In January, when Allen-Michael returned from his semester in Rome, he brought home a small gift for each one of us. Mine was was lovely scroll entitled "A .Simple Prayer." I bought this really rustic-looking frame at a local craft store to help showcase it's beauty and protect it's fragile state.
It was funny when I opened the gift bag and unrolled the scroll because I immediately began to sing the words of the poem...Allen-Michael was puzzled, he'd never heard the hymn before and couldn't believe the prayer was actually a song we used to sing all the time at mass when I was a kid. He said he saw the scroll on the cart of a local street vendor and it made him think of me.
The Simple Prayer is a request to God to help live life through an uncomplicated (though not always easy) practice...
In other words...God, please help me not to perpetuate hostility, inflict pain, be a party to controversy, divide others, try too much to control circumstances, spread lies, wallow in heartache, focus on the negative, or live my life without gratitude.
Not easy in a world where we love to publicly build one another up, only to revel in the tear down process. To jump to judgment before we understand all of the facts (that is, if we can focus long enough, or even accumulate all of the facts), to bolster our own opinion in order to make ourselves feel, in some small way, "better than" someone else. To value more what we can touch, rather emphasizing the things we can't...such as the quality of our relationships with others, compassion for those in need, and the practice of turning the other cheek.
I think many of us are searching for a comfortable space between tolerance, and trying to instill what we feel are moral and virtuous characteristics into our children despite the constant messages of immediate gratification and surface beauty our society doles out.
The biggest problem we face is that we can be our own worst enemy.
God put two different situations in my path this week. I think both could illustrate what it means to be a living prayer...
While I was at the community pool, I heard the mother (of two young boys) constantly yelling at her sons. She seemed so unhappy, as did her boys, because they just couldn't figure out a way play nicely together or to share their water gun. One of the boys spent a lot of time fighting wearing his floaties as well. Mom yelled, threatened, put them in time out countless times. I left the pool a while later identifying with the mother's frustrations, yet feeling sad for all three that they couldn't enjoy a lovely summer afternoon. I wished I could have done something to change the situation.
Two days later, I again encountered the mother and her sons at the pool. As I lay on my chair reading, I could tell the same scenario was unfolding. I decided that even if this mother began to hurl her anger at me, I needed to share something with her to (maybe, just maybe) turn her perspective on parenting around. So, as I packed up to leave, I wrote down the name of a book that has changed my life, and one that I felt could make a big impact on hers as well. I walked over and sat down next to her. She looked up from her phone, startled a stranger had sat down.
I said, "I have never done anything like this before, and I hope you will see this as a blessing, not as judgment. I am the mother of five children, four boys and a girl..." She responded, "God bless you." To which I said, "Yes. I believe He did."
I continued, "I read a book about a year ago which has changed my life and my perspective about parenting. I would like to share the title with you." I handed her the piece of paper. She responded (looking down at her lap), "You must think I am an awful parent." I asked her to look at me, and then I told her in no way did I feel she was an awful parent. I said, "I just think this author's work could help you immensely."
Then I got up and left the pool area.
Time will tell if she takes me up on my suggestion, or if she yells at me the next time she sees me at the pool. But, in my own way, I confronted a situation with an authentic heart that I felt may only get worse with time and tried to help change the momentum of the path to what could be a lot of unhappiness.
My other story from this past week...
Tom and I hosted a wine tasting at a local Italian BYOB. One of the regular attendees brought a friend who, unbeknownst to me, was invited because she knew the two of us had something important in common and she wanted to talk about it. She has a son, in his mid-20s, who is going through a very rough time with drugs. Understandably distraught, she does not know what might come next for her child whom she loves dearly. The woman has tried everything she can think of to help him recover.
I listened intently, seeing so many similarities to my own family's situation. Her story was challenging to hear, the pain in her voice brought back some of my own memories of not knowing what would happen next with my son. Despite all of that, I was so glad to have met her, and I hope to continue to be able to listen and support and encourage her, no matter what direction her son's life takes.
One of the most important and heartfelt things we can do for someone else in pain is to hold space. We can not truly fix problems for others, no matter how much we may want to, the answer (and the action) always lies within oneself.
How to be a living prayer?