Nothing jumpstarts my prayer life more than when I encounter an unexpected difficulty. Facing a challenging situation, and realizing I don’t have a quick or easy answer, sends me to my knees faster than a blow to the solar plexus. Now certainly this doesn’t happen often. I don’t like surprises and work hard to avoid them. (I believe “surprise parties” are a preview of what hell is all about.) Occasionally, though—and usually through no fault of my own—I face an unexpected dilemma that throws me for a loop. At these times, my prayer life automatically kicks into high gear, as I storm heaven seeking guidance and support.
Now the above is not something I am particularly proud of. In fact, I am a little embarrassed to admit it. I probably wouldn’t bring it up at all except that I think it is a trait that is common to most people. In this regard, I suspect most of us pray on a regular basis. (Our prayers may be short or long; they may come from a prayer book, or perhaps they are memorized prayers like the rosary, or they may even be spontaneous and heartfelt. Regardless of how we pray, though, we do pray.) The thing is, though, that while we may pray on a regular basis, there is nothing like a crisis to get us to pray more frequently and more fervently.
I suspect the reason a crisis motivates our prayer life like nothing else is that when a crisis occurs we become aware, as in few other ways, of our limitations and weaknesses. It is during times of crisis that we have to admit that we aren’t sufficient unto ourselves and that we need God.
Now while on one level I think most of us would admit that we need God, on another level I suspect that most of us also live as though God were an ancillary and optional part of our lives. Now certainly we acknowledge God’s existence and we do pay heed to God when we pray. But in regard to regularly recognizing and admitting our need for and dependence on God, I’m guessing most of us only do this when we have run out of other options. We are like children who insist that “I can do it myself” only to discover that “doing it ourselves” was more difficult than we thought, or that we can’t do it at all.
Despite the fact that it is so often difficult for us to admit our need for God, God doesn’t hold this against us. In fact, quite the opposite is true. God is pleased whenever we recognize our need for God and come to God in prayer. God is like a loving parent who doesn’t chide us when our abilities are insufficient and our efforts fail. Rather when this happens and we come running to God for help and comfort, we discover that God has always been there, waiting for us with outstretched arms and all the grace that we need.