THE STRUGGLE IS THE PRAYER
by Fr. Chris Saenz
Fr. Chris Saenz is a native of Bellevue, Nebraska, and belongs to the Missionary Society of St. Columbans. He was ordained in 2000. He is presently assigned in the US.
Equally qualified, Carmen and Diane both sought employment with the same local company. Both prayed to God for help, and both of them was granted an interview.
Carmen was immediately given a position in the company. Diane was told that she was not the right candidate for the position. Diane couldn’t understand why God failed her. Seeing Diane look rejected and depressed, Carmen tried to console her, “Diane, as they say, when God closes one door, he opens….”
Out of anger, Diane yelled, “No! I don’t want to hear that nonsense! Those clichés don’t help me now!” Diane stormed out of the office, leaving Carmen dumbfounded. Shaking her head, Carmen prayed that Diane would have more faith in God.
She may have believed that her attempt to comfort Diane was noble, but to Diane, it sounded preachy. In reality, does Carmen understand God’s will better than Diane does? Does God favor Carmen over Diane? Is Diane’s anger justifiable? Does Carmen believe that Diane’s anger makes her less faithful?
There may be no answers to these difficult questions but as the 16th-century Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Avila said:
“Let us look at our own shortcomings and leave other people’s alone; for those who live carefully ordered lives are apt to be shocked at everything and we might well learn very important lessons from the persons who shock us. Our outward comportment and behavior may be better than theirs, but this, though good, is not the most important thing; there is no reason why we should expect everyone else to travel by our own road; and we should not attempt to point them to the spiritual path when perhaps we do not know what it is”
(Interior Castle, The Third Dwelling Places, Chapter 2, paragraph 13)
Sometimes our biggest obstacles in prayer are attitudes like Carmen’s which judge the spiritual struggle, with all its intense emotions and profound doubts, as a lack of faith. In actuality, it is part of the spiritual journey that many faithful believers, mystics and saints, have experienced. Even St. Teresa of Calcutta, in a collection of personal letters, revealed that she struggled with doubts and darkness in her spiritual life for nearly 50 years:
“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing” (in the book: Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light)
Mother Teresa is testimony to a faith not hindered by doubt, but rather deepened by it. Faith does not eliminate doubt but transforms it. Yet, many of us find it difficult to understand this experience. Why?
Many of us were taught to believe that prayer is always polite and clean. We should never raise our voices, or doubt Him, and always accept all things as being God’s will. We never consider the possibility that in prayer, we can use strong words, scream, and question Him. We never consider that maybe not all things are in God’s will.
Prayer is simply presenting ourselves to God the way we are without guises or fluffs. If we feel angry, anger is our prayer. If we feel depressed, depression is our prayer. If we feel frustrated, frustration is our prayer. If we pray with an honest heart then the words we use, the feelings we have, and the way we pray is never inappropriate.
The biblical scene of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26, 36-46) reveals the true nature of prayer. We see Him praying spontaneously, emotionally and, most of importantly, honestly. Jesus struggled to join his will to his Father’s and he didn’t sugarcoat his anguish about it. This is very contrary to the concept that prayer should always bring us interior peace. In reality, there are times when we feel that our prayer time didn’t go well. But that is not important. Often, the fruits of prayer come in our daily lives just when we are doing ordinary things. Many times, those fruits come weeks, months and even years later. In the case of Jesus, it came three days after his prayer at Gethsemane. What truly matters is that God sees our efforts in trying and appreciates our attempts. That is why the struggle is the prayer.
Father Chris on his ordination day