In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples this parable: A widow begs a crooked judge for a just sentence against her adversary. After lots of badgering and nagging, the judge says, “Dang, Lady, I’m tired of you. I’ll send your guy to jail if you leave me alone.” The judge is afraid that if he doesn’t do what’s right for her, she might open a can of TMNT (teenage mutant ninga turtles) on him and get her just sentence anyway. Which is, according to Jesus, a good lesson for us to take down in our spiritual notebooks: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” (Luke 18:6-8).
I know that you’re not supposed to be a kind of magician in the sky. Because then life would be like a Disney movie: not real and irritatingly happy. But some fairy dust would be welcome on occasion, don’t you think? Iraq? Katrina? Bosnia? The psych units at Johns Hopkins and Laurel Regional Hospital?
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself . . .
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. . . .
Merton combines persistence with people-pleasing, which, of course, I’ve always excelled at being a true codependent. I want to please everyone, but especially you, God. Doesn’t everyone raised by nuns? Let’s be honest. I’d really like to skip over the cozy fire of hell, if at all possible, the place where you said there would be darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8: 11-12). Because it sounds an awful lot like some of the playgroups that David and I attended … before we were voted off the island.
Fortunately for me, my patron saint, St. Therese, was also plagued by a short-attention span, intrusive thoughts, and an … um … tendency to fall asleep during prayer. And like me, she worried her conversations with you were one-sided. That is, the warm fuzzies didn’t come visit her as she lit a candle and flapped her holy jaws. You know I’m not making this up.
I love what Beyond Blue reader Barabara wrote about her struggle with prayer:
When I try to pray, I feel like my mind is the equivalent of an unearthed ant colony rushing in a million directions at once. Quieting my head seems almost impossible. But I do remember hearing that even trying to pray, is in itself, a prayer. Even as I feel myself fleeing the presence of God, a cry for help is flying in my wake–and I do believe that God, who knows all my shortcomings and failures, accepts my miserable attempts with kindness and mercy.
Mother Teresa articulated the same idea, that perhaps you love us in our trying, not necessarily in our success or mastery:
O God, since you are Jesus who suffers, deign to be for me also a Jesus who is patient, indulgent with my faults, who looks only at my intentions, which are to love you and to serve you in the person of each of these children of yours who suffer. Lord, increase my faith. Bless my efforts and my work, now and forever.
So, God, help me to be persistent like that annoying and badgering widow of Luke’s gospel, to be people-pleasing like your disciple Thomas Merton, and to be, like Babs and Mother Teresa, cognizant that I am loved by you for my intentions and efforts more than for my results. Remind me that love is made whole in my imperfections, because as St. Augustine once said, “True, whole prayer is nothing but love.”