February 25, 2011

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Pray to God in secret in the middle of the world

Sean GallagherI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Seeing my boys grow just doesn’t get old.

Even though I’ve watched my three older sons start to pray, it’s still a joy to see my youngest son, Philip, do the same.

Not too long ago, when his brothers, my wife, Cindy, and I would fold our hands in prayer at the start of our meals, our 19-month-old son started imitating us.

When we first noticed him doing it, we all smiled and told him how good a boy he was. Of course, he liked our reaction. So when he folds his little hands in prayer now, he will often look around to see if we’re watching him.

Now this isn’t exactly the kind of approach to prayer that Jesus recommended that is included in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.

“When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you,” our Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6:6).

Jesus exhorted his disciples to pray for the right reason—to deepen their relationship with God, and to seek to know and do his will. He doesn’t want us to be like those people who pray in public only to be praised by those who see them.

Now little Philip certainly doesn’t fall into this category. He is too innocent to have such jaded and self-centered motives.

In fact, it is a good thing that his family praises him as he takes these first baby steps, so to speak, in his life of prayer. Such encouragement at this stage—and for a good while into the future, I might add—is like watering the seeds of faith in him.

At the same time, we adults shouldn’t interpret Jesus’ words too literally either. It would not be good for our lives of faith to think that there are only special places where we are to pray—a church or behind closed doors in a favorite room in our homes.

We can and very much should pray in public—just in ways that don’t draw attention to ourselves. In fact, we can pray throughout our days in ways that no one—except God—will ever notice.

For example, we can offer up within the silence of our hearts short prayers to God, often called aspirations, at various times throughout the day.

They might be prayers of thanks or praise. But they could also be moments where you ask the Lord for help with your children or when you have a tough job to do at work.

And you can expand the scope of these secret prayers by taking a second here or there to ask God to bless and help your family, neighbors, co-workers or so many others near and far away who need his help.

We can make these prayers through more than just our words, too. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or working in a job outside the home, you can always offer up to God the various tasks you do throughout the day as sacrifices through which we can give him glory—especially if we do our work well—or ask for his help for ourselves or other people.

Finally, there is not a day that doesn’t have its fair share of trials. When annoyances, frustrations or sickness come your way, bear it well with a smile and join those sufferings to our Lord’s cross. Then they take on immense value through which so many people in this world can be blessed without even knowing it.

Perhaps this Lent you can try one of these prayer practices. When you do, be like Philip and look in your heart toward God. I’m sure he’ll be smiling at you. †

Local site Links: