I've been on the road quite a bit this past month talking about Pray with Me: Seven Simple Ways to Pray with Your Children. I love it! I love traveling, coming home to my family, meeting new people, speaking, listening, talking about the Apostleship of Prayer, and--most of all--I love praying my way through the whole process.
But how? When? To what extent? These are the questions parents and teachers ask me at every talk.
And so I tell a story.
Once Jesus spoke for a loooong time to a vast crowd of people. They became hungry. Jesus suggesed that the disciples find them something to eat, to which they replied with a little bit of sass, "Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37).
Unfazed by the attitude problem, Jesus asked them to offer anything they could spare.
We all know what happens: using the pathetic, inadequate offering the disciples reluctantly scrounge up, Jesus goes to work. He blesses their offering, breaks it, and uses it to satisfy thousands of hungry people. Every man, woman, and child is satisfied, and baskets overflow.
Jesus uses a tiny offering and transforms it into real help for people in need.
The story of the loaves and fishes appears in every single Gospel account--twice in Matthew and Mark, in fact. The details vary slightly, but the outcome is always the same. Whether it's a small child or the disciples who provide the offering, Jesus blesses it, breaks it, and transforms it into the exact thing needed by suffering people.
This is how prayer works.
When we are confronted with problems we know we can't solve, Jesus remains calm. He asks us to give what we can. Often, we have no confidence. We scoff at our own pathetic attempts. We rage against the mightiness of the task which overwhelms us.
But Jesus takes whatever we offer: in this case, a prayer. He blesses it. He breaks it. He transforms it into grace for ourselves and for all people in need.
The disciples had the honor of watching Jesus' miracle in front of their eyes. Most of the time, the prayers we offer live a hidden life. Maybe that's why we're so reluctant to have confidence in our prayers. Maybe we'd like a sign once in a while. We pray and we pray, and nothing ever seems to happen.
Well, that's how prayer works too. Because what are we doing when we're praying? We're bringing our needy hearts to the Heart of Jesus. We are standing with him on a hillside gathering up crusts and fish guts and screaming, "Is this enough?" We may be sassy, or skeptical, or weary, but we're with him. We're in the presence of Jesus, looking at him while he looks at us. We're spending time with the very creator of the universe, trusting him, loving him, and growing to be a little more like him.
We all wonder whether God hears our prayers. We often object that God's response is slow, or inadequate, or absent. But the Gospel encourages us with its overflowing baskets. God always, always hears and answers.
Pope Francis is fond of saying "Let God surprise us!" If we find that we've given up on prayer, let's try again. God has not failed us. Whatever good things we want, God wants them infintely more than we do. If we want healing, God wants it more. If we want a loved one to return to faith, God wants it more. If we want to find love, God hears the cry of our broken heart and weeps with us for love.
God is infinitely more creative than we are, of course; his baskets often overflow with gifts we neither requested nor recognize. As we pray, let's also ask for the peace that comes with knowing God is taking care of us.