I forgot something God would not know about it. How silly, for of course, God already knew every single one of my petitions and those of the others. I thought of how God would respond to my requests. That thought led to a longer conversation in which he so gently addressed all my pleas.
Whether I imagined this conversation with God or truly heard His voice that day did not matter. I had a new understanding—it really is that simple. God understands all that is within us. I didn’t always have to work so hard at prayer. It is enough to be with Him in the silence and stillness. I left Eastern Point Retreat House at the end of the weekend with a heart more attentive to hearing God‘s voice; he whispered one more thing: “Share this.”