Have you ever de-planed at an airport in a foreign country and noticed that practically everyone around you is speaking something other than English? It’s mildly disconcerting. The first time I experienced this in an unfamiliar place, it felt as though everyone was shouting. I noticed every beautiful, strange sound and intonation. When I consider it now, I realize that it is disconcerting because hearing the foreign language makes it very clear that I out of my comfort zone.
As time passes, though, the language starts to fade into the background. And yet, it becomes integral to the experience of being there. What I mean is, to a traveler, Istanbul wouldn’t be Istanbul without the sounds that are heard as people communicate with each other. And somehow, as the days pass, the novelty wears off.
Many times, when I sit down during my morning prayer time, my mind works in a similar way. At first, the distractions in my mind seem like shouting; the things I focus on are the concerns I have for the day-to-day. How will my daughter pull that chemistry grade up? What will we have for dinner tonight? What about that difficulty I’m having at work? When will my mom get to the doctor? How am I ever going to find time to exercise?
While all of these things are relatively minor in the grand scheme of life, in the minutes that I have found to devote to silent prayer on a daily basis, they become so “important,” not because they really are, but because in the silence, all of the emotions, concerns, and problem-solving get louder and louder until I can’t seem to focus on my reason for prayer, which is to love God and to allow God to love me.
Recently, I heard a talk by Paul Coutihno, a Jesuit priest and highly dynamic and wonderful speaker. At the end of his talk, as everyone was standing up to leave the auditorium, he added a final request: for one hour a week, instead of prayers of petition, or thanksgiving, or praise, simply let God love you. Do not “do” anything but accept God’s love.
In some way this means ignoring all of the other concerns that sometimes take over our prayer.
To me, this is nearly impossible. My mind never seems to slow down, never seems to be able to find a quiet silence, never seems to understand when I try to put all of the other concerns aside. It’s like standing in foreign airport listening to all of the new sounds. The voices cannot be silenced at that moment.
The only success I have found at this is when I give up trying to control my thoughts, and instead ask God for the grace to quiet them. My earthly success comes when I am not in control at all. This is out of my comfort zone! It is during this time, sometimes not more than a minute or two, that I am able to accept God’s love without distraction.
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. –Psalm 62:5