It is always a joy when I hear from children, “Father, I love Jesus so much that I can’t wait to receive Him in at my First Communion.” How wonderful it is to hear such loving faith from those who have childlike faith! I believe many of us once had a similar faith to our children; nevertheless, for one reason or another, many have lost the joy of receiving the Lord as He is. Perhaps we had become too busy, worried, or sidetracked with life? When did it happen and for what reasons did we seem to lose that childlike joy to love the Lord as He is? How can we revive or return that simple, heartfelt love?
First, let us be honest in recognizing that, too many times, we have come to the Almighty as a last resort. We include Him in the picture when every other alternative failed or becomes insufficient. Too often, we come to Him asking for things that resemble what we want. Nonetheless, a relationship of this type is not a real loving one, but only a benefit-based exchange. Love is much more than that. God is much more than that! He is more than a provider, a vending machine of grace or blessing, or an on-demand good luck charm. It is a reminder and a call for a deeper prayer life.
Why did we love God with a simple heart as children? How was it that we were able to see Him more clearly and less clouded by the things of this world? What was added by life that distracted or worried us to the point of not being able to see and love Him as He is? What does God have to do in order to truly be worthy of our love and adoration of Him? How much how wide, or how deep does His grace or favor has to be in order for us to truly believe, trust, and love Him genuinely and wholeheartedly?
These are hard questions to ask but they are important. They remind us of the importance of a relationship with the Creator of all things and the Lover of our souls. If He truly loves us as we are, forgives, reconciles, and gives us new life by the offering of His own life for us, how can we humbly, honestly, and wholeheartedly can give ourselves to Him? While it is very easy to overcomplicate things, we have to return to the basics with prayer.
There is much more to prayer than those of petitions, asking God for a favor or assistance. When was the last time we praise Him with prayers of adoration? Think about it… His almighty, persistent, and extraordinary love cares for us truly and deeply without us knowing is in itself worthy of praise. Sometimes we think He has to do extraordinary things or perform miraculous things to truly be there for us, but how about the things that He does every day to care for us and for all humanity without us even knowing? That is worthy of praise!
The Common Preface IV to the Eucharistic Prayer reminds us, “For, although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation.” The ability to praise and adore Him is itself a grace because we can truly see things as they are, how blessed we are, especially the wonders He had done for us. Hence, this leads us to prayers of thanksgiving, when we are moved to show Him gratitude for the gifts given and well received.
Divine grace is freely given, flowing from the Lord‘s own heart of love to us, in spite of our worthiness or recognition. His grace protects, defends, and nourishes us in ways that we can never imagine. Nevertheless, it is important for us as receivers to cherish, embrace, and receive them well. A gift can simply be a gift for those who do not care much about it, but it becomes a loving and heartfelt symbol when one recognizes the extraordinary significance behind the gift given. Gratitude helps us receive and love God‘s gifts well.
Thanksgiving, when received from the heart, moves us to true prayers of contrition, knowing that we have failed to love Him and our neighbors at times. It is a heartfelt honesty to recognize how much He loves us in spite of our unworthiness, resistance, or indifference. We become contrite in knowing, recognizing, and embracing His love (as it is) in comparison to our own attitudes (and failures) to fully embrace it.
Too many times, we have not given our best in loving Him and our neighbors. We tend to expect too much and give too little. We often failed to love and accept people at face value, because it is too easy to filter and expect things on our terms. This world would be much better if we are honest with ourselves and genuinely love one another as He has loved us. When we know that we have failed short to love, we have to come to prayer with fewer demands and expectations, and more sincere gratitude and need for divine mercy and forgiveness.
This is not a self-beating session where we loathe or hate ourselves as if it is going to make us feel better, but it is an honest recognition that true prayer is wholesome and need to include all perspective. We come to praise God for His everlasting love and never-ending goodness, thanking Him for His faithfulness and divine providence in providing for us with things that are beyond our comprehension, to be sorry for the times that we have failed to love as He loves, and then — last of all — asking God to provide us for what we need.
When we begin with the other three and end with the prayers of petition, our prayers become complete and less self-centered because we are able to see things as they are in the greater and fuller light of His loving truth. Reality often gets blind-sighted by the problems that need to be solved, things that are wrong, or what we would like done. Therefore, heartfelt and holistic prayers open up and widen our lenses so we can see the grander and fuller reality as it is, especially how providentially and lovingly God is in the picture (caring for us).
Therefore, let us come to prayer times with an open, grateful, humble, and loving heart so we can become people who trust and love instead of seeing all things as falling short or failing to meet our expectations. True prayers are able to help us see ourselves as we are, hence able to trust Him more, by seeing reality as it is and in light of who He truly is for us. When we pray with our hearts, we can no longer be bystanders, consumers, or shoppers who demand things that fit our needs, be indifferent or detached when we hear His invitations. True prayers move us to be the Church in preaching the Good News, reminding people of His divine love, inviting those around us to experience the life of faith, and to be collaborators in the Lord‘s vineyard.
When we pray with our heart and with childlike faith, we trust that whatever He gives is for our ultimate best and everlasting joy. True prayers help us see things in the grander scheme, not just for right now but in the light of eternity, so we can see ourselves honestly as we are and God truly as He is. When we are able to see ourselves in communion with the Lord and with His saints, we will understand that everything we ever want or ever need has already been given without our asking — a hundred times over. If we understand how great He is and how lovingly He cares for us, we shall know that His love is enough and we should not ask for anything more (except what He sees fit in His divine providence).
Do not be afraid to pray and pray well. He is always there, listening. There is nothing too big or too small that we cannot pray to the Lord with a loving, trusting, and childlike faith. May our prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and petition help us see how wonderful He is so we can love Him to the best of our ability. Truly, the Lord is just a prayer away.