I remember it as yesterday. My mother let my brothers and me have it. She was a gentle woman, rarely angry, usually smiling, but that day… In the middle of her angry tirade, the phone rang. Since she was standing next to phone, she reached over and answered. Her greeting was worth an Oscar! She went from angry, screaming mother to professional, pleasant secretary in a nano-second “Hello, Jaskot residence.”
She always made sure to answer the phone properly. Despite being so angry at us she gave that caller her best “phone voice.”
I think of that incident often when I think of prayer. Too many times in prayer, we give God our “phone voice.” We are angry. We are hurting. We are excited. We are worn out. We want to shout, scream, cry out, let someone know of the great joy or the pain or the anguish. Instead we fold our hands gently, lift our puppy dog eyes to heaven and, in our best “phone voice,” we pray something “nice.”
God doesn’t want our “phone voice.” God wants all of us, all of our lives given to Him in prayer. God wants the hurt and the pain and the anguish as well as the bursting-at-the-seems joy and excitement, all of it, unvarnished and unfiltered. Perhaps we have been trained that we shouldn’t be angry or we don’t want to upset God or we think that God won’t like us if we are not perfect. Sounds foolish to say it out loud but it’s often in the deep recesses of our hearts. So we limit our prayer to “the good stuff” and in so doing we limit what God can do for us and through us. Not this part, Lord. It’s too dirty. Not that part, Lord. I’m too broken. Or we forget to bring God the good stuff, the joy and excitement. Not that part, Lord. You don’t want that.
St. Therese of Lisieux called prayer a “surge of the heart … a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
Prayer is a “surge” and a “cry” that involves both “trial and joy.” These are not the terms of one disinterested or afraid to be engaged. She brought everything to God and she prayed with her whole being.
In this she reminds me of the great figures of the Old Testament – Abraham and Ruth and Moses and Esther and Jeremiah and David. They prayed with everything they were. They brought it all to God and God did great things for them and with them. They shared with God the trial they were facing and allowed God to take action.
“Go Abraham. I will give you the promised. I will make you of you a great nation.” Sure Lord, I am wandering around in the desert and my wife is barren, but I’ll go. “Go, Abraham. Sacrifice your son, the one you love.” Sure, Lord. You gave him to me as a gift, the fulfillment of all you promised me. But if you ask, I’ll do it.
“Go Ruth. You mother in law needs help.” Sure Lord. She is moving far away and I am a not an Israelite, but I’ll help.
“Go, Moses. Tell pharaoh to let my people go.” Sure, Lord. He is the most powerful man on earth and I am only a shepherd with a record. I’m frightened; I can’t speak well, but I’ll try.
“Go Esther. Go, save my people.” Sure, Lord, It may mean my comfortable lifestyle and perhaps even my life but I’ll fight.
“Go Jeremiah. Go tell my people that they are wicked and I am angry.” Sure Lord. Even though I am no prophet, young, inexperienced, even though they will fight me tooth and nail, I’ll speak out.
“Go David. Fight Goliath. Stand up to Saul. Lead my people. Repent of your sin.” Sure, Lord. I’ll do it. I know you are with me. I am so sure, I will dance “with abandon” before the Ark of the Covenant to make sure that You and everyone who sees me know my joy. You are my God and You are so close to me.
I oversimplify. But each of these men and women were in a deep, strong relationship with God. They knew God, they listened for His will. They asked for courage and strength and did what God asked. None used a “phone voice” but each cried out “full throated and unsparingly” to God. They spoke to God and God responded. He didn’t make it easy but He brought them through the challenge.
This is what prayer is supposed to be, this surge of our heart, our whole being given to God. When we reach out to God, when we spend time with Him in prayer, God is close to us. When we bring the pain and hurt, God can heal. When we bring the dirt, God can clean and forgive. When we bring the joy and excitement, God can help us share it. Prayer unites us with God and allows God to work through us. Don’t stifle that with your “phone voice,” but shout it from the roof tops.
Monsignor Robert J. Jaskot is director for the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. This is the second series on the fall session of Why Catholic? Next week’s article will be by D. Scott Miller.