Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prayers, by Mary O'Connell, LifeWays Director

(LifeWays welcomes children and families of any race, religion, color, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. In sharing my thoughts on prayer, I hope to connect with a more universal experience we might share about the value of meditation or contemplation in our busy lives.)

As a young girl growing up in a Catholic family, I learned there are several types of prayers. I was taught there were prayers for things you want (these should be fewest in number for a good child), prayers for intervention on behalf of others (much more desirable), prayers of contrition (being sorry for doing wrong), and prayers of adoration (these were supposed to be the most frequent, and the ones God really liked to hear.) Let’s face it, as a youngster almost every prayer I managed to utter regarded something I wanted. Think Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun and you get the picture. Usually, I prayed for a pony, which was a stretch since I lived in a crowded Chicago suburb.

As a skeptical teen, I questioned the motives of a God who would want people to "suck up" constantly with prayers of adoration, telling Her or Him how fabulous S/he is. Seriously? If you’re God, you shouldn’t need the constant praise, right? Over time, I put this teaching in the same category as “Women can’t be priests” and “Birth control is a sin against God.” Not relevant to my life.

As happens as one gets older, my prayer life began to change. Perhaps it happened as I was parenting toddlers; too tired to manage a full-blown, comprehensible prayer, I often found myself reduced to frazzled prayers like, “Help!” or “God, please don’t let this child grow up to be a pathological liar/shoplifter/graffiti artist.” Then, when I would go into their rooms at night while my children were sleeping, there would be the resigned prayer of “Please help me be a better parent tomorrow.” It was all I could muster before I fell into bed, exhausted.

Today, I find myself enjoying a whole different kind of prayer life than I envisioned as a kid. I’ve come to believe that every act I engage in has the capacity to be a prayer: making dinner for my family, wiping a snotty nose of a child at LifeWays, sharing a funny story with a colleague, or picking a ripe tomato from my garden. And these days, many times a day, I find myself offering up a familiar two-word prayer -- “Thank you.” Maybe it’s a by-product of getting older; of seeing the potential for heartbreak, struggle, illness or loneliness and being gosh-darn grateful for every joyful minute we are gifted. And when you start paying attention, there are so many of those moments! I no longer take for granted a hug from a sweaty child talking a mile a minute about a salmon that jumped in the river, a laughter-filled board game with my husband and soon-to-be-launched kids, or a thought-provoking conversation with a LifeWays parent.

I can honestly say these days, most of my prayers are ones of gratitude -- indeed, adoration -- of the incredible blessing it is to have a family, friends, a roof over our heads, food on our table, and an inspiring vocation in a workplace that is filled with joy. Maybe those Catholic nuns weren’t just preaching dogma after all --maybe they were really on to something.

Thank you, dear LifeWays parents, for sharing your beautiful children with us every day. I am grateful.


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