I’ve been really busy recently. I’ve been dashing into church 10 minutes late because I had to send “just one more email.” During Mass, I’ve been thinking about work rather than paying attention to the homilies. And back home in the evenings, I haven’t been writing in my journal—my most precious form of prayer—because I’m working up until the last possible moment when I have to finally go to sleep.
With good things happening in my career and personal life, this is one of the most exciting and successful times I’ve ever experienced. Yet I feel very far away from God.
Do prayer, meditation and conversation with God fall by the wayside as we go-go-go in our careers? Do we grow more in our faith when times are tough or when times are good? So many of us are fair-weather friends to God—so how can we make time for our spiritual life when it seems like every available minute is taken up on with earthly demands?
A few weeks ago, the Gospel of Mark warned us about putting money, career and aspirations ahead of our duty to others, and our relationship with God. I heard this reading and felt guilty as charged.
The embarrassing fact is that I’ve nurtured my faith the most when there is the least “other stuff” going on in my life. Yet if the most important relationship we have is with God and the most important thoughts we have are about our beliefs, it’s troubling that it’s so easy to let life carry me away.
Kara, 34, said she thinks this is a very common problem. “We don’t ‘need’ God when things are good, so we stop reaching out. But, the problem with that habit, she said, is that it is often grounded in our perception of God as “the vending machine God,” a God who is just there to give us blessings when we ask for them, and otherwise something we can walk past and ignore when we don’t need something in particular.
Faith Is A Relationship
Rather than thinking of God as a vending machine or someone that we “get” things from, we need to see our faith as an ongoing conversation with God. Just like we call, email, give gifts and hang out with our friends and loved ones, we should do the same with God through prayer and other forms of spiritual communication.
Faith is a relationship, said Fr. Richard Sparks, of the Paulists, and relationships are about love and two-way communication. “It’s hard to keep and to deepen a relationship if conversation is sporadic or even non-existent. In one’s faith-hope-love relationship with God, we need to keep in touch regularly – quiet time, prayer time, praise or song time, quality time. If our relationship with God matters, we need to find the time or make the time even when busy to say ‘howdy,’ ‘thanks,’ ‘thinking of you.’ God is doing it in our direction all the time.”
In The Language of God, Francis S. Collins writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain.” I’ve been rather taken with this quote because it seemed to sum up a lot of my feelings on this subject: For many young adults, our faith is weakest when we’re having fun and doing well, and strongest—or most a part of our lives—when we are in times of trouble,
Tuning God Out
But Fr. Sparks cautioned me: It’s not God who changes volume, it’s we who may tune him out or turn up our faith at various times. “As the old saying goes: ‘there are no atheists at exam time.’ Our candle-lighting business certainly goes up around midterms and finals,” he said of his college ministry. “So I think folks may be screaming to God for help from life’s pits, but God could whisper back an encouraging word or a solution and (most) folks would be ready to hear. God’s voice is constant. It’s us (more than God) who tend to tune in and tune out.”
Mary, 29, whose younger brother suffered-and then recovered-from cancer, said when he was in the hospital in a coma, she prayed the rosary several times each day. “We had dropped everything else in our lives, and I was praying almost constantly. I don’t know that I felt that God was ‘shouting’ to me at that time, in fact at times I found little consolation in my prayers, I just knew that I was begging for help and that I needed to ‘do’ something in a situation that was completely out of my control, and praying was really the only thing that I could do.” Today Mary said she has established a “spiritual plan” to make sure that she keeps up her prayer in the good times as well.
So how do we turn down the volume of life so we can hear God’s call to us? We can learn from Christ’s behavior: Everyone wanted a piece of Christ—they wanted him to heal them, to bless them, to praise them—but Christ knew he also needed to keep his most important relationship strong. He always prioritized time to be alone with God, to pray, to retreat to the mountains, in good times and in his darkest times. Those time-outs of prayer helped him do His work better. And the same is true for us.
“Retreat-like time afforded Jesus that shared opportunity. We’re invited to do the same. It works. It pays off. It’s worth it. It’s not a ‘should’ or an ‘ought’…but a desire, which we sometimes overlook or lose sight of,” said Fr. Sparks.
Conversations With God
For Kara, this advice rings true. “No matter how much we have been ignoring God, God never takes an eye off of us for a second and is always waiting for us to come back and simply remember to love him in return. God isn’t like the friend that I haven’t called back in ages because I feel too guilty at how long it has been since we last spoke. God won’t give us the guilt trip or ignore us,” she said.
Today, Kara takes time at the beginning and end of the day for prayer and meditation. She leads a young-adult group at her church. “When I regularly spend time in the peace and love of God’s presence, the good times are much more meaningful, my relationships are more beautiful and seem like more of a blessing, and the bad times seem less of a curse, but more of an opportunity to grow and become a better person. In my opinion, this keeps life from being the exhausting, often frightening, roller coaster of extreme highs and lows, but a much more peaceful, meaningful, winding journey, on which you’re never alone and everything is meaningful.”
It doesn’t take a lot of time to keep up our conversations with God. Just a few minutes here and there is better than nothing when we’re really busy. For me, that means making time to write in my journal. By putting pen to paper, I can synthesize and then let go of all the events of my day, giving myself up to God. And He’s always there, waiting.