Christian Prayer in a Time of Anxiety
Fr. Ted Wojcikhttp://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/WojcikPrayer.php
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. Matthew 21:22
The events of September 11 were as profound as they were ugly. The evil acts of the few forced many to reevaluate the core values of their lives. Countless people discovered -- or rediscovered -- that family, friends, and spirituality are essential to the social banquet while fame, fortune, and worldliness lack the nourishment that human beings crave.
The evil of terrorism can be visualized in fire, crushing collapse, choking dust, fear, instability, pain, anger, hatred, and death. Every American can tell a story about the impact they experienced on that infamous September Tuesday.
What the future will bring remains a mystery for our society and every family and person. But isn't this what the world has always presented? Hasn't humanity always struggled in order to survive? When did we have such security that there was no fear, anger, and pain?
Every person comes to question the reality of God, of life, and love one day. Those questions are quite normal, especially when the ground that we stand on is rocked by irrationality. The faithful realize that there is indeed a God who embraces His children and nurtures them with a love that overcomes evil, pain, and death.
My own experience proved to me that God answers my questions as long as I remember that there are no right answers to wrong questions.
One beautiful summer evening in 1991 I drove my car to celebrate Vespers in our cemetery chapel. That evening, gasoline seeping from a lawnmower ignited and I suffered first through fourth degree burns over my lower body. The first night doctors considered amputating my legs due to the damage the fire caused. I came home in a medi-van 44 days later, having spent most of the summer in the burn unit of Hennepin County Medical Center.
Due to my weakened physical and mental condition my personal prayers had to be short and to the point. I consumed fair amounts of morphine to control the pain and antibiotics to control any infection. I was exhausted from the stress of trying to heal and grow new skin. My wife told me that I was so sleepy I would fall asleep in the middle of a one word sentence.
How do you pray in those circumstances? What questions do you ask the Lord? What kind of help do you seek when drowning in a fog of chemicals, struggle, pain, instability, and high anxiety? I found comfort in the sacraments and an abbreviated form of the Jesus Prayer.
Soon after my hospitalization, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America flew to Minnesota from New York in to anoint me with the sacrament of healing and to pray for my family and me. My fellow Orthodox priests brought the Eucharist to me on a regular basis. Thanks be to God and the prayers of people worldwide I survived with only two skin graft operations and months of therapy.
Sacraments are wonderful, but what happens the other 23 and three quarter hours a day? What goes on in one's mind in the dark night when sleep evaporates and the quite darkness sucks hope dry? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? What will happen in the future? Psalm 6 says, "I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief, it grows weak because of all my foes."
I am a stoic person, but in the burn unit morphine and stress caused me to weep with little provocation. Tears came in floods, but there is hope in weeping. Lord Jesus have mercy! The shortened form of the Jesus Prayer became a constant companion. Often the prayer was, "Lord have mercy." In the simplicity of the words, the cry for help became an answer in itself.
I tell people that God will not listen to their prayers if they don't listen to what they are praying. Why should God listen if you don't? By listening to my short prayers, I heard the Lord speak to me. Lord teach me how to pray, pray Thou Thyself in me. It was not my words, but Christ praying in me. He became the focus. He became the question and the answer. Slowly it happened: instability turned into stability, frustration turned to hope. "Depart from me, all you workers of evil; for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer." (Psalm 6:8-9)
Then I came home. Life continues. Temptations come and go (some not quickly enough!). This was one of a handful of events in my life where I felt the arms of God embrace me and give me peace. My wife and I love each other very much. So far I have married two of our three children. Our oldest son graduated from Notre Dame Law School and our next two sons went to St. Vladimir's Seminary and are ordained Orthodox priests. I have been blessed to baptize our four delightful grandchildren. We know that prayers are answered for those who have faith, even faith the size of a mustard seed.
"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5)
Fr. Ted Wojcik is an Orthodox priest living in Minnesota. This reflection was offered at an Orthodox - Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue in St. Paul, Minnesota and is reprinted by permission of the author.