April 3, 2019
Available only in text
Good evening everyone. It is a pleasure to share this Lenten prayer service with you, for I believe we help one another encounter God by sharing personal experiences. As a young girl I remember staring out my bedroom window and imagining Jesus coming to me on a cloud. I longed for a face to face encounter with Jesus. I wanted to feel the confidence of his love for me just like the woman at the well.
How do we encounter God? The scripture reading from 1 Kings directs our attention to finding God in a quiet whisper. There is so much noise in our lives, a whisper from God could easily be missed, or a person could mistake it for a passing thought. I hunger to hear God’s voice in very clear ways. I want to be absolutely certain the Lord is speaking to me and I want his words to affirm my desires, but like Elijah experienced, the Lord works in subtle and unexpected ways.
This liturgical year and Lenten season we have been focusing on three words, Stop, Look and Listen. To help me associate these three words with Christ, I have remodeled them to say
It seems appropriate that my reflection is about listening. By nature, I am a better listener than a talker. I leave the art of talking to my dear husband. My mother used to call me “big ears” whenever I inquired about a conversation that I was not supposed to hear. But listening for God’s gentle whisper takes a special awareness.
Have I heard the voice of God? Have you heard the voice of God?
As I reflect on my past, I have heard God’s voice. One time, God spoke to me in the form of a healthy cry. You see, half way through my first pregnancy the doctor could not find my baby’s heartbeat and the measurement of my belly was below normal for twenty weeks. He told me to make an appointment to discuss clinical abortion and then left the exam room. I was devastated and found it difficult to find God in the midst of my fears. At my next appointment a month later, the doctor did find the heartbeat, but he said my baby was not developing as expected, so he moved my due date two weeks later. I prayed, but doubt and worry penetrated my thoughts. Sixteen weeks later, the original due date, I gave birth to a heathy baby boy. As I cradled my son in my arms, a joy that can only come from God erupted in my heart and spread to every part of my being. My fears vanish. God was speaking to me and confirming his presence through my baby’s healthy cry.
Over the next twelve years my husband and I were blessed with three more children. Raising four kids on one income was challenging. My husband worked diligently to provide for the family while I managed the household and the kids. We loved our family, but we had little time to nurture one another. That took a toll on our marriage. I turned to God for answers and prayed for a better marriage, but our relationship spiraled downward. I questioned if God even heard my prayers? My husband and I sought counseling. At each session we were able to voice our hurts in a safe environment and begin to reconcile with one another. God had been with us during our marital challenge. I just needed to hear his voice through the wise words of a counselor. In the Bible, Samuel also needed the counsel of a wise person to discern God’s voice.
Another trial came when one of our children experienced mental health issues. I became the ‘bad’ mom. I could not say or do anything right. Compliments were perceived as criticisms and invitations to spend time together were rejected. I was back on my knees begging God for answers. I wanted God to heal my child like he healed the blind man and the ten men with leprosy. God’s healing love seemed so immediate in the Bible stories. He rubbed mud on the eyes of the blind man and restored his sight. He told the men with leprosy to go show themselves to the priest and as they made their way to the temple they were healed. I wanted that to happen for my child, but instead, years went by and the mental health issues grew more intense. The voices I heard only filled me with confusion and doubt about being a good mother. My husband and I found a Christian treatment center for our child which brought a glimmer of hope, but at the same time put us in financial debt. Three months passed and we were invited to a parent weekend. I was hoping for a miracle. We met our child in a group session. I smiled and as I opened my arms, I could feel a wall blocking my love as we exchanged looks. We spent two days attending workshops, counseling sessions, and sharing meals together. We drew pictures of our feelings and I asked myself over and over, “What did I do wrong?” At one session we were introduced to the book Five Languages of Love and given a simple questionnaire of how people receive love. The five ways to fill a person’s love tank are speaking words of affirmation, spending quality time, giving gifts, doing acts of service, and offering physical touch. I never realized that there were five different languages for showing love. God whispered to me that day and showed me how to better express my love to my child. It has been over fifteen years now and I can say we are both at a place of peace. My child is responsive to my love and we are building a new and trusting relationship. I was looking for God to offer a quick fix, but he knew that the healing miracle would happen as I grew in my understanding of love and my willingness to forgive.
Now, I am searching for God’s guidance in caring for my elderly mother. My mother’s dementia has robbed her of her independence, her ability to hold casual conversations, and her desire to eat. Her 85-pound body lacks energy to move, so she spends most of her day lying in bed. What’s most upsetting is how defiant she can be towards her caregivers when they try to help her with her daily needs. As I sit by my mother’s bedside and watch her drift in and out of sleep, her life seems so pathetic. I often wonder if she is even happy. The other day I asked her, “Mom, what makes you happy?” She looked at me and answered, “Being with you.” In that moment, I recognized God’s voice. He was speaking to me through my mother’s words
God is always with us, but to hear his voice, we must calm our busyness, express gratitude, and be open to the wisdom of others.
I would like to share a tool that I have been learning and practicing this Lent. It has helped me be more in tune with God and aware of his presence. The tool is called the Examen Prayer from St. Ignatius. The prayer leads you through five steps and takes about fifteen minutes a day. The first step focuses on creating a quiet space to review your day. This helps me ‘Stop,’ put aside my busyness, acknowledge God’s presence, and listen for his quiet whisper.
The next step guides me in recognizing the blessings of my day and opening my heart with gratitude. Having a heart of gratitude helps me ‘Look’ and become aware of God’s generous love. I thank God for the little things like hugs, the happy song of a bird and the sweet fragrance of a Daphne blossom. I thank God for the big things too. I thank God for the people in my life. I thank him for opportunities to serve and share my gifts. I also thank God for the courage to tackle a problem, for gratitude can turn difficult trials into blessings. The third step helps me to review my day and reflect on my experiences. Our days are filled with rich experiences both joyful and sorrowful. I ask God, “What do you want me to remember about this day? Help me to look at my day through your eyes.” Then I seek God’s forgiveness where necessary and plan spiritually for the coming day. This practice is like a mini retreat. It helps me find God in all things and experience his loving grace.
Through praying the Examen Prayer, I have learned that gratitude is key for recognizing God’s loving presence and opening my heart to forgiveness and renewal. I would encourage you to take time this Lenten season and pray the Examen Prayer. The prayer is about our relationship with God and can help you Stop and be still, Look for God’s blessings, and Listen for his small, still voice. As you follow the steps of the prayer, you may find yourself lingering in one area. That is okay. The Examen Prayer is not about following a form, it is about encountering God. I made prayer cards outlining the steps of the Examen Prayer (see below). As you review your day, allow awareness and gratitude to open your heart to God’s whispering voice and healing grace. Listen! God is calling you.
The Examen Prayer
"The Lord is near to all who call on him in truth." Psalm 145:18
Stillness: Recalling God's Presence
In your favorite prayer place and posture, relax in God's presence. Be aware of how God shows his love in all his gifts to you. Ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and to help you to look honestly at your actions this day.
Gratitude: Expressing Thankfulness
Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Review your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Give thanks for the gifts and graces God has given you today, from small things to the big things.
Reflection: Looking Back on Your Day
Look back on your day and ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. Look at it and reflect on the thoughts and desires you experienced during the day. What is God saying through these feelings? Think about opportunities you had to grow in faith, hope and charity.
Sorrow: Asking for Forgiveness
As you review your day, pay attention to any missed opportunities when you could have acted in a certain way, but didn't. Express sorrow and ask God to remove your heart's burdens. Give thanks for God's loving grace and mercy.
Hopefulness: Resolving to Grow
Seek God's light for tomorrow's challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface. Ask God to show you the kind of person he is calling you to be. Resolve to be that person and turn to the Lord for help and understanding.
Prayerfully conclude with the Lord's Prayer or The Sign of the Cross.