It was Yaya‘s birthday a couple of weeks ago, and when the time came to write up a card, I froze. How could I possibly express my appreciation for all that she does for us? This was when I was bad-busy, when I’d gotten myself in over my head with so many commitments that I considered the day a success if I remembered to feed the kids lunch. So finding the right words to tell her what I wanted her to know for her birthday seemed impossible.
I went down to the store, and headed for the greeting card section. I felt immediate relief as I looked at all the options. There was such a variety of sentiments inscribed in the insides of these cards, I knew I’d be able to find one that said what I was trying to say.
I finally found one that fit the tone and ideas I wanted to get across, and when I brought it home, I underlined key phrases to indicate my personal signoff on the pre-printed message. I then added a brief, hand-written note at the bottom that echoed the sentiments written in the card, and signed my name. As I slid it into the envelope, I was so grateful that I’d found a card that conveyed what I could not. I’m sure Yaya would have been blessed by a basic “Happy birthday! Love ya!” message in an it’s-the-thought-that-counts way, but it was a blessing to her and to me to have the fullness of what I was bumbling around to express articulated so clearly.
I keep thinking of this example whenever I sit down to pray.
My prayer life hasn’t been great lately, and I realized that part of the issue was that I was drawing a blank every time I’d sit down to share some dedicated moments with God. I found myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied, starting my prayers with statements like, “God, you are good. So, so good. Yup…pretty good — err, umm, really good!” (Technically there’s the option of simply being still, and communing with God without words, but I’m not yet at a level of spiritual maturity where I can hook that up on any kind of regular basis. It always degenerates into this ridiculous split personality thing, where I’ll have a thought, then one part of my brain says, Shhhh! It’s silent meditation time!, then the other responds, Then why are you talking? YOU shhh! Yeah. It’s absurd.) Anyway, I know that all of my attempts at prayer were pleasing to God, even if they sounded to me like something out of an insipid haikus contest. And I realize that prayer is not all about me. But, per the advice of my spiritual director, I also needed to be realistic about where I am in my spiritual life, and admit that if this kept feeling so wrong, I was probably not going to continue setting aside time for prayer on a regular basis.
And so, rather than banging my head against the wall trying to express everything that was on my heart, I turned to the prayers of the Church. I had forgotten how many options there are! I could get back into the Liturgy of the Hours, or simply pray a daily Rosary. There are all the great litanies and novenas, not to mention the basics like the Our Father and the Glory Be.
The first thing I was drawn to was the Litany of Humility, and as I read it, my mouth formed the words I’d been trying to say all along:
From the desire of being preferred to others…Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted…Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved…Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated…Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised…Deliver me, Jesus.
Then, one day after receiving the Eucharist, I remembered that I had a card with the words to the Anima Christi in my purse. I almost got teary-eyed as I moved my lips silently to say:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me,
Body of Christ, save me,
Blood of Christ, inebriate me,
Water from Christ’s side, wash me,
Passion of Christ, strengthen me…
Later, the prescribed meditations of the Rosary forced me to stop thinking about myself and meditate on the Lord; I started a novena to the Holy Spirit, and it instilled me with a new awareness of our great Advocate; and the Our Father, of course, helped me say to God everything that needed to be said.
This process reminded me of the card I’d picked out for Yaya. Just as I’d underlined phrases and added a hand-written note in the card I gave to her, with my prayers I closed my eyes and poured passion into the words that most perfectly articulated what I’d been trying to say, and then at the end I added my thoughts (though they were often about as articulate as “Yeah. That. Amen.”) For times like now when I can’t quite seem to find the words to express what I need and want to say to God, I’m so thankful that the Church offers me these “Hallmark cards” that I can send instead.