I’m working through my second Lenten season after resolving to become a better pray-er last year. Please see my post http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/05/i-say-a-little-prayer-for-you/ for additional background. Of course, I just published this piece, even though I wrote it almost a year ago. I get really nervous if I don’t have several weeks’ worth of blog posts in reserve. Perish the thought that I might have nothing ready to go some Wednesday morning! I would have to write something on the fly without proper planning and scheduling. The very possibility makes me nauseous. Sometimes my pre-recorded pieces get a little stale sitting on the shelf waiting for their moment, but I don’t think prayer ever gets stale. I don’t think there is anything wrong with two helpings of prayer in short succession. In fact, in these uncertain times, maybe two helpings of prayer are exactly what we need to keep us off the ledge.
I wanted to give you all an update on how my efforts to improve my prayer life were going. Last Lent, I began a Bible In One Year app project, which guided me towards dedicated Bible study and prayer each evening. After that experience, I served as the chaplain for our parish Episcopal Church Women group. My sole job in that capacity is to pray and lead other members toward prayer. I love it. I actually feel my soul expanding as I help channel our group’s powerhouse of prayer and search for creative, experiential, thoughtful ways to spur closer intimacy with God. I’ve been leading a small group in our Alpha program. This leads me to even deeper levels and stronger intensity of prayer. This past Lent, I chose a short passage of Scripture to capture and copy into my prayer journal each day. This helped me feel more confident and more grounded in my prayer.
I’ve learned a number of lessons about prayer and the results of dedicating time to improved communication with God.
Sometimes, external things happen when I pray.
There have been several instances when my prayer seems to have resulted in at least a small shift in circumstances. Maybe I have not witnessed anything super dramatic yet (although I believe something extremely dramatic HAS happened and we just don’t know it yet.) Still, I see mini-miracles tied to my prayer all the time. In the challenges presented by the COVID-19 physical distancing protocols, I see wonderful things happening. In one example, my small Episcopal Church has not missed a single Sunday service. After the CDC recommended that no one gather in groups of 10 or more, we didn’t gather together in the church building. However, the very first week without physical community services, our rector and a team of wonderful, talented, Spirit-filled people figured out a way to organize, produce, and market a Sunday service on YouTube. This might not seem like a big deal to a lot of people. Our community, however, is not exactly modern. It is not on the cutting edge of technology. It was like going from 0 to 100 in electronic communication/distance learning in just a few days. I am sure that was only achievable by hard working faith-filled, prayerful people. Another example is the way neighbors and community members are looking out for each other. I know there is hoarding and the grocery store shelves are pretty pitiful. At the same time, though, people are calling each other to check in on people who might be feeling isolated, running errands for those who are more at risk, being creative in constructing a way to help the world feel “normal,” and finding ways to ease the economic cataclysm that the lockdowns will cause for the most vulnerable among us.
I know there are many secular organizations and many non-Christians who are also working to do these things. I do think there is a difference with prayer, though. While we are all temporarily stopped from the busy-ness of our lives, some of us are spending more time in prayer and remembering our faith. In some ways, I see us coming closer together rather than further apart, as we deliberately and mindfully find ways to protect our relationships and spiritual journeys from isolation. Normally, when people are “stuck” inside their homes for a few days because of something like an oncoming hurricane, there is an overall atmosphere of resentment and dread. This time, there is almost a feeling of empowerment and joy within my circle of praying friends. It feels good for us to mobilize to deal with this challenge. It feels good to support efforts to remain connected. It feels good for us to remember who God calls us to be.
Sometimes, the changes I see are less tangible. I pray frequently for the guests in our church’s Alpha group. I have seen that prayer lighten their hearts, as God has brought them closer to His love. Of course, God could do that without my help. Jesus is the one that draws these folks to Him, not me. I think it is awesome and exciting that God gives me the opportunity to participate in the process, through prayer and agape.
Sometimes, prayer doesn’t change anything… except me.
During the past year, I’ve changed so much. My service, confidence, thoughtfulness, creativity, emotional and intellectual intelligence, relationship-building skills, and love have increased exponentially. My natural talents and strengths are expanding. I am forgiving myself more readily for my weaknesses and failures, secure that God has already done so. I often pray in thanksgiving for the paths where God chooses to lead me and the lessons he is teaching me. I am absolutely convinced that the point of life is to grow into the person God wants each of us to be. I feel like that is happening to me more now than at any time in my life. It may seem strange that this is happening as I enter my golden years rather than in my youth or middle age, but I guess everyone has his or her own script.
I think the reason I have been able to blossom, especially in the last year, is directly related to the increase in quantity and quality of my prayer life. I feel like my prayer life is a mighty fortress that God and I have built together. It protects me and allows me to live as genuinely and authentically as I can. Within the walls of this fortress, I can grow the garden of my life and build my serving ministry without fear. It is a godly kind of fortress. It doesn’t keep anyone out; it just protects what is inside it. The walls are permeable to anyone of good intent.
All in all, the most important thing I have learned is just this: Prayer works. It may not work the way you think it will, but it works!
Has your spiritual life changed during the COVID-19 pandemic? In what way? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a prayerful day!