Encountering love though a life of prayer

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September 8, 2013 by Alex Johannigman

Breakups can be hard on people, especially at the end of a long relationship. You get used to being around someone you love, someone who loves you, someone who makes every moment you spend with them incredible. So when it ends, it feels like a part of you is missing. You aren’t sure what to do with the time you would have normally spent with that person, and you don’t know who to talk to about your life and share the good things and the struggles.

As a result, often the response we have to a breakup, even if we know it was the right decision, is to try to repair the relationship and get back together. We long for the familiarity that the relationship brings, the comfort of being loved and listened to, and how good it feels to hold the hand of another or have a shoulder to rest our head on when the weight of the world is bringing us down.

I recently moved to Denver to begin a year of service with Christ in the City, a program that sends missionaries into the city to help those who are homeless and living in material and frequently spiritual poverty. Living as a Catholic missionary is similar to living in a religious community because our schedules include opportunities for prayer several times a day, including daily mass every morning at 7, liturgy of the hours, and time set aside for personal prayer. After recently making prayer a much more significant part of my life, I’ve realized that my relationship with God is just like a relationship with a significant other in that way. Once I’ve fallen in love, it is hard to live my life without spending time with the one that I love and that loves me.

Beginning life as a missionary in Denver has made me feel like I’ve entered into some sort of serious, committed relationship with God.  Before really knowing God and having a close relationship with Him, I didn’t know what I was missing. Sure I knew about God, just like I obviously knew about romantic relationships because of the example set by my parents and through the relationships around me in my life and those that I’d observe in media. But to see something and to experience it yourself are entirely different things. You don’t fall in love by looking at other people who are in love, just as you don’t come to love God just by going to church or spending time with holy people, although doing those things will certainly help.

And just like being separated from the one you love can be a very painful experience, the same is true when I don’t spend enough time with God. Going long periods of time without talking to God now leaves me miserable. I can’t focus, I get irritable and impatient, and I lack direction in my day. All of this is happening because my heart is yearning to experience the love of Christ, which I already know but am not allowing myself to receive. Marc Barnes captured my recent thoughts when he stated in one of his blogs:

“I confess that Christianity is like a dog at my heels. I can’t shake it. I used to never pray, and was happy. Now, if I don’t pray, I am miserable. The love of Christ is terrifying, because it has changed me into a self for whom prayer is a necessity. Is this weakness? Perhaps, but it is also love! When we love we are changed by the beloved, changed to a person for whom the beloved is integral part of our being, identity, and existence. Truly loving someone makes the decision not to love them a denial, not a change, a death of self, not a ‘leaving behind.’”

There’s a chance that you’ve experienced Christ’s love in an incredibly powerful way at some point in your life. Maybe it was the day you were baptized or confirmed. Maybe it was on a retreat after a particularly moving talk, or during an experience you had in Adoration or receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at a time when you desperately needed it. Remember how close God felt at that moment? Yet now, we often tell ourselves that we can pray later, that we don’t need to go to Confession because we haven’t done anything too bad recently, or that going all the way to church for daily Mass or to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament is too much of a time commitment to fit into our ever busy schedules.

For years when someone would suggest that I go to daily mass regularly, my response looked a lot like this. Now I can't imagine life without it.

So although the solution to a failed dating relationship is very rarely to abandon all reservations and return to the one you love, the solution to time separated from our divine lover always is just that. This is because our relationship with our eternal Lord is too important to ever discard, so we should always try to fix it when it is suffering, just as a married couple should do everything in their power to find solutions to their problems, which usually involves re-opening lines of communication. Christ is calling us to continue to experience that love and grace that we’ve become dependent on, and, if we haven’t come to rely on it, to give Christ enough of our heart that we can’t imagine life without Him.

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