If we believe in the “power of prayer”, as many of us say we do, then perhaps we should pause for a moment to consider not only the frequency of our prayers, but also the intentionality of our praying. I figured out fairly early in my life that when I was in a crisis and prayed continually and fervently for rescue or to escape some unpleasant consequences, the prayers inevitably were effective—to a point. Yes, I invariably escaped a situation that I knew would have been disastrous for me, but the effects of my praying in a distressed, frantic state spilled over into other areas of my life. For years I wondered why this was so, and as I looked more closely at my Benedictine spiritual formation as well as at Ignatian spirituality, I began to suspect something that isn’t apparently obvious about the act of praying. Today, as a spiritual director and pastor I have been privileged to walk alongside others on their faith journey, and my suspicions about prayer have been confirmed numerous times.
Prayer, I have come to realize, is above all else an intention that we present to God, an announcement to the universe (to use more current language) in order to create a desired outcome. Since this is absolutely true, then it follows that every thought we carry is in fact a prayer. This includes thoughts of worry, stress, frustration and fear, as well as thoughts of hope, harmony and peace. Thoughts held in mind tend to reproduce themselves because thoughts are simply a form of our inherent creative energy. Some thoughts are more focused or repeated more often, and this causes them to gather strength within us. Some thoughts end up written down in our journals or spoken to our friends and family—giving them even greater power and influence because now we are engaging the thoughts of other hearts and minds and the effects are magnified. Every thought we have is part of a process of creating our world—physically, mentally and spiritually. When we use this creative energy unconsciously, we create what we call “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Think about this for a moment. If we are holding fearful thoughts about our physical health, for example, praying incessantly from this place of lack of healing, we find our health does not improve at all. It may deteriorate even more, which in turn feeds the initial fear and causes it to expand. The reverse is also true, thank God, because when we can set aside the fear (even temporarily) and hold the prayerful attitude of gratitude or joy or wholeness, we find those things virtually explode within our hearts, much like a “Big Bang” of positive, divine energy.
This requires paying attention to how we pray, what our real intentions are as we hold these thoughts. Certainly our heart knows what is in our highest good (or what we think the highest good is for someone else when we pray for them) but we may also need to retrain our minds. We are rational beings, created in the divine image, which to me means that we can engage our cognitive faculties to “rethink our thinking” and come to a place where we focus our prayer energy only on the things we wish to expand and replicate in our lives and in the world. I’ve awakened many nights over the years, only to perseverate on “what ifs” and “I should haves”. It’s clear to me that worrying is a repetitive process; it makes sense, then, that it will take some equally repetitive positive and grateful thoughts to counteract the negative we have created.
So, what are some steps we can take to change the flow of our prayers and the reality we see in the world around us? The simplest antidote to worrying is to affirm the blessings of Christ in the Gospels. We are called to be healers and prophets and to perform even greater miracles than Jesus did when he walked among us. (If you think this is just some “new age” craziness, I invite you to reread John’s Gospel!) All our worrying has been impotent when it comes to actually changing a situation, so why not try positive prayer instead? When we hold positive thoughts, repeat them often, speak them, write them and even share them with those around us throughout the day, we are using our innate gifts as priests, prophets and kings to create positive results. We might say to ourselves, “ I am a creative being, made in the image of my God, empowered by my baptism in Christ to use my life’s energy to co-create the Reign of God. I know that I create my experience of life from within, and as I do so, I also create ripples of energy around me that echo into the world. My positive prayer-thoughts gather together with the thoughts and prayers of others, and together we create enough positive energy to heal not only our own lives but the world we share. I am grateful for the ability to co-create good in my life and in the world.”
So often we are concerned about loved ones who are struggling, just as we all have loved ones who worry about us when we face challenges. When this happens, we so often send out “worry prayers” by the dozens, and this is not what we are called to do. When you pray, send positive, healing, affirmative prayers to Our God, and trust that even the simplest prayer-thought has great power to change everything. And don’t pray for a specific outcome: pray instead for that person’s highest good—something which is known by God alone. We may want most fervently for there to be a physical healing, for example, but God knows that there is a greater blessing to be realized for that person far beyond a healing of the body. Worrying does no one any good and it should be a reminder for us to deepen our faith in the essential goodness of Our God. By divine design, you and I are called to effect healing and transformation within ourselves and thereby radiate good to all. Keeping our prayers positive and life-affirming and reflective of our gratitude is how we move the Gospel forward, one step at a time.