By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published March 9, 2017
For Lent this year, I vowed to spend more time in daily prayer, with the hope of growing closer to the Lord.
My goal was 20 minutes, so on day one, I set the kitchen timer, thereby removing the temptation to stare at my watch. I also chose a Bible verse as a way to tether my unruly thoughts: “Draw near to the Lord and He will draw near to you.”
Then I climbed into a chair, took a long, deep breath, repeated the verse—and the phone rang.
I didn’t answer it, but the machine recorded some lady offering me a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity—like she does every morning about the same time.
I shook off this distraction and drifted gently into a sweet reverie, as bird tweets merged delicately with the wind’s melody.
And then, completely out of the blue, I became intensely aware of my heart lurching around in my chest like a wild animal trying to escape from a cage.
Why is my heart so jumpy? Is it going to explode? When was the last time I had it checked, anyhow?
“Shut up,” I told myself. “Draw near to the Lord and He will draw near to you.”
My stomach was evidently envious of the attention my heart was getting, because it began churning out gurgling noises—which you might expect from someone who hadn’t eaten in a week.
But I had consumed a hearty breakfast two hours ago, so what was up with that?
“Draw near to the Lord and He will draw near to you.”
And then I realized that when you pray, you enter a battleground of sorts. Your back may start aching, your feet itching, your nose running and your chest wheezing.
Your eyes will grow heavy, your mouth get dry and your ears will make squeaking noises.
Take heart, because these symptoms are part of the vast conspiracy to keep you from enjoying a few moments of silence with the Lord.
There are other conspirators, such as leaf-blowers, chain saws, barking dogs—and children in the next room arguing over whose turn it is to play with the hamster.
You may also battle Technicolor images of whatever you gave up for Lent—such as platters of crispy potato chips, icy mugs of beer and mountains of succulent chocolates.
When my stomach quieted down, I repeated the verse, and soon descended into a comfortable peacefulness.
Precisely at that moment, something heavy and furry descended upon my lap with a resounding thud.
It was none other than my cat with his purr mechanism set at high volume, and by the time I’d stopped laughing, the timer went off—and that was it for the first day.
In a Gospel story, Jesus is sleeping quietly in the back of a boat, when a furious squall develops and water starts filling the vessel.
His friends are frantic and they wake him up with the words, “Don’t you care if we drown?”
“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet!’”
Whenever we try to pray, we battle fears, temptations, worries, longings and regrets. We face our past demons, relive our old trials and grapple with future fantasies.
When we spend time alone with the Lord, we’re telling Him, “Here I am, with my squeaking ears, aching knees and roaring stomach; here I am, with my broken dreams, my well of tears, my distractions and sins. Help!”
We trust that he will get up, just like he did in the boat, and, with a single word, quell the storm in our hearts and bring peace to our souls. Yes, even on the days when we feel like we’re drowning in distractions.
Artwork (“Aslan and Emeth”) by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s latest book in her trilogy of fun-filled mysteries is “Death Dons a Mask.” Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.